WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Quarterback Josh Freeman (824 passing yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week after his big effort in Cincinnati last week, and top wideout Mike Williams is beginning to garner plenty of attention as well. Williams is putting up the kind of numbers (19 receptions, 238 yards, 3 TD) that could make him a prime Rookie of the Year candidate if they hold up, and has helped free things up for fellow targets like Kellen Winslow (17 receptions) and Sammie Stroughter (9 receptions). Williams finished with seven catches for 99 yards against the Bengals, while Winslow chipped in with six grabs totaling 75 yards on the day. The Tampa Bay running game has moved in fits and starts this season, but comes off a season-best 125-yard ground effort in Cincinnati. Despite intimations that he would cede some of the workload to LeGarrette Blount (30 rushing yards, 1 TD) and/or Kareem Huggins, Cadillac Williams (172 rushing yards) remained the lead back for the Bucs with 11 carries totaling 33 yards. Fullback Earnest Graham (89 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 2 TD) had the day's rushing highlight, however, with a 61-yard run to go along with a third- quarter touchdown. The Tampa o-line has surrendered 10 sacks through four games and needs to both protect and block better.
The New Orleans defense could get a shot in the arm this week, as defensive end Will Smith (14 tackles, 1 sack) has a chance to return to the lineup after missing last week's loss to the Cardinals with a groin problem. The Saints actually did a decent job of pressuring the quarterback in Smith's absence last week, dragging Max Hall down for four sacks, including the first in the New Orleans career of end Alex Brown (10 tackles). Cornerback Jabari Greer (26 tackles, 1 INT) had an interception to lead the secondary, and first-round rookie CB Patrick Robinson (14 tackles) added value with eight tackles in the contest. Corner Tracy Porter (knee) is expected to remain out for Sunday. A shaky Saints run defense actually did a good job against Arizona a week ago, limiting the Cardinals to just 41 yards on the ground. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (35 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and strong safety Roman Harper (25 tackles, 1 INT) have been a major part of the run-stopping effort this year, while tackle Sedrick Ellis (14 tackles, 3 sacks) has been active in the trenches. New Orleans also inked a deal with ex-Colts and Packers safety Matt Giordano this week, but Giordano will probably see most of his work on special teams.