Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs New Orleans Saints Preview and Predictions
By Nick John
Sep 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Louis Murphy (18) celebrates a first down against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. The Buccaneers won the game, 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not have an easy task today.
Coming off of their first win of the season, a nail-biter on the road in Pittsburgh, the Bucs travel to New Orleans to face the Saints, who are 1-3 on the season. It’s an important division matchup despite both teams only combining for two wins because of how wide open the NFC South seems to be at this point. The Falcons and Panthers are tied for the division lead at 2-2, and the Saints and Buccaneers are only one game back.
That means that whoever wins today could theoretically be tied for first place in the division if both Atlanta and Carolina lose. The Falcons will travel to East Rutherford to take on the New York Giants, and the Panthers will play hosts to the Chicago Bears.
So now that we know the stakes, let’s take a look at the game itself.
The New Orleans Saints haven’t been playing their best football to begin the 2014 season, but that could be a product of not being in the confines of their comfy Superdome. The Saints lone win on the year has come at home against the Vikings, with all three losses occurring on the road. I think it is safe to say that Drew Brees and company are happy to be back in the Bayou this week, as they want to erase all memory of last week’s blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, today is all about building on positive momentum. You can’t say enough about how Mike Glennon played on the road in a tough environment last week, and he’ll have to do it again this week to keep pace with the Saints’ offensive attack. He’ll be without rookie wide receiver Mike Evans this week (groin injury), and that’s going to hurt. Evans had his best game as a pro last week, catching four balls for 65 yards and the first score of his career. Still, Glennon will face a secondary that is lacking confidence, as well as hyped up safety Jarius Byrd. He’s got Vincent Jackson on his side, who caught the game winner last week, and he’ll likely have Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end, who had a couple of key grabs for the Bucs last week to keep them in the game. ASJ will be a big key to Tampa Bay’s attack today.
Doug Martin had a successful return from injury last week, rushing for 40 yards and a score that tied the game. While it wasn’t anything to write home about it, Martin was reliable in a game that needed reliability. The Bucs’ lone turnover last week was on a Glennon interception that was only made because of Mike Evans’ groin injury occurring during the route, after the ball was already in the air. So from Dougie today, the Buccaneers just need him to hold on to the football, and continue to slug forward when the yards are hard to come by. That’ll keep Rob Ryan’s defense honest, and it could keep a low-confidence secondary guessing and inching forward toward the run.
Defensively, the Bucs know the gameplan. It is fairly simple in nature, but very hard to execute against the Saints.
The first key to the game for Lovie and Leslie’s defense is to get pressure on Drew Brees. We saw what that did to Ben Roethlisberger last week on the very first series of the game, as Michael Johnson sack-stripped Big Ben, and the Buccaneers fell on it for the recovery. That set up the first score of the game for Tampa Bay, and completely set the tone for the entire afternoon. Pressure on Brees is absolutely vital because with the Bucs being a predominantly zone team defensively, it could be easy for a future Hall of Famer like Drew to find the hole in the secondary.
Usually, against Tampa Bay, that hole is exposed by the opposing team’s tight end. We saw Greg Olsen have a great game against the Bucs in Week One against Carolina, Heath Miller with another last week against the Steelers, and now the Buccaneers will face the game’s best at the position in Jimmy Graham. To combat that, the Buccaneers will have to get stellar play from Mark Barron. The former standout for the Crimson Tide will have to hit Graham as soon as the ball gets to him to try and separate the two. Normally, this task would fall on the team’s other safety, Dashon Goldson. However, Goldson has been ruled out today with an ankle injury.
With this game set up for both offenses to succeed, we could see a battle between X-factors from both squads. The New Orleans Saints have a rookie named Brandin Cooks who is the definition of speed in space. He is to their offense what Darren Sproles would be if they had chosen to keep him and move him to wide receiver; a small, shifty character who can break off a big play in a split second.
The Buccaneers have two options that could become X-factors today: last week’s hero, Louis Murphy, is the first. His big catch last week to set up the game-winning score is the reason people in Tampa Bay are confident in the team’s ability to hang with a team like New Orleans again. Tampa Bay will need him to replicate his play from last week, as he led the team in receiving with six catches for 99 yards.
The second option is rookie wide receiver Robert Herron, who was drafted by Tampa Bay in the sixth round as a possibility to be the team’s slot receiver. While that hasn’t come to fruition just yet, Herron could get the call to be activated today, as they’ll try to use his speed to keep up with the Saints.
This should be a fantastic football game that could come down to who makes more plays on the offensive side of the ball. Brees and company are very difficult to stop in their own home, and the Buccaneers will have to start like last week if they want to have a shot. If not, things could get out of hand early like they did in Atlanta.
I believe the Buccaneers have a new-found confidence after last week, but I don’t know if that will be enough to overcome the likes of Jimmy Graham. It’s all going to depend on if the Bucs can find new offensive role players to contribute in this game. Herron and Murphy both come to mind. Tampa Bay also needs a clean game from Glennon and Doug Martin. Controlling the clock is usually the strategy when it comes to facing a high-octane offense, so the Buccaneers will have to run the ball effectively.
If the Bucs play the way I think they are capable of, this will be another very close game with a photo finish.
Final Score: Buccaneers 28, Saints 27.