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OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
WHERE: LSU Tigers Stadium
WHERE THE SAINTS STAND: The Saints are 3-8 and in last place in the NFC South division.
SAINTS HEAD COACH: Jim Haslett
SAINTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Sheppard
SAINTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rick Venturi
SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Everest
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 22nd (304.9 ypg) RUSHING: 16th (111.5 ypg) PASSING: 23rd (193.5 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 2nd (269.6 ypg) RUSHING: 8th (96.4 ypg) PASSING: 3rd (173.3 ypg)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 17th (324.0 ypg) RUSHING: 13th (116.9 ypg) PASSING: 17th (207.1 ypg)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 13th (313.6 ypg) RUSHING: 29th (136.7 ypg) PASSING: 6th (176.9 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …both of Tampa Bay’s road losses have been to 2-9 teams (N.Y. Jets, San Francisco 49ers) that are in last place in their respective divisions?
SCOUTING THE SAINTS
Quarterbacks With New Orleans’ biggest playmaker, running back Deuce McAllister, sidelined for the season due to injury, even more pressure has been placed on Saints QB Aaron Brooks.
Brooks is a mobile quarterback and has shown the ability to play at a Pro Bowl level, but his inconsistency has hindered the Saints offense in recent years and has done the same this season. Brooks has completed just 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards and tossed 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Although the Saints are converting 38.9 percent of their third downs this season, Brooks has been a Buc-killer on third downs over the past several seasons. The Bucs defense, which ranks No. 2 overall, must find a way to get itself off the field on third downs in this game.
Tampa Bay’s defense must also account for Brooks’ whereabouts at all times. Brooks is an extremely mobile signal caller, evidenced by his by his 38 rushes for 248 yards (6.5 avg.) and two touchdowns this season. The Bucs defense has the speed to contain Brooks in the running game.
Running Backs With McAllister out, the Saints have turned to RB Antowain Smith to lead their ground attack. Smith, who is not as elusive as McAllister but has the power to bull his way over defenders, has rushed 98 times for 437 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns this season. The Bucs will have to be on their game in terms of tackling since Smith produces most of his yardage after the initial contact.
The Saints use former Bucs RB Aaron Stecker as a third-down- and situational-type back. Stecker, who has caught 17 passes for 143 yards, is a better receiver than Smith. Look for the Saints to use Stecker on some screen passes, which could be effective against an aggressive Bucs pass rush. Stecker is also a capable ball carrier, evidenced by his 65 carries for 249 yards (3.8 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 8th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (96.4 avg.).
Receivers Brooks has an impressive arsenal of receivers to throw to, and each of them has great speed and playmaking ability.
In years past, WR Joe Horn has led this group. In his first five years with the Saints, Horn averaged 87 catches for 1,258 yards and nine touchdowns per season. However, Horn has caught just 34 passes for 473 yards (13.9 avg.) and one touchdown, but he also missed three contests due to injury. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who has hauled in a team-leading four interceptions this season, will be charged with the difficult task of containing Horn, who has given the Bucs secondary some problems in the past.
That leaves Bucs CB Ronde Barber on Saints WR Donte’ Stallworth, who has caught a team-leading 49 passes for 672 yards (13.7 avg.) and six touchdowns through 11 games. Barber has the speed and coverage ability to keep up with Stallworth.
New Orleans’ No. 3 WR, Az-Zahir Hakim, who has caught 20 passes for 344 yards (17.2 avg.) and one touchdown, is questionable with a back and rib injury. Should Hakim not play, WR Devery Henderson, who has caught 15 passes for 262 yards (17.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, will play in his place. Should he line up in the slot, Henderson will be covered by Barber while CB Juran Bolden covers Stallworth. Bolden has played well as of late and shouldn’t have a problem covering either receiver.
One of Brooks’ favorite weapons in the passing game, tight end Ernie Conwell, will miss Sunday’s game with an injury. Replacing Conwell will be 6-foot-8, 268-pound Zach Hilton, who has great size but not the route-running or catching ability that Conwell possesses.
Offensive Line Tampa Bay must get after Brooks early and often in order to halt a potentially potent New Orleans offense.
On paper, New Orleans’ offensive line, which features, left tackle Wayne Gandy, left guard Kendyl Jacox, center LeCharles Bentley, right guard Jermane Mayberry and right tackle Jammal Brown, looks extremely talented, but this unit has struggled in pass protection, surrendering 30 sacks through 11 games this season.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line feeds off right defensive end Simeon Rice, who has been a sacking machine as of late. He’s notched a team-leading nine sacks and six forced fumbles. Rice has had success vs. the Saints before and must find a way to rush his way past Gandy, who is solid when healthy.
Bucs LE Greg Spires should be able to penetrate the Saints’ backfield. He’s going up against a rookie right tackle in Brown, who has been inconsistent this season. He hasn’t been the pass rusher he was when he notched eight sacks last season, but Spires (two sacks in ’05) needs to help collapse the pocket.
It should be interesting to see what returning to LSU Tigers Stadium will do for Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland’s game on Sunday. “Booger’ will face a Pro Bowl-caliber right guard in Mayberry, who isn’t as dominant as he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. While he’ll want to get after Brooks, McFarland must first concern himself with stopping the running game, which is where Mayberry thrives in terms of blocking ability.
Bentley and Jacox will likely double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who has been extremely disruptive in the trenches and has played a huge role in Tampa Bay’s ability to stop the run this season.
If Tampa Bay’s front four can put consistent pressure on Brooks, the Saints signal caller will make mistakes in the passing game, which could lead to some much-needed turnovers. In fact, New Orleans is ranked dead last in the NFL with a minus-13 turnover ratio.
Defensive Line The most dangerous part of New Orleans’ front four is its defensive ends, Darren Howard, Charles Grant, Will Smith and Tony Bryant.
Grant anchors the right side of New Orleans’ defensive line and has notched 2.5 sacks while struggling to defend the run. Grant will be matched up with Bucs LT Anthony Davis, who has been banged up lately but has the size to hold off the productive defensive end. Grant notched 14 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in two games vs. the Bucs last year.
Howard has notched 3.5 quarterback takedowns and will face Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker, who is coming off a shaky performance vs. the Bears. Both Grant and Howard have given the Bucs’ O-line problems in the past.
The Saints like to keep their defensive ends fresh and do so by rotating them often. Smith is arguably the best pass rusher the Saints have, and he’s recorded a team-leading six sacks. He normally plays on the left side. Bryant, who usually subs in for Grant, has recorded four sacks.
Because the threat of a potent pass rush from the Saints defensive ends does exist, the Bucs, who have allowed 29 sacks through 11 games this season, will once again feature plenty of two-tight end sets with rookie Alex Smith and Anthony Becht.
Look for the Bucs to attack the interior part of the Saints’ defensive line, where DTs Brian Young and Willie Whitehead have struggled to defend the run. Bucs Gs Sean Mahan and Dan Buenning, and C John Wade should be able to open up some holes for rookie RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season. The Saints are ranked 29th vs. the run and are allowing 136.7 yards on the ground per game.
Linebackers This unit suffered a huge loss this week when the Saints placed middle linebacker Courtney Watson on injured reserve. Starting outside LB James Allen was placed on IR earlier in the season, which has left New Orleans’ linebacking corps vulnerable in both the running and passing game.
Robert McKinnon and Sedrick Hodge will start in place of Watson and Allen, respectively. The Bucs will likely attempt to test Hodge in the passing game by throwing to Williams, Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott out of the backfield and rookie TE Alex Smith down the seams. Given the Saints’ injuries at this position, Bucs QB Chris Simms should find open receivers underneath.
Weakside LB Colby Bockwoldt remains healthy and in the starting lineup. He leads the Saints in tackles with 52 but lacks playmaking ability, evidenced by the fact that he has yet to notch a sack, interception of forced fumble this season.
Secondary The Saints’ secondary is very talented and features cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas, and safeties Dwight Smith and Josh Bullocks.
Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who has struggled to find his groove this season, will have his work cut out for him vs. McKenzie, who is a very physical corner. However, Clayton has plenty of motivation in this game seeing as he and the Bucs will be playing at LSU Tiger Stadium, where Clayton played collegiately.
With Clayton likely to struggle getting open vs. McKenzie, Simms will once again look for WR Joey Galloway, who is Tampa Bay’s best playmaker on offense. Galloway has hauled in a team-leading 58 passes for 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He has the speed to separate from Thomas, who has notched one interception and eight passes defensed.
With New Orleans suspect at the linebacker position, Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi will likely have S Dwight Smith, a former Buc, line up over TE Alex Smith in an effort to contain him in the passing game. Smith has recorded 47 tackles, one forced fumble, two interceptions and six passes defensed.
With Smith playing close to the line of scrimmage, Bullocks, a rookie who is playing in place of S Jay Bellamy (injured reserve), will be charged with the difficult task of helping Thomas cover Galloway. Bullocks has notched one pick and eight passes defensed.
The Saints are allowing opponents to convert 41.4 percent of their third downs and score an average of 26 points per game, which ranks 28th in the NFL.
Special Teams Saints kicker John Carney, who is normally one of the league’s best kickers, is having a tough season. He’s made just 16-of-23 (69.6 avg.) of his field goal attempts, including 5-of-9 from 40-49 yards out. Tampa Bay’s kickoff return team has been plagued by penalties. Edell Shepherd has replaced Torrie Cox as the primary kickoff returner and is averaging 20.1 yards per attempt.
Punter Mitch Berger is averaging 41.8 yards per attempt. Although his leg isn’t as strong as it used to be, Berger is an excellent directional punter. In fact, he’s pinned nearly half (22-of-48) of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Bucs PR Mark Jones is averaging 8.8 yards per attempt this season.
Tampa Bay might be without K Matt Bryant, who has made 15-of-18 field goals this season. Bryant pulled his hamstring on the opening kickoff last Sunday and is listed as questionable for the game vs. the Saints. Should Bryant not be able to play, the Bucs will promote K Todd France from the practice squad to their active roster.
Bucs P Josh Bidwell is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He’s averaging 46.6 yards per punt and has pinned 15 of his 61 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
With Saints speedy KR/PR Michael Lewis out for the season due to injury, RB Aaron Stecker has been handling kickoff return duties. He’s averaging 23 yards per attempt and has a long of 46.
Az-Zahir Hakim has been averaging just 6.8 yards per punt return, but he’s questionable for Sunday’s game vs. the Bucs. Should Hakim not play, Stecker could be used to return kicks and punts.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Saints 13
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