Key 1: Bludgeon Saints With Blount
LeGarrette Blount came out early running hard and creating holes on his own at times. But once again the slow start by the offense and the defense’s inability to slow Drew Brees forced the Buccaneers to abandon the run sooner than they wanted.
The Saints were giving up 5.5 yards per carry and Tampa Bay seemed determined to try and follow the success of their last meeting and what the Rams were able to do last week in upsetting the Saints. But the Buccaneers defense couldn’t stop the Saints' running game or Drew Brees and Josh Freeman was forced to throw, which altered Greg Olson’s game plan.
The second-year back was unable to convert a key fourth-and-one in the first quarter that drained early momentum and was also called for a foolish penalty for striking a Saints player in the helmet after the play was over.
Blount finished with 72 yards on 13 carries including a 27-yard scamper, averaging 5.5 yards – exactly what the Saints have been giving up all season.
Final Grade: B
Key 2. Keep Brees At Ease – On The Sidelines
Forcing Brees into three-and-outs and keeping the chains moving with their own offense was an important part of the Buccaneers’ game plan, but the inability to stop the Saints on third down and particularly on the ground haunted Tampa Bay all day.
In fact it took until the 10:00 mark of the fourth quarter for the Saints to go three-and-out and Saints’ punter Thomas Morstead only punted two times all game. The Saints were able to convert on 50 percent (5/10) of their third downs while Tampa Bay managed to convert on just 16 percent (2/12).
Final Grade: F
3. Reduce Red Zone Mistakes
Josh Freeman made better decisions in the red zone and finished the game without throwing an interception, but the execution when in the red zone, or just outside of it, was poor most of the day.
Freeman possibly had a chance to throw three more touchdowns but was off target to Kregg Lumpkin, Erik Lorig and to Kellen Winslow during the course of the game. The Lumpkin missed opportunity was partly on the receiver as it appeared had Lumpkin continued to complete the route it would have been an easy catch. The missed Freeman-to-Lorig connection was a case of an overthrown pass. The last one to Winslow was arguably the most damaging as Tampa Bay settled for another field goal. Freeman and Winslow did manage to connect late in the game for only the second touchdown reception of the season for the former Miami Hurricane star.
Once again, unacceptable penalties and poor execution killed the Buccaneers' chances today, especially in a game where field goals in place of touchdowns wasn't going to cut it.
Final Grade: D
4. Hold Sproles And Gobble Up Graham
After Darren Sproles was a non-factor in the earlier season matchup that resulted in a 26-20 loss for the Saints, it appeared Sean Payton was determined to not let it happen again. Sproles showed why the criticism of the Buccaneers’ front office for not at least making a run at Sproles during free agency is somewhat justified.
The former Charger scat-back was effective running and receiving, finishing the game with 42 yards on four attempts rushing and added 57 yards on five receptions as a receiver out of the backfield and scoring once. Aside from the third-quarter instance when CB Ronde Barber jumped Brees' throw for an interception, the Buccaneers had no answers for Sproles on the screen and dump off pass all game long.
While Jimmy Graham was again held out of the end zone and limited to less than 100 yards receiving, the Saints star tight end was a thorn in the Buccaneers side most of the afternoon. Graham finished the game with six receptions for 78 yards and was instrumental in helping the Saints convert on third down and keeping the chains moving.
Stopping all the Saints' weapons is nearly impossible but the Buccaneers did little to hold these two play-makers accountable.
Final grade: F
5. Many Happy Returns
Having two weeks off was a huge benefit for Tampa Bay, as several key members of the offense and defense who had either missed significant time or were nursing injuries were able to suit up and start against the Saints.
Gerald McCoy, Tanard Jackson, Mason Foster and Jeff Faine were just a few of the Buccaneers who were able to return at full strength or at least close to it. Unfortunaely for the Buccaneers, McCoy left the game early after suffering an arm injury and head coach Raheem Morris commented post-game that it didn’t look good.
Tanard Jackson was solid in coverage, but, like most of the Buccaneers, wasn’t immune to missing tackles against the determined running styles of Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
Faine was Faine. Nothing noteworthy and exactly what you want from an offensive lineman. Having him back had to have been a help in making the line calls, especially against the blitz-happy Greg Williams-coached Saints defense.
Rookie linebacker Mason Foster tied for the team lead in tackles with nine, but was slow in coverage of backs coming out of the backfield, and was victimized a couple times by Darren Sproles. Foster did have the hit of the game, standing up Ivory on a third down attempt late in the fourth quarter.
Final Grade: C
Final Analysis: The Saints came out with passion and aggression and something not usually associated with New Orleans – physicality. After being embarrassed last week by the then winless Rams, New Orleans was the hungrier team and took it to Tampa Bay. But as the final score showed this week – and three weeks ago – these two teams aren't all that far apart. The difference was mistakes, something the Buccaneers will need to correct soon in order to have any shot of going on a run and catching the Saints and now the Falcons.
Cook’s Prediction: Saints 28, Buccaneers 17
Reynold’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Saints 20
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Saints 27
Actual Final Score: Saints 27, Buccaneers 16