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OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

The Saints are 0-1 and are tied with the Buccaneers and Falcons for second place in the NFC South division.

Sean Payton

Doug Marrone


John Bonamego

OVERALL: 17th (284 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (90 ypg)
PASSING: 15th (194 ypg)

OVERALL: 21st (343 ypg)
RUSHING: 23rd (139 ypg)
PASSING: 21st (204 ypg)

OVERALL: 16th (293 ypg)
RUSHING: 17th (106 ypg)
PASSING: 16th (187 ypg)

OVERALL: 30th (452 ypg)
RUSHING: 27th (164 ypg)
PASSING: 28th (288 ypg)

… the Buccaneers have won just four of their 10 games against the Saints since 2002?


New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is one of the league’s best signal callers. In his first season with the Saints, Brees completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 4,418 yards and tossed 26 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions en route to making the Pro Bowl in 2006. Tampa Bay had a difficult time stopping Brees and New Orleans’ potent offensive attack last year. He completed 45-of-65 (69.2 percent) of his passes for 485 yards and four touchdowns in both of the Saints’ wins over the Bucs. New Orleans’ offense was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year, but like Tampa Bay’s offense, it failed to score a touchdown in Week 1 vs. Indianapolis. The Bucs allowed Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck to complete nearly 71 percent of his passes last week, and their defense can’t afford to let Brees have that type of success on Sunday.

Running Backs
The Saints struggled to run the ball against the Colts last week, but they still have one of the league’s best ground attacks. It is led by Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound McAllister, possesses a unique combination of size and speed. He rushed for 1,057 yards (4.3 avg.) and 10 touchdowns while sharing playing time with Bush last season. McAllister has big-play ability, and the Bucs know this after watching him break off a 57-yard run vs. Tampa Bay last year. While Bush isn’t as effective as a runner, he’s a threat in the passing game, where he caught a team-high 88 passes for 742 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Look for the Brees to hit Bush on swing and screen passes. McAllister and Bush combined for just 76 rushing yards on 22 carries (3.4 avg.) last week vs. Indianapolis, which had a suspect run defense last year. Tampa Bay’s defense did a nice job of containing Seattle RB Shaun Alexander in the first half last week, but Alexander’s bruising running style took a toll on the Bucs in the second half. He rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. Tampa Bay’s front four and linebackers, particularly WLB Brooks and MLB Barrett Ruud, will need to be on top of their game in terms of tackling in order to contain both McAllister and Bush on Sunday.

Wide Receivers
With WR Joe Horn in Atlanta and WR Marques Colston no longer a surprise from his sensational rookie debut last year, Brees had a difficult time finding open wide receivers against the Colts. In fact, his favorite target was tight end Eric Johnson, who signed with the Saints as a free agent during the offseason. Johnson caught eight passes for 57 yards and could have had more receptions, but he dropped a few passes. Tampa Bay allowed Seattle TE Marcus Pollard to catch a team-high five passes last week, so look for Brees to throw to Johnson quite a bit on Sunday. Tampa Bay linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks, and strong safety Jermaine Phillips will each share in the responsibility of covering Johnson. Colston (6-4, 231) has great size and hands. He gave the Bucs a lot of problems as a rookie, evidenced by the fact that he hauled in 11 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown in the Week 8 Bucs-Saints matchup of last season. The Bucs will have Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber lined up on Colston, which should help, but don’t’ be surprised if Brees looks for Colston deep with rookie free safety Tanard Jackson playing behind Barber. Brees might also attempt to test CB Phillip Buchanon, who likely will start in place of Bucs CB Brian Kelly, who is questionable with a groin injury. Buchanon will cover Saints WR Devery Henderson, who caught three passes for 34 yards vs. Indianapolis. Henderson doesn't have Colston's size, but he's quick. The Saints might also elect to feature three-receiver sets in an effort to get WR David Patten in a favorable matchup with CB Sammy Davis, who would probably play in Buchanon’s place in nickel situations if Kelly cannot go. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s defense to limit New Orleans via the ground game so that the Saints aren’t in short down-and-distance situations on third down.

Offensive Line
Although New Orleans allowed just 18 sacks in 2006, its offensive line is better in the run-blocking department. The Saints are known to run the ball on the perimeter with Bush and up the gut with McAllister, giving them a nice one-two punch. This unit’s best player is left tackle Jammal Brown, who made the Pro Bowl in 2006 while protecting the blindside of Brees. With defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) out of Sunday’s game, Bucs DE Kevin Carter likely will start in his place. Carter, 34, has notched 97.5 career sacks. Rookie DE Gaines Adams probably will see a significant amount of playing time as well. It will be critical for both Carter and Adams to get after Brees and give the Pro Bowl quarterback an uncomfortable pocket to throw out of. Otherwise, Brees will be poised to pick apart Tampa Bay’s secondary just as he did last year. The bad news for the Bucs is Brees is extremely quick going through his progressions and getting the ball out of his hands and to his receivers. Bucs left end Greg Spires had an impressive game vs. Seattle and will be matched up against Saints RT Jon Stinchcomb. The Seahawks spent most of last Sunday’s game double-teaming nose tackle Chris Hovan. Saints left guard Jamar Nesbit and center Jeff Faine likely will do the same. That means Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye will have to win some of his one-on-one matchups with right guard Jahri Evans. Tampa Bay did not record a sack on Brees in 2006. It will have to contain Bush and McAllister and sustain a consistent pass rush on Brees in order to get the Saints’ potentially potent offense off of the field as much as possible.

Defensive Line
New Orleans’ defense features two of the league’s best pass rushers in left end Charles Grant and right end Will Smith. Grant will go up against Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who actually had a decent outing vs. Seattle last Sunday. The matchup to watch will be the one between Bucs left tackle Luke Petitgout and Smith, who notched two sacks in his last meeting vs. the Bucs and has 26.5 career quarterback takedowns. In fact, New Orleans recorded six sacks in two games vs. Tampa Bay last year, so look for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to call some play-action passes and bootlegs for quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was sacked five times vs. the Seahawks, in an effort to keep Garcia moving around and away from the pass rush both of these defensive ends can provide. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they might be without running back Cadillac Williams in this contest. He’s nursing bruised ribs and is questionable for Sunday’s game. That’s not good considering the fact that Williams had one of his better games last year vs. the Saints when he rushed 20 times for 111 yards (5.6 avg.). If Williams can’t go, Michael Pittman will play in his place. Don’t look for the Bucs to do a lot of perimeter running. Instead, expect them to attack the middle of New Orleans’ defense, where defensive tackles Brian Young and Kendrick Clancy will be facing Bucs right guard Davin Joseph and center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears, respectively. The Saints gave up 128.9 yards rushing per contest last year and did not do much to upgrade this unit during the offseason.

Saints strongside linebacker Scott Fujita, weakside linebacker Scott Shanle and middle linebacker Mark Simoneau will attempt to protect the second level of New Orleans’ defense. These players, particularly Simoneau and Fujita, will see a lot of action against the run as New Orleans’ defense is suspect at the defensive tackle position. Gruden would like to get tight end Alex Smith more involved in the passing game, but that won’t happen if the offensive line can’t protect Garcia, which could prompt the Bucs to feature more two-tight end sets vs. the Saints. Gruden must come out and establish the running game in order to open up the passing attack in this contest.

Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway has given New Orleans’ secondary fits over the past two seasons. In fact, in their last four meetings, Galloway has caught a total of 17 passes for 218 yards and scored six touchdowns vs. the Saints. Most of that production came against Fred Thomas, who is no longer a starter and is now the Saints’ nickel cornerback. Now Galloway will line up opposite of CB Jason David, a former Colts defensive back who signed with the Saints during the offseason. David did not have an impressive debut with the Saints. He allowed Colts WR Marvin Harrison to catch seven passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns last week. Look for Garcia to test David by throwing Galloway’s way early and often. The Saints could opt to move CB Mike McKenzie over to cover Galloway instead. If that happens, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall, all of whom make up the committee at flanker, will have to find ways to get open vs. David, which won’t be easy since none of them possess the type of speed Harrison used to burn him last week. Safeties Roman Harper and Josh Bullocks will attempt to defend the deep part of the football field, but if the Bucs can establish the running game Harper would be forced to come up into the box to defend the run, which would give Garcia cleaner looks in the secondary. Tampa Bay needs to deploy some three-receiver sets in order to take advantage of Thomas' weaknesses in coverage. However, the Bucs won’t be able to do that if they are forced to play more two-tight end sets because of poor pass protection.

Special Teams
The Saints have a new kicker in Olindo Mare, whom New Orleans traded Miami for during the offseason. Mare is in his 11th season in the NFL and he has made 81 percent of his career field goal attempts. The Bucs had running back Earnest Graham return kickoffs last week, but he struggled. However, Graham or newly acquired WR Mark Jones might not even get the opportunity to return kicks as Mare has one of the strongest legs in the NFL. His kickoffs often times result in touchbacks. The Bucs will have Jones, Ike Hilliard and Joey Galloway return Steve Weatherford’s punts on Sunday. Weatherford is averaging 48 yards per punt this season. Both Hilliard and Galloway had long punt returns called back on penalties last Sunday. Those penalties killed Tampa Bay’s offense in terms of starting field position, and the Bucs can’t afford to have those types of mistakes in this contest. The Saints likely will have Lance Moore return kickoffs. He averaged 21.7 yards per kickoff return on three attempts vs. Indianapolis. Either Moore or Reggie Bush will return punts for the Saints, and this is an area to keep an eye on. Tampa Bay’s punt coverage unit allowed Seattle PR Nate Burleson to break off a 56-yard return last Sunday. Bush returned a punt 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown vs. the Bucs in their first meeting in 2006. New Orleans’ offense is too good to allow it to have favorable starting field position all game long. Bucs K Matt Bryant made 2-of-2 field goals last Sunday, but the rest of Tampa Bay’s special teams unit must tackle better and have a penalty-free game vs. the Saints.

FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Saints 23

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