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OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE SAINTS STAND: The Saints are 5-2 and tied with the Atlanta Falcons for first place in the NFC South division.
SAINTS HEAD COACH: Sean Payton
SAINTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Doug Marrone
SAINTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gary Gibbs
SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: John Bonamego
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 30th (254.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (84.9 ypg)
PASSING: 26th (169.1 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 22nd (339.9 ypg)
RUSHING: 30th (146.0 ypg)
PASSING: 11th (193.9 ypg)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 7th (361.3 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (98.4 ypg)
PASSING: 3rd (262.9 ypg)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 13th (306.9 ypg)
RUSHING: 21st (122.1 ypg)
PASSING: 9th (184.7 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… the Saints rank 24th in the league in turnover margin with a minus-4?
SCOUTING THE SAINTS
Veteran QB Drew Brees has emerged as a leader on the Saints offense. He’s displayed an accurate arm, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 1,892 yards. He’s also tossed 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a quarterback rating of 89.9. Brees’ veteran arm and savvy are two big reasons why the Saints have been averaging 361 yards of offense and converting nearly 41 percent of their third downs this season. When the Bucs and Saints met on Oct. 8, Brees completed 21-of-33 passes for 171 yards and tossed one touchdown and no interceptions, which proved to be key in a game that was decided by just three points. Getting pressure on Brees will be key as he has the arm and receivers to pick the Bucs defense apart if given the time to throw.
Despite having two of the most talented running backs in the league in Deuce McAllister and rookie Reggie Bush, New Orleans’ offense is ranked 22nd in the rushing department. But the Saints did manage to have success running the ball against the Bucs in Week 5. McAllister rushed 15 times for 123 yards (8.2 avg.) and one touchdown in that contest. Tampa Bay’s tackling on the defensive side of the ball was sub-par at best, evidenced by the missed tackles on McAllister’s 57-yard run in that game. The Bucs haven’t been the only defense to struggle in their attempt to contain McAllister. He’s rushed 96 times for 455 yards (4.7 avg.) and four touchdowns. Bush, who isn’t as powerful as McAllister and likes to work the perimeter more than the inside, wasn’t as effective vs. the Bucs. He carried the ball just nine times for 23 yards (2.3 avg.). Bush has rushed for 212 yards (3.0 avg.) and is still looking for his first rushing touchdown. Tampa Bay will have to concern itself with Bush more in the passing game, where he’s hauled in a team-leading 42 passes for 290 yards. The Saints like to hit Bush on swing patterns and screen plays. Bush, who is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, caught 11 passes for 63 yards vs. the Bucs the first time around. Tackling will be key for Tampa Bay’s defense in its attempt to limit the production of McAllister and Bush on Sunday.
Although four-time Pro Bowl WR Joe Horn is healthy and performing well, one of Brees’ favorite target in the passing game has surprisingly been rookie WR Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick from Hofstra who has hauled in 33 passes for 577 yards (17.5 avg.) and six touchdowns. The rookie receiver caught just three passes for 38 yards when he went up against Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber in Week 5. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Colston will attempt to use his size and frame to get himself open vs. the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Barber. Bucs CB Juran Bolden will not have it any easier as he will go up against Horn, who has caught 30 passes for 507 yards (16.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. Horn, who posted four catches for 48 yards in Week 5, is listed as questionable with a groin injury. If he doesn’t play Sunday, Horn will be replaced by Devery Henderson, who has caught just eight passes this season. The Saints haven’t used tight ends Ernie Conwell or Mark Campbell much in the passing game this year, and Conwell won’t be used at all in this contest as he’s out with a knee injury. The Bucs are hoping their front seven can stop the running game so that Bucs safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen don’t have to spend as much time near the line of scrimmage. Barber and Bolden certainly could use their help in covering Colston and Horn, respectively.
Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice missed former Saints left tackle Wayne Gandy in Week 5, but New Orleans didn’t. Rice has recorded more sacks (16) against the Saints than any other team during his career, but he was held without a quarterback takedown in Week 5 when he went up against second-year T Jammal Brown, a 2005 first-round draft pick. In fact, the Bucs failed to sack Brees at all in that contest. Then again, Brees has been a hard man to get to, evidenced by the fact that he’s been sacked just eight times this season. Both Brown and Rice are injured heading into this game. Brown is dealing with an ankle injury and Rice has a shoulder ailment. Both players are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. If Brown were unable to play and Rice manages to go, Rice, who has recorded just one sack this season, would find himself in a favorable matchup with Saints backup T Rob Pettiti. New Orleans RT Jon Stinchcomb is injured as well. He’s playing with a toe injury, which has him listed as probable. Bucs DE Greg Spires will be matched up with Stinchcomb. The Saints attempted to run the ball at Spires’ side of the field in Week 5, and they had some success, but Spires still notched four tackles. Guards Jahrl Evans and Jabar Nesbit, and center Jeff Faine, will go up against Ellis Wyms and Chris Hovan, who need to do a better job of filling gaps. McFarland, who was traded to Indianapolis a few weeks ago, was picked on by the Saints in Week 5. The good news for this group is they did a great job of containing Giants RB Tiki Barber last Sunday.
The Saints have quite the defensive end duo in Charles Grant and Will Smith. Grant has three sacks and Smith has 3.5 quarterback takedowns. Grant had an active game against Bucs rookie Jeremy Trueblood in Week 5. Trueblood was making his first NFL start in that contest and managed to play well for the most part. However, Grant still managed to record five tackles and a huge sack that caused Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski to fumble, which allowed the Saints to recover the ball and eventually score a touchdown. In Week 5, the Bucs kept an extra tight end in to help Trueblood block and called on RB Michael Pittman to help chip block often. Look for them to implement a similar strategy in this game in an effort to keep Grant contained. Smith will go up against Bucs LT Anthony Davis, who will be counted on to help open up holes for Cadillac Williams in the running game. The 330-pound Davis should be able to do that as he has a 50-pound weight advantage over the 280-pound Smith. The Bucs might continue to rotate Dan Buenning and Sean Mahan at the left guard position. They will have their hands full with Saints nose tackle Brian Young, who is explosive off the ball and plays with good technique. Young has notched 3.5 sacks this season. Bucs center John Wade will help either Buenning and Mahan, or rookie right guard Davin Joseph double team defenders. Joseph will go up against Hollis Thomas, who is a solid pass rusher but tends to struggle against the run. Williams’ one and only 100-yard rushing effort this season came back in Week 5 against the Saints, who are allowing opposing offenses to rush for an average of 122 yards per game. Williams, who has rushed for 414 yard (3.7 avg.) this season, produced 111 yards rushing via the ground game in that contest. Look for the Bucs to have a more balanced attack and feature Williams early and often vs. the Saints.
Although this unit isn’t necessarily the weakest link on the New Orleans defense, it has struggled a bit against the run. Linebacker Scott Fujita protects the strong side of New Orleans’ defense. He leads the team in tackles and has recorded 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. Middle linebacker Mark Simoneau has been a good addition, but he lacks playmaking ability. In fact, Simoneau has not recorded an interception or a sack this season. Weakside linebacker Scott Shanle poses the biggest threat in terms of blitzing. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles and has two sacks thus far. Pittman and Bucs fullback Mike Alstott must help account for Shanle and Fujita on blitzes, especially with Gradkowski at the helm. In Week 5, which was Gradkowski’s first start as a pro, the Bucs kept the Saints defense off balance by establishing the ground attack and calling for plenty of play-action pass plays, including bootlegs, which helped buy Gradkowski time to throw the ball. Gradkowski completed 20-of-31 passes for 225 yards and tossed two touchdowns vs. the Saints in Week 5. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will need to feature those types of plays again on Sunday.
New Orleans’ secondary is allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 40 percent of its third downs and is struggling to come up with turnovers this season. Saints cornerback Fred Thomas thrives in man-to-man coverage, but Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway made him look like a rookie last year, catching a total of nine passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns in two games vs. the Saints. In Week 5, Galloway worked Thomas again, catching four passes for 110 yards and one touchdown. The Bucs are hoping to get the speedy Galloway in more one-on-one matchups on Sunday, and they should get them if Saints defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs decides to blitz his linebackers and defensive backs against Gradkowski. The Bucs’ rookie signal caller will have to be careful when throwing to Galloway or WR Michael Clayton since the Saints have two dangerous safeties in Josh Bullocks and rookie Roman Harper. Both players are hard hitters, which means Gradkowski will have to be extra careful when he attempts to use his legs to move the chains. Clayton could have a hard time getting open vs. CB Mike McKenzie, who is one of the league’s better cover corners. Most teams have shied away from throwing around McKenzie’s side of the field, and in Week 5 the Bucs followed that trend. Clayton caught one pass for 7 yards vs. the Saints. Even if Clayton isn’t a factor, Galloway will be.
Saints kicker John Carney is one of the league’s most consistent. He has drilled 13-of-14 (92.9 percent) field goals this year. He’s got the leg strength to kick over 50 yards. Punter Steve Weatherford is averaging 44.8 yards per attempt and has a long of 54 yards this season. He’s pinned seven of his 33 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Weatherford likely will be punting to either Bucs WR Ike Hilliard or CB Phillip Buchanon as Mark Jones has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Former Bucs running back Aaron Stecker handles kickoff return duties for the Saints. While he’s only averaging 21.6 yards per attempt, Stecker retuned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against the Bucs during the 2004 regular season. The Bucs will have to account for rookie RB Reggie Bush and avoid punting the ball directly to him. Bush is averaging 10.7 yards per return and returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to win the game against the Bucs in Week 5.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 27 Saints 13