When you lose to a team twice by 11 and 35 points in the same season, it’s probably worth going back to the drawing board to figure out what you could and should have done better to achieve victory.

For the Buccaneers and their quest to beat the bully New Orleans Saints, there are certainly plenty of things to choose from.

Outscored 72-26 this season and 137-67 in four meetings with the Saints during the Bruce Arians-Todd Bowles era, Tampa Bay has been thoroughly out-coached and out-played by New Orleans, as the ever-evolving style of Sean Payton consistently exposes the Bucs’ out-dated philosophies on offense and defense. Bowles’ defense has never held Payton’s offense to less than 27 points while twice allowing 31 or more, and the Bucs offense under Arians has never scored more than 24 points, and the time they did hit 24 it was thanks to a garbage-time touchdown with 13 seconds left.

It has been a thoroughly one-sided affair with several reasons for such lopsided margins. Most of them are obvious, like the 10 turnovers Tampa Bay has in their past three meetings with the Saints, compared to just two for New Orleans. I don’t think we need a whole article designated to saying “don’t turn the ball over if you want to beat the Saints.” It’s obvious, the Bucs just have to stop doing it.

Some things, however, are not so obvious. In both games against the Saints this season the Bucs have either surrendered too much pressure, turned the ball over, or committed costly penalties. But all of those areas of their team have been greatly improved for weeks now. I have less concern about the player performances than I do the Bucs’ coaching, although the staff has made significant strides offensively over the past five games that cannot be ignored. Here are the three most important things I believe the Tampa Bay coaching staff must change in order to be successful against New Orleans on Sunday.

1. More Play-Action Passing

In the first meeting against the Saints, the Bucs called just six play-action passes. In the second meeting, the number fell to three, although to be fair the game situation didn’t allow it to be a very effective strategy as the team abandoned the run early, trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Over the first 13 weeks of the season, Tom Brady’s play-action rate ranked 37th out of 40 qualifying quarterbacks per Pro Football Focus, despite averaging 3.4 yards more per play when using play fakes than when not. That mark was third-best in the NFL at the time.

From Week 14 on, Tom Brady is up to 20th in the NFL on percentage of play-action dropbacks since the bye week, and the Bucs are still getting about the same boost per play as they were before, it’s just happening more frequently now. Brady’s gone from play-action on 18 percent of his dropbacks to 27 percent over the past five games, and the results are paying dividends for the Bucs. Against Washington, Brady ran play fakes on a season-high 33 percent of his dropbacks. That’s 14 times! He went 8-of-13 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, averaging almost seven yards better on play-action pass attempts than non-play-action pass attempts.

It’s not rocket science. Play-action works, and whether or not you are running the ball successfully doesn’t matter.

There are very few good coverage linebackers in the NFL, so messing with their drop-back process with play fakes usually puts suspect players in an even more suspect position. You can see Washington LB No. 53 Jon Bostic trigger on this fake, then try to recover, get to his landmark, find the passing options, turn and cover. By the time he’s settled in, tight end Cam Brate is already crossing his face unencumbered (LB would like to disrupt him a bit if he could) and in position for a strike from Brady in the zone window.

The Bucs did this all day against Washington, and although New Orleans’ linebackers are better at dropping into coverage, play-action is one of the biggest reasons Tampa Bay is so much better at attacking the middle of the field over the past five games. Look at Brady’s passing chart from the last time Tampa Bay played New Orleans.

Against Washington’s stout defense, thanks to the use of play-action passing and some new-and-improved route concepts, Brady fried up the middle of the field. His charts have been much closer to the one below since the bye week.

It’s not an overly complicated premise, but it’s of vital importance to the Bucs’ chances at victory on Sunday night. Horizontal passing concepts off of play-action can become this team’s identity, while still being able to hit the vertical routes when they are there. All the Bucs have done is make themselves more difficult to defend by creating more high percentage looks for their quarterback to keep drives on schedule when teams take away the deep shots. Do that against New Orleans, and their chances of sustaining drives and scoring points go way up.

2. More Press Man Coverage

ESPN’s Jenna Laine tweeted out some interesting information that caught my eye on Monday.

I hadn’t seen actual data on this, but it has made logical sense to me all season. The Saints whole offense is timing and rhythm and quick game stuff. The more physical you are with them at the line of scrimmage and the less space you afford them, the less comfortable Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense will be on Sunday night. Seeing the data confirm this made it even more obvious that Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles must significantly alter his strategy of zone coverage that Brees shredded the last time the two teams met.

In Week 9 against the Saints, the Bucs ran zone coverage on well over 50 percent of their coverage snaps, with the majority of that coming in spot-drop Cover 3. Tampa Bay’s outside corners consistently lined up 8-10 yards off the ball and dropped at the snap, allowing Brees to pick them apart on slants, hitches, screens and quick outs. It was death by 1,000 cuts, and the Bucs’ shoddy tackling didn’t help matters either.

The irony is that in Week 1, the Bucs played more press coverage against New Orleans and essentially shut down the Saints passing attack. Brees threw for 160 yards on 30 attempts in the game, with 46 of those yards going to Jared Cook on a blown coverage late in the game. Carlton Davis III and Sean Murphy-Bunting played as well as they have all season, with Davis matching up great with Michael Thomas, holding him to just three catches for 17 yards on the afternoon.

Even in the slot, Davis found ways to stay on top of Thomas from a press alignment. The Saints’ star wide receiver is so rarely utilized vertically due to Brees’ downfield passing limitations, that it makes no sense to give him free space to work in underneath. The Bucs did an awesome job getting a body on him in the two team’s first match-up, but in round two, that tactic was nowhere to be found for much of the game.

Davis is at the top of the screen here, running Thomas’ route for him. Apart from the defensive tactic of press man coverage just making logical sense against the Saints, there’s also the fact that it’s clearly where Davis shines the most as a player, and the Bucs need an A-plus performance from their best cornerback on Sunday. Why not put him in the alignment that is best suited for his strengths?

Of course, regardless of alignment or technique, Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean haven’t played well most of the season. There’s no cure-all against the Saints offense, but you can’t convince me that more press man coverage wouldn’t make life more difficult for Brees and Co., and the numbers bear that out.

It’s also a mentality thing. the Saints have been the bully against the Bucs for a long time, and the Tampa Bay cornerbacks need the mental edge that comes from being physical with opponents off the snap. If they can find their swagger early, it could change the game.

3. Hit The Saints With New-Look Pressure

Rushing four defensive linemen straight up, or with a couple end/tackle, tackle/end twists isn’t going to cut it in this one. Neither is dialing up the occasional crossfire blitz with inside linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David. Those tactics may work once or twice, but the Bucs need to throw something new and unanticipated at Brees and Payton. They are simply too good if you sit back in a traditional look against them.

I’ve got two pass rush proposals for Bowles outside of blitz packages. Getting pressure with four in this game is crucial, because if Bowles blitzes too often, Brees and the Saints’ short passing game will have answers galore for it, and New Orleans’ screen game will tear Tampa Bay apart. But the Bucs don’t have the talent on their defensive front to get pressure without blitzing heavily, especially against one of the best offensive lines and offensive tackle tandems in football. So what should they do?

Bucs LB and S Jordan Whitehead
Bucs LB and S Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

First, run the “Bleach” package, which is what I’ve affectionately dubbed the defensive personnel look I wrote about a few weeks ago. I’m calling it “Bleach,” because it revolves around Jordan WHITEhead and Devin WHITE essentially changing roles for a handful of pass-obvious defensive snaps each game. On the defensive line you’d have White, Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett and either Ndamukong Suh or Will Gholston, and at linebacker you’d have Whitehead joining David to patrol the middle of the field and blitz as needed. It plays to each player’s biggest strengths, and allows White to be a more consistent pass rush force, while giving Barrett and JPP the flexibility to find the most advantageous match-ups up front.

The second idea is simply to move Barrett and Pierre-Paul inside on second- and third-and-long situations, allowing them to get in far better one-on-ones with guards Cesar Ruiz and Andrus Peat than where they were on the outside against Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead. Instead, move Suh and Gholston outside to occupy the Saints’ tackles and contain the pocket. Brees isn’t elusive enough for the Bucs to worry about him getting outside the pocket consistently enough, and interior pressure is more likely to bother him than edge pressure anyway. Put the Bucs’ best rushers inside and hope they can win often enough with speed and quickness up the middle to impact the game.

Maybe these tactics work, maybe they don’t. But if Bowles comes out with the same vanilla game plan he has featured too often against the Saints over the past two years, the Bucs will get chewed up and spit back out again. It’s time to get creative and aggressive, trying to force the Saints into an uncharacteristic mistake that could cost them a possession or two – and ultimately the game.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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eaustinyoung
9 days ago

Game 1, Carlton Davis basically nullified Michael Thomas. He was glued to him. Do that again.

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fredster
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 days ago

Thomas is only one small piece of Saints offense really.

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eaustinyoung
Reply to  fredster
8 days ago

Ok nevermind, don’t lock down Thomas. Lol what? Thomas is their biggest receiving threat. Not exactly sure what your comment is supposed to imply.

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fredster
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 days ago

Means he isn’t the main or only weapon. He didn’t even play when we played them before or many games all year. Have you been watching? They were12-4 and he play handful games or less. Tackling has to be perfect for Bucs and don’t allow YAC.

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Buc76
9 days ago

This is Todd Bowles job interview for head coaching opportunities

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Sheldon
Reply to  Buc76
9 days ago

He’s not a good head coach unfortunately, but he’s a great DC, so he might want to get his money with being what he’s great at other than what he’s okay at. Just my opinion. If he had better DB coaches our defense would be number 1.

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drdneast
Reply to  Sheldon
9 days ago

Another fan with a DB fetish. Pressure up front makes DB’s All Pros. Ask Rhonde Barber and John Lynch.
All of you DB lovers need to start a regimen of Zoloft. It’s great for irrational obsessions.

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Pete Wood
Reply to  drdneast
9 days ago

Grasshopper, somebody can disagree with you without being irrational.

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WeAretheChamps2002
Reply to  drdneast
9 days ago

*Ronde* :)

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MWD
MWD
Reply to  drdneast
8 days ago

Totally agree with you though I do feel man press is their best option scheme wise-

Agree with pressure makes better DBs specifically by increasing the chances of bad throws translating to picks- another two names- just ask Brian Kelly and Dexter Jackson.

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JSW
JSW
Reply to  drdneast
8 days ago

Hmmm. Spoken like someone who has experience with the stuff…
Really, if DB’s are so unimportant, why not get rid of them and just rush 8 every play? I don’t think our DB play is good enough to win us the Super Bowl – but I challenge them to prove me wrong! Go Bucs!

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JJ
JJ
Reply to  drdneast
8 days ago

Drdneast, the game has evolved beyond your small thinking. DL’ s do not get pressure on QBs like they used to AND there are more rules implemented that
protect QB’s which changes how these athletes do their job. WR’s are far more talented than they’ve ever been in the the NFL, and it takes more than just pressure from your DL to combat the talent on the backend. You need a regimen of Adderall apparently so you can pay more attention to how this game is actually being played.

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Pete Wood
9 days ago

I firmly believe the Bucs would have won the first meeting if it had been scheduled later in the season. Tom Brady and the team had not worked together at that point and made mistakes they would not again. Does anyone seriously see Brady throwing 2 ints, including a pick six, again? The Saints aren’t invincible. They only scored 21 points against Chicago. Bucs can win this.

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drdneast
Reply to  Pete Wood
9 days ago

Not if they run that horrible zone defense.

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Naplesfan
Reply to  drdneast
8 days ago

Yeah, that defense is SO horrible that it ranks #8 in the NFL in points allowed, and #6 in the league in yards allowed.
That’s simply, horribly horrible … o the pain of such a horrible horrible horrible defense.

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Eddie
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

How did they do against the Saint running this defense?

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eaustinyoung
Reply to  Pete Wood
9 days ago

Take away that pick 6 out route that they eventually scrapped (thank God), and the failed 2 point and kick the PAT, the game is 27-24. Much tighter game.

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twspin
9 days ago

This could easily end up as a shoot-out. And if we have not addressed our Offensive line weaknesses against the Saints? They are gonna slaughter us like they have before..time and time again. Yes, our secondary is bad. But the key to this game is our O line. The saints seem to..salivate at the mouth and feast on Brady every game. They know, this is how you beat us. So I hope we have come up with some schemes to protect Brady. If not guys, Its over.

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RW
RW
Reply to  twspin
8 days ago

It’s not the Oline so much as the offensive schemes the Bucs were running. Since the bye week the Bucs throw more on 1st down, throw more WR screens,use more playaction and keep the TE in to help block (Max protection) All these things they didn’t do in the second game and should do this weekend to counter the Saints rush.

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drdneast
9 days ago

Great article Jon and not a bad idea with the Bleach defense which I remembered and enjoyed reading. Why not play to your players strengths and rushing the passer is certainly Devin Whites. Besides, if the scheme doesn’t work, no one says you are married to it. I watched game film of the Bucs against the WFT and they were horrible in zone defense, especially Cover 3. It seemed like the would get in their landmark points and stay rooted to them and had no awareness to what was happening 2 yards behind them. It was miserable to watch. I… Read more »

eaustinyoung
9 days ago

How about Bowles learns to stop Mormon Tim Tebow? Payton just runs college plays and Hill burns teams. I can’t understand why it’s so difficult to stop.

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RW
RW
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 days ago

He is running behind a great offensive line. That line is the whole key to the Saints offense.

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EastEndBoy
9 days ago

I am completely with you on points 2 and 3. PRESS-MAN and BLITZ: while you’re never going to shut down Brees entirely, every DC we’ve had against Brees (Bowles, Smith, Frazier, Sherridan, even Rah I guess) has tried to rush 4 and play zone and been crushed doing so…try something else! As for changes on the offense, I would suggest running in the gaps we’ve been most successful all year (i.e., between Smith and Marpet, with and without another pulling lineman), rather than trying to run straight up the A gap, which we maddeningly try far too often. But overall,… Read more »

Buccorona
Reply to  EastEndBoy
8 days ago

Well summarized

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WeAretheChamps2002
9 days ago

A lot of credit needs to be given to Gronk blocking Young 1 on 1 in your first GIF. He gives Young a strong hand punch and initiates the contact instead of letting Young engage first, which clearly throws Young off his game. Gronk looks like he’s a better pass blocker than a lot of left tackles in the NFL.

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Eddie
Reply to  WeAretheChamps2002
8 days ago

Gronk was just as quick as Young and stronger in that Washington game. Without him Smith will tired out early and be even slower for Young at the 4th quarter

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RW
RW
Reply to  WeAretheChamps2002
8 days ago

The reason why Gronk is considered the best all round TE ever is because In his prime he was a great blocker and receiver. Even now he is pretty darn good at both.

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cozart
9 days ago

 “run the “Bleach” package”,& “move Barrett and Pierre-Paul inside on second- and third-and-long situations”
This is the type of planning I’m hoping Bowles is working up! Very sound thinking!

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The Wall
8 days ago

Jon- you’re hired Great analysis!

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JSW
JSW
8 days ago

I watched that Saints/Bears game… and the Saints DBs cover tighter, hit harder, and tackle better than ours (with the exception of Winfield Jr.). Until our DBs change that, I have a hard time picturing Brady out-scoring Breeze in a shootout… Against Washington, it seemed like we didn’t have a contested catch until the last defensive play – and that one should have been swatted down, rather than trying to play hero ball and pick it – it was 4th down…

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TBChucky
8 days ago

Jon, please send this to the Bucs coaching staff immediately! Good read, and good ideas!

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MCBRICKEL
8 days ago

Let’s hope the Buc’s dulled the Saints senses with their last few game plans. Then, like Rocky, switch their defense from soft to press coverage, the bleach blitz and swapping the ends and tackles inside and out, as well as an offensive plan designed to emphasize the play action pass, Brady’s amazing ability to read the defense and some snot bubble and juke rushing. Go Bucs.

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Naplesfan
8 days ago

Frankly it’s obnoxious and insulting that a media writer is trying to tell the coach of a top ten ranked (#8 in points allowed, #6 in yards allowed on defense. #3 offense in points scored led by the all time GOAT at quarterback) how to do their respective jobs. Tell me, Jon, how many championship NFL teams have you coached in your long life as a media writer? Zero? Yeah, I thought so. It is one thing to analyze the capabilities of personnel, or to analyze past coaching decisions. It is entirely another thing to pretend that a media analyst… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by Naplesfan
FLBoyInDallas
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

Stop being a crotchety old fart. It’s the media’s job to analyze, question and offer editorial opinion. They don’t exist to simply nod their heads yes and toe the company line. If you want that, then go speak to some of the Bucs front office employees. I for one appreciate the PR analysis (much more so than certain commenters).

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fredster
Reply to  FLBoyInDallas
8 days ago

Well said.

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Captain Sly
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

Sorry but I’m going to have to agree with Jon on this one. Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you have all the answers. See Lovie, Mike Smith, Dirk… This coaching staff has to try something different than what they did the last game and I’m all for the “Bleach Package”. My only concern with this is if Brees audibles to a power rush attack like a counter trey or power sweep we may get gashed right there… Hey Sean Payton uses Taysom Hill just enough to confuse defenses why not try using Devin White as a pass… Read more »

Spitfire
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

How many Championship NFL teams has Bowles coached? Zero that’s how many. Jon doing his job and running analysis on the team is what he’s supposed to do. Being a Dick about it does not have to be yours. Judging by how our Defense has played New Orleans while Bowles has been here something different does have to be done. Whether it’s scheme or just player effort, we gotta come at em with our best on Sunday. Some creative suggestions from someone who’s paid to do it for a living is not a bad thing. I know we can win… Read more »

fredster
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

Yeah Bucs are a great defense. Lol. That’s why stats mean dick. I don’t care what Bucs are ranked that defense has been horrible in some games. Just horrible. The ranking looks better because we clubbed the bad teams and offense helped.
If you think the Washington game against a QB is his second start was good than your high as hell on something.

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RW
RW
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 days ago

Last time I looked the Bucs were 0-2 this year against the team they are playing Sunday. And tell us again what a great job Bowles defense did against Washington’s pathetic offense. BA even said if the D plays like that against the Saints they will lose. So things have to change against them.
As for Brady. He ALWAYS says that the O including himself can play better and they have to improve things.
There is nothing wrong for an informed person to make suggestions on what the team should do to be successful.

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SenileSenior
8 days ago

Love your analysis, Jon. You have given form and substance to general ideas many of us fans have regarding the need for innovation and the unexpected by Arians, Leftwich, Bowles and staffs at this time. Payton and his people have outfoxed our coaches for several years now. Of course our guys have already had Sunday and Monday to put together their game plans so they are not likely to read this particular article and make major new decisions. Thankfully, the thinking you have expressed here today has been put “out there” by you, Scott, Mark and others in recent articles… Read more »

pokerpat12
8 days ago

At the end of last season it appeared our Defense (with Vita Vea) was totally on the uptick. I thought we’d have the #1 Defense in the league in 2020. Boy was I wrong! I hate to say it but this Defense has been quite an embarrassment. If this Bucs team even wants to smell the Super Bowl our Offense has to score 25 points or more. Control the “time of possession” and keep the opposing Offense off the field as much as possible. I remember when I first heard Todd Bowles was our new D.C. I was thrilled. Lately,… Read more »

Eddie
Reply to  pokerpat12
8 days ago

The corner back are just slow have little recovery speed. Maybe that is why the DC play their DB 10 15 yds off the line of scrimmage. If they ever got beat at line playing press, it all over.

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fredster
Reply to  pokerpat12
8 days ago

I agree Vea is very an important piece to this defense, and I also think Bucs may have score over 30 here to win. Can they hold Saints to 30 or less? Doubtful. If Bowls goes I won’t lose any sleep. He’s good not great imo. We could do better. Could do worse too.

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fredster
8 days ago

This game will tell me if Arians is a great coach (and Bowls) or just good enough to get us 11-5. Will see and I’m not going to go into great detail about scheme I’ll let other “experts” here do that. Lol. I know one thing I whole heartedly agree if they do not change up things on offense and defense they will get another beat down.

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76bucsfan46
8 days ago

I agree once again with Jon. When you press man them with coverage over the top it lowers Brees completion percentage. But I also think we must put an extra corner or safety in the game to pickup the TE and RB’s coming out. An extra safety preferably to support both the run and TE/RB releasing late. Our front four won’t get to Brees in time but blitzes from our extra safety or corner should surprise him.

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thewbacca
8 days ago

Since the last NO meeting: Bucs scoring early, even against the #2 defense in prime time. Turnovers are almost nil. Saints aren’t a team that you can come back from a 2 score deficit. Brees is just too good. Score early and Tampa won’t be in a place to have to force plays. I’m concerned with Tampa’s tackling, that element doesn’t look as sharp. Watching how the Bears and Ravens tackled, it was obvious Tampa is not getting it done. You can’t let any of their players get an extra couple yards here and there because Tampa didn’t wrap up… Read more »

plopes808
8 days ago

Great analysis as always Jon. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why we were playing so much zone and off coverage the 2nd time we played. The first game, even without the offseason we were able to shut down Thomas and nullify the NO offense pretty well. 2nd time around, Bowles inexcusably changed things up and we got eaten alive. Brees plays better against zone and off coverage, out DBs play best with press man coverage. So why in the world would we play to Brees’ strengths and out DBs weakness? I honestly wonder if we’d be… Read more »

davepear76
Reply to  plopes808
8 days ago

Nice write up Jon really enjoy your analysis. I agree that the corners need to play press man. When they do good things happen. The soft zone keeping things in front mentality doesn’t suit these guys at all. Really opens the door for YAC. I was looking at total passes defended between this team and the 2002 Bucs and there’s like a 35 differential. Kelly and Barber alone had close to 40. Quarles and Brooks totaled 20.

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Last edited 8 days ago by davepear76
scubog
Reply to  davepear76
8 days ago

Like your name. Few people remember Dave Pear was our first Pro Bowl player.
Reading some of the comments, if I didn’t know better, I’d think we had the worst out-of-touch defensive coaching staff along with the slowest and dumbest players in the league. As Naples pointed out, in spite of its’ flaws, this defense is still in the upper half of the league by comparison. Other teams give up catches and miss tackles too.

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owlykat
8 days ago

Great strategy!

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