A quarter of the season gone, and the Saints are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC South table with their 3-1 record. I spoke before the season about how the Saints needed a good start from an extremely tough looking opening schedule, they have done exactly that and now should (famous last words) be an easier stretch of games.
The defensive display on SNF against the Cowboys followed the team victory the week before. Win this one and the black and gold jump to a 2-game lead over Sundays opponents. The hope is the defense have found their groove early and can sustain this level of play with all their weapons at their disposal, however, the offense led by Teddy “Two Wins” Bridgewater must back them up and get some of those RedZone trips into 7 points, not three. Let’s look into our opponents in more detail.
This offense scores points, in fact they are 4th in the NFL in points scored with an average of 31 (rounding up) a game. A lowest of 17 but a high of 55 last week, on the road, gives them a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde look. In at quarterback is our old friend, Mr. Crab Jameis “eat a W” Winston.
The Florida state product looks to be finally settling in to the starting role with this new Bruce Arians offense. Numbers sit at 1,167 passing yards and a 9/5 TD to Int ratio, these numbers have been on the up in the last couple of weeks though. The key in the last few games has been the speed at which he releases the ball. Less than 3 seconds with the ball in hand means passes come out quickly from the snap. When Winston has too much time in the pocket he starts to panic and rethink himself/the play design, causing mistakes.
The Saints will need to create quick pressure to either get him out of the pocket or challenge him to make dangerous throws with secondary coverage. If Winston is allowed to dictate the speed of the play, the Saints could be in trouble. All the pressure they have been creating in recent weeks could count for nothing if the hurries and pressure isn’t turned into sacks soon.
Chris Godwin is currently down as the Bucs WR2 on the depth chart behind Mike Evans. However, the 3rd year player is having a breakout year. Currently 26 receptions (34 targets) for 386 yards and 4 scores, 172 (2 TDs) were last week alone! Godwin is a tough man to cover with speed and agility off the line. This week should see Eli Apple matched up against him with Lattimore continuing his bout with Mike Evans for another year. I think that Godwin will be targeted more simply based on Lattimore’s higher standing among the league compared to Apple’s. Saying that, Apple has been very good this year and his stock will continue to rise with a good showing in this one.
As mentioned, on the other side it’s Mike Evans. A consistently good receiver now entering his 6th year as a pro, he has 1,000 receiving yards every year so far. He sits slightly behind Godwin as we stand with 368 on the year plus matching his 4 scores. Evans is a player that can seriously hurt any defensive unit. Lattimore will have to be very aware of his strength and double moves, especially in chunk yard plays. The secondary are really going to have their work cut out in this one which is why it’s even more important to get Winston nervous and sacking him as early as possible. We cannot afford to give a lead like LA did last week.
Running duties have been largely shared between Roland Jones II and Peyton Barber. Apart from week 2, Jones has been more consistent with 70+ yards in 3 of the 4 games this year. 3 combined scores for the duo which is yet to really set the league alight yet and sit 15th overall in rushing. With the Saints brilliant run defensive holding down Zeke Elliott last week, I envisage more of the same here with the Bucs turning to the air rather than the ground game.
You can’t even finish saying “Buccaneers Defense” without someone saying Shaq Barrett. He has been a monster. 9 sacks on the year, yes NINE after 4 weeks is ridiculous. 3 forced fumbles and a pick make him not only the best player on the Bucs defense but top 3 if not the best in the NFL at the moment. Simply, offensive lines can’t hold him and if they do, they physically hold him and get a penalty for it. A huge part of winning this game for the Saints is to stop Shaq Barrett. Most likely he will be against Terron Armstead who hasn’t been his usual best this season but will need to be on his A game come Sunday at noon.
A player the Saints know all about too if Ndamukong Suh. The 10-year veteran has bounced around a bit in the last few years, getting familiar with the Saints playing the Rams last year. Maybe not as he once was, Suh can still hurt an offense on any given Sunday, showing that last week with a fumble recovery Touchdown.
The Bucs secondary is young. In-fact the starters from the depth chart only have 3 years’ experience at most with two 2nd year players and a rookie. This is where the Saints can hurt them. The defensive unit gave up 40 to LA last week and 32 the week before against the giants.
Teddy Bridgewater is going to have to take some shots at these young players. Michael Thomas could have a big day if he’s given the targets. If the Bucs decide to double cover him, which is likely, one of the other WRs will need to stand up and make themselves known. This is exactly the type of game that Tre’quan Smith (if available) or Ted Ginn Jr. could announce themselves to the 2019 season.
Alvin Kamara will need to maintain his seasons form as well in both the pass and the run game. I can see him being more involved as a receiver this week with screens and dumps then letting him take over as he does.
The Saints offensive line really needs to protect Bridgewater as long as possible so he can take deep shots and exploit the Bucs young secondary but also, Teddy needs to get the ball away quickly and find his targets.
I always find games against the Bucs hard to call as they always seem to get at least 1 win against the Saints. In the last four seasons, the matchup has been 1-1 with both teams winning in the respective road game last year. 2018 saw that crazy “Fitzmagic” game which was a 48-40 shootout win in favour of Tampa Bay. The series as a whole is 33-20 in New Orleans favour.
With the Bucs storming offense putting up 55 points at the Rams last Sunday and the Saints stingy defence holding Dallas to just 10 points somethings gotta give. I’m backing the black and gold at home in this one, but a close one. Wil Lutz’ leg might have to seal a win, but the offense really needs to help out the impressive defensive unit with some points of their own.
Saints 24 – 22 Bucs