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BUCS’ OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

SPREAD: Buccaneers by 8

WHERE THE SAINTS STAND: The Saints are 5-8 and in last place in the NFC South Division.





OVERALL: 21st (314.3)
RUSHING: 28th (93.2 ypg)
PASSING: 12th (221.1 ypg)

OVERALL: 5th (287.3 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (123.8 ypg)
PASSING: 1st (163.5 ypg)

OVERALL: 17th (324.4 ypg)
RUSHING: 24th (89.9 ypg)
PASSING: 10th (234.6 ypg)

OVERALL: 32nd (405.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 32nd (119.6 ypg)
PASSING: 31st (255.8 ypg)

…the New Orleans Saints have the worst defense in the NFL (ranked 32nd)?

New Orleans’ offense is led by tailback Deuce McAllister, who has rushed for 717 yards (3.8 avg.) and eight touchdowns while missing a few games due to injury this season. Because he’s struggled with injuries, the Saints are producing an average of just 89.8 yards rushing per game and rank 29th in that category.

McAllister was coming off a ankle injury when these two teams clashed in Week 5. He still managed to rush for 102 yards on 21 carries (4.9 avg.). In addition to his skills as a running back, McAllister is also a threat in the passing game, where he’s hauled in 32 passes for 205 yards. Tampa Bay’s defense has been inconsistent against the run this season. It ranks 22nd in that category and allowed Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson to produce over 100 yards last Sunday. Not only do the Bucs have to tackle well, they need to make an effort to strip McAllister of the ball. He’s fumbled seven times this season, and five of those have been recovered by the opposing defense.

Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks has been sub-par this season. He’s only completing 57 percent of his passes and he’s tossed 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. One of the reasons Brooks has struggled is because his offensive line is struggling to protect him. He’s been sacked 27 times.

In addition to McAllister, the Bucs must account for Saints wide receiver Joe Horn, who has hauled in a team-leading 81 passes for 1,184 yards and nine touchdowns. Horn will line up against Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who allowed the crafty and speedy receiver to haul in four passes and one touchdown in Week 5. Kelly is having a solid season. He’s notched a team-leading four interceptions and 16 passes defensed.

Donte’ Stallworth and Jerome Pathon are also speedy receivers, but they’re not as effective when McAllister is limited via the ground game.

Tight end Boo Williams is another receiving threat. He’s hauled in 29 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns. Although they struggled earlier in the season, the Bucs have been successful in their attempt to cover the tight end. Look for Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to continue to use safety Dwight Smith to cover the tight end.

New Orleans’ defense has been absolutely horrible this season. It ranks dead last in two of the three major categories (passing defense ranks 31st). The Saints are surrendering 417.5 yards and 27.5 points of offense per game.

Tampa Bay’s offense produced 319 yards of total offense in Week 5. Most of those came via the passing game, where quarterback Brian Griese completed 16-of-19 passes for 194 yards in relief of Chris Simms (shoulder injury).

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden will likely attempt to pass first in an attempt to open up the running game. The Bucs produced just 81 yards on 26 carries (3.1 avg.) in Week 5, but RB Michael Pittman picked up several key first downs in short-yardage situations. He must do it again Sunday in order to keep drives alive.

Look for wide receiver Michael Clayton (four catches for 61 yards) and tight end Ken Dilger (thee catches for 60 yards and one touchdown) to be heavily involved in the passing game again. However, Joey Galloway should be the most productive player in the game if he can stay healthy. In Week 5, Charles Lee, who started in Galloway’s place at the X (split-end) position, hauled in four passes for 76 yards. Galloway will line up against Saints cornerback Fred Thomas, who has no interceptions and just three passes defensed. The addition of CB Keith McKenzie has been significant for the Saints. He’s already picked off two passes since being traded to New Orleans and allows the safeties to help in run support.

The Saints have some talented defensive players, including defensive ends Charles Grant and Darren Howard, who have recorded 8.5 and 7.5 sacks, respectively. Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese and right tackle Kenyatta Walker will be charged with the difficult task of holding off these two pass rushers.

Tampa Bay’s offensive players must protect the football — New Orleans’ defense has forced 15 fumbles this season.

Although he’s averaging just 23 yards per kickoff return, Michael Lewis is still one of the NFL’s best return men and must be accounted for. Lewis also returns punts for the Saints and is averaging 10.5 yards per attempt. Tampa Bay’s special teams coverage units have been solid this season.

Punter Mitch Berger is averaging 44.3 yards per attempt and he’s pinned 20 of his 61 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Kicker John Karney has been solid, drilling 21 of his 24 (87.5 percent) attempts this season.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans split the season series last season, but the Bucs will need to sweep the Saints this season in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. The chance to do that comes Sunday when the Saints invade Raymond James Stadium to take on the Bucs.

The Bucs have saved some of their better performances for their homes games, where they’ve won four straight games. With the home crowd on its side its playoff hopes still alive, Tampa Bay should be able to knock off New Orleans in this contest. However, the turnovers and penalties will need to be limited. If the Bucs lose to the Saints, they won’t even deserve to secure a spot in the post-season.

FLYNN’S PICK: Buccaneers 24 Saints 13
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