Few teams will want to get on the field this week as quickly as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After getting blasted by the San Francisco 49ers by 45 points, the Bucs desperately need to get back on track. Meanwhile, after narrowly escaping the last place Carolina Panthers, the Saints look to take a strangle hold on the NFC South.
It's old school slobberknocker in the NASCAR division.
Let's take a look at how this one matches up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. New Orleans Saints Pass Defense
It's wrong. We know it's wrong. They know it's wrong. The Bucs passing game is wrong. Josh Freeman shouldn't be the 29th ranked passer in the NFL. He absolutely shouldn't have double the amount of interceptions than touchdowns and for pete's sake - 3 touchdowns should be a SINGLE game mark, not his totals after five weeks of football.
While we're at it, Preston Parker and Earnest Graham shouldn't be leading this team in yardage and receptions respectively. There's just too much talent for the Buccaneers to continue have the quarterback stare down his receivers, have those receivers run the wrong routes and drop passes. They're too good to be the 20th ranked passing offense in the NFL.
This week they face a Saints defense that is 16th in the league against the pass and has surrendered 10 touchdowns through the air while only swiping 3 picks all season. The blitz happy Saints are among the league leader in sacks with 14, led by Roman Harper's 3.5
Bucs Wide out Mike Williams, mired in a sophomore slump, has vowed to return to being "Mike Williams". We'd rather see him stop referring to himself in the third person and do what the previous #19 did - catch the damn football.
Tampa Bay Running Game vs. New Orleans Run Defense
The Bucs will be without the dynamic and bruising LeGarrette Blount at the worst possible time. Blount suffered a knee injury that will likely keep him out of Sunday's game. Without him, Tampa Bay is left with the 31 year old Earnest Graham and the under whelming Kregg Lumpkin. With Blount, the Bucs have the 16th ranked rushing attack in the league. Without him...they'll hope Graham can summon some of that '07 magic when he rushed for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Saints middling mediocre run defense should help ease the blow a bit. New Orleans is ranked 15th against the run, surrendering 4 rushing touchdowns and 107.6 yards a game on the ground. Safety Roman Harper leads their tacklers with 33 tackles (24 solo) and DB Malcolm Jenkins' 24 tackles (19 solo).
New Orleans Saints Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
About the Saints passing game: Drew Brees. Any questions?
The Bucs pass defense got a major boost with the return of safety Tanard Jackson. Jackson is one of the fiercest hitters in the league and one of it's better playmakers at the safety position. For a secondary that's dropped several picks and has managed just two on the season - Jackson's impact will be immediately felt.
The Bucs' pass rush is significantly better this season but it's also been terribly inconsistent. If Tampa Bay hopes to have a prayer in this game, getting Brees off his mark will be a huge key. Brees already has 12 TD passes on the season but he also has 5 interceptions.
Advantage: New Orleans
New Orleans Saints Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
Let's see, the Saints dump the overrated Reggie Bush for the underrated Darren Sproles. Can you say significant upgrade? Sproles has been outstanding for the Saints in both the running and passing game. As a rusher, he leads New Orleans with 7.1 yards a carry. Rookie Mark Ingram leads New Orleans' 14th ranked running game.
Tampa Bay's inconsistency on defense also encompasses the run defense. There are weeks when it looks like no team can even think of running on the Buccaneers. Then there's other games where there's holes large enough I could run through them untouched.
Which Bucs run defense shows up this week could be a telltale sign in this one. The Bucs' cause isn't helped with injuries to 2010 First Round
bust pick Gerald McCoy and rookie MLB Mason Foster. Both are nursing ankle injuries, but Foster looks more likely to play. McCoy may not be back until after Tampa Bay's bye week.
Tampa Bay has steady kicker Connor Barth having another solid season. Barth is 8-for-9 with a long of 49. The Bucs invested big money on punter Michael Koenen and he's paid dividends. He is among league leaders in punting average (45.7) pinning opponents inside 20 and touchbacks on kickoffs.
Preston Parker has been the Bucs' primary returner this season, averaging 22.7 yds per kick return and 10.4 yds a punt return.
Veteran John Kasay is as reliable as ever, nailing 12 of 14 field goal tries with a long of 53 yds. Thomas Morstead has an even better average than Koenen, 47.9 but has put just two punts inside an opponent's 20 yard line.
Darren Sproles impact can even be felt in the return game where he's averaging 27.9 yds a kick return and 14.9 a punt return. Sproles has one punt return for a touchdown.
Advantage: New Orleans
Raheem Morris is in his third season with Tampa Bay, he's 16-21, but 13-8 in his last 21 games.
Sean Payton is in his sixth season with the New Orleans Saints. Payton is 53-32, has a 4-2 record in the playoffs with 2 division championships and the 2009 Super Bowl Champions
Advantage: New Orleans
By the Numbers
- New Orleans leads the all-time series 22-16
- New Orleans is 10-6 lifetime in Tampa
- Tampa Bay has won 5 of the last 8 meetings with New Orleans
- New Orleans has won their last two trips in Tampa by the combine score of 69-13.
- Tampa Bay is -1 in giveaway/takeaway ratio, New Orleans is -3
- In the last five meetings in Tampa, the winning team has score 30 or more points in four the games.
- In the last six meetings in Tampa, the final score was decided by less than 14 points only once.
Every fiber in my being says this has Saints blowout victory written all over it. Yet the NFL is a funny, fickle game. Things don't always go exactly as you would expect. The Saints are coming into this one on the final game of a three game road trip, an unusual scheduling anomaly in the NFL. Tampa Bay is coming off their worst loss in 12 years and is looking to prove they're not THAT team.
Add to that the Saints aren't unbeatable on defense and Josh Freeman and Mike Williams are due for a big time game - I start to sniff that upset.
Sprinkle in Coach Raheem's focus on division games and the team goal to win the NFC South, to achieve that, this game is pretty darn close to a must win.
How do they do it? Well, Freeman has to avoid the turnover and Williams has to play big. The Bucs defense need to pressure and harass Brees all day and make sure that Darren Sproles doesn't get loose. They'll need to win the turnover battle and give the offense a short field to work with.
They'll also need to get something - anything from Ernie Graham and Lumpkin. Some kind of production to keep the Saints honest and prevent them from bltizing the bejesus out of Josh.
Considering the history, the mismatches, the injury situation and their recent play - the Saints should win this game. Yet things that should happen in the NFL don't always do - ask the Giants about their performance against Seattle.
I think the Bucs catch the Saints a little overconfident, tired from their road trips and ripe for the upset.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, New Orleans 24