Each week PewterReport.com gathers intel from the Buccaneers' upcoming opponent. This week we speak to Mike Triplett, Saints columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune
and Nola.com who has been covering the Saints since 2005.
Mike Triplett is the Saints columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Nola.com. He has been covering the Saints since 2005.At 1-4, the Saints had a rough start, but they just got their first win and are coming off of a bye week. How would you describe the mood of the team?
“Obviously, the mood is very good after their first victory. I was actually impressed that the mood remained confident throughout the losing. They played a little better each week and were really close to a big win in Green Bay. It reassures them that they are on the right path, believing in the coaches and the scheme. The Saints never really imploded during the losing streak, but they can’t handle going right back to another loss.”How much of a distraction have the Bounty issues been?
“I don’t know that those issues are a continuing distraction during the season, except losing Sean Payton and then interim coach Joe Vitt has had a hand in everything that’s gone wrong. They do miss coach Payton as a game planner and play caller. NFL teams are so built on routines and comfort zone, and the Saints haven’t been in their regular routine or comfort zone this entire year. Personally, I didn’t think it would affect the team as much as it has. I thought that it would be like coaches retire and pass on their team and system, like Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, but obviously it didn’t work out that way in New Orleans. Maybe the Saints were pressing too hard, or maybe they were too relaxed, as they really didn’t come into the season with enough urgency.”Is the Saints record a result of different coaching, bad defense, bad luck, or something else?
“Number one is defensive performance. The defense has really been rough, especially in the early going. Adjusting to new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme has brought growing pains. The Saints have given up way too many big plays. They don’t blitz as much now as before, and the four-man rush hasn’t been good, though it has improved over the last few games. Obviously, the blame falls everywhere, including the offense, where the running game has been practically non-existent. A key loss was when the Saints were leading the Kansas City Chiefs 24-6 in week three, then didn’t get another offensive first down, letting KC back into the game to win it in overtime. Coaching has played a big role, but the players’ execution has been poor across the board, too.”
The defense is rated at the bottom of the league. What’s going on there?
“It’s a number of things. First of all, the New Orleans defense was never spectacular. They caught lightning in bottle during the Super Bowl year. Under Gregg Williams, the Saints used tons of blitzes and turnovers, and they may have caught some teams by surprise that season. They are trying something different this year, and that hasn’t worked, either. Spagnuolo likes zone coverages, but not getting a pass rush and giving opposing quarterbacks too much time to throw has led to way too many big plays. Ideally, this would be a bend but don’t break defense, but the Saints have been breaking repeatedly. They have given up a handful of deep passes in just about every game, and no team can afford to give up that many big plays. However, they have been taking baby steps to be a little better week in and week out, with nice fourth-quarter performances in recent games.”The Bucs’ passing offense has come alive with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Can the Saints cover both receivers effectively?
“It will help the Saints if cornerback Jabari Greer can play at close to 100 percent. He’s had a nagging groin injury and has been in and out of the lineup. He did practice on a limited basis early this week. The key is going to be that the pass rush doesn’t allow Josh Freeman to wait for receivers to get open. The Saints have got to force him to make quick throws. Their pass coverage won’t hold up if Freeman has time in the pocket.”Are the players excited to go up against former teammate Carl Nicks?
“He’s still very close with a few of his former teammates, so there’s a personal connection with some of the offensive linemen, but it’s not really an issue with the defensive guys he’ll be facing. Carl was a special player in New Orleans, a special personality. He’s a guy who really meant a lot in the locker room. Although it won’t be at the forefront, when he went to join the Bucs, people here felt that he left the better team, and the Saints want to remind him of that so that he doesn’t have gloating rights after the game.”Offensively, Drew Brees seems to be doing well, but the running game is underperforming, at least statistically. Is that a problem, or is it by design?
“It’s a huge problem. The Saints never run the ball a lot. With Brees, they’re always going to be a pass-first team, but when they run, they want to run efficiently. It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it this year. I can’t explain why. You’d think that opposing defenses would be on their heels protecting against the pass, but the Saints just haven’t been able to run no matter what. It’s been everything: design, scheme, push up front, missed blocks by tight ends and receivers, runners taking the wrong hole. Last year they were 6th in the league in rushing. I guarantee you that this is one of the focus areas to be fixed during the bye week.”Mark Ingram has as many carries as Pierre Thomas, but only 2.9 yards per carry. What’s going on with him?
“Part of the problem with his production is that they use him as a base running and short yardage specialist. He’s only on the field with a fullback and blocking tight ends, when the defense is up for the run. New Orleans is actually hitting on play-action passes when Ingram is in the game, so the offense has been effective, but Ingram’s yards per carry is low. He hasn’t created anything on his own. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have been more explosive, breaking tackles and running around the corners. He’s the third running back on the depth chart, the least dynamic of all the runners in a non-dynamic running game. Ideally the Saints would use Ingram more towards the ends of games to close things out.”What’s the most recent injury status for New Orleans?
“Tight end Jimmy Graham looks extremely questionable with an ankle injury. He is running around on it, so he may be back sooner rather than later, though this week he is probably very questionable unless he can get back on practice field. It does look like they’ll get wide receiver Lance Moore back, so the offense will have a good complement of playmakers except for Graham. Jabari Greer is limited but probably will play. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be really interesting to watch. He was on the PUP list with a bad knee. He seems like a longshot, but reviews are that he looks awfully healthy and wants to play in his first week back. If he does play, it will probably be limited, on a rotation basis, but he could be an interesting presence especially since he’s been such a newsmaker this year.”What do you expect to see in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay?
“I almost always pick the Saints to win because I’ve seen them either come out smoking hot or come from behind in a hurry with a passing game that can put up a ton of points. The Saints’ passing game was back the last two games. They’ve got issues on defense and in the running game, so certainly they are a flawed team, and they haven’t blown anyone away yet. If Tampa Bay plays a good game, it will probably come down to the fourth quarter.”–Bob Levine contributed to this report
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.