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OPPONENT: New Orleans Saints
WHERE: Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana WHERE THE SAINTS STAND: The Saints are 5-7 and in second 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: 19th (312 ypg) RUSHING: 13th (115 ypg) PASSING: 19th (197 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 6th (296 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (108 ypg) PASSING: 5th (188 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Tampa Bay currently ranks No. in the NFL with a plus-11 turnover ratio while New Orleans ranks No. 24 overall (minus-7) in that category?
SCOUTING THE SAINTS
Quarterbacks New Orleans' offense, which currently is ranked eighth overall in the NFL, is led by veteran quarterback Drew Brees. While he isn't having the Pro Bowl-caliber season he produced in 2006, Brees has helped the Saints rebound from a 0-4 start by completing 307-of-456 (67.3 percent) of his passes for 2,997 yards and tossing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions en route to leading New Orleans to a 5-7 overall record.
Tampa Bay's defense was able to limit Brees' production through three quarters when the Buccaneers defeated the Saints in Week 2, 31-14. But he still completed 26-of-44 (59 percent) of his pass attempts for 260 yards and threw one touchdown and one interception in that contest.
Brees has a dangerous and accurate arm, especially when he avoids turnovers. He is one of the main reasons why the Saints are converting 49 percent of their third down attempts this season. The Bucs defense must keep the Saints offense off of the field on Sunday.
The Bucs should expect to face a much better Brees and Saints team than the one they saw in Week 2. New Orleans is two games behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South division race and desperately needs to win this game in order to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Running Backs The Saints are without one of their main offensive weapons, running back Deuce McAllister, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the year.
That injury has hindered New Orleans' ground attack, which ranks 28th in the NFL and is averaging just 86 yards per game.
The Saints will continue to rely on 2006 first-round draft pick Reggie Bush to carry the workload for their running game. While he has playmaking ability, Bush has been quite ordinary, carrying the ball 144 times for 517 yards (3.6 avg.) and four touchdowns.
However, the 6-foot, 203-pound Bush is one of Brees' favorite targets in the passing game, where he's hauled in a team-leading 70 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's defense, which ranks 17th against the run, must been on top of its game from a perimeter run defense standpoint. Most of Bush's carries are designed to attack the perimeter. Brees also loves to connect with Bush on screen and swing passes, which will make it important for Tampa Bay's defense, particularly the linebackers and cornerbacks, to tackle Bush in open space. Bush and McAllister combined for just 56 yards on 20 carries in Week 2 vs. the Bucs.
The Bucs defense forced six turnovers vs. the Redskins last week, four of which came off of fumbles. Look for the Tampa Bay defenders to continue to attempt to rip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands vs. New Orleans. Bush has fumbled the ball five times through 11 games this season.
Former Bucs RB Aaron Stecker likely will get a few carries as a change-of-pace back. He has rushed for 184 yards (3.5 avg.) and one touchdown while catching 20 passes for 92 yards.
Wide Receivers When he's not throwing to Bush, Brees normally is looking for wide receiver Marques Colston in the passing game. Colston (6-4, 231) has good size and decent speed, both of which allow him to get open quite often. He has caught 68 passes for 847 yards and six touchdowns.
Colston likely will be covered by Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who spent a significant amount of time covering Colston in Week 2 due to Brian Kelly's groin injury. Colston led his team in receptions with eight for 70 yards and one touchdown vs. the Bucs in Week 2.
While Colston has solidified one starting receiver spot, the Saints have had a revolving door at the other one. New Orleans has used a committee approach that is made up of Lance Moore, David Patten and Devery Henderson.
Moore (5-9, 190), a second-year player, could get the majority of reps vs. Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who notched his 32nd career interception vs. the Redskins last week. However, Barber will also need to be prepared to face Patten (5-10, 190) and Henderson (5-11, 200), who arguably is the team's fastest receiver.
The Saints likely will feature several three- and four-receiver sets in an effort to spread the Bucs defense out. That would allow Bucs CB Brian Kelly, who seems to be recovered from the nagging groin injury that sidelined him for most of the first half of the season, to get on the field and help cover Patten or Henderson.
Patten has hauled in 31 passes for 505 yards and one touchdown and Henderson has caught 17 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns in 2007.
Brees also likes to dump the ball off to the tight end in passing situations, especially when his first two reads (Colston and Bush) aren't open. Saints TE Eric Johnson has caught 40 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns this season. He caught three passes for 18 yards vs. the Bucs in Week 2.
Offensive Line New Orleans' offensive line is struggling to open up running lanes for Bush and Co., but it has been excellent in pass protection. The Saints have surrendered just eight sacks through 11 games. The good news for the Buccaneers is they accounted for two of those eight sacks in their Week 2 win over the Saints.
Saints left tackle Jammal Brown (6-6, 313), a former first-round pick, is responsible for protecting the blind side of Brees on passing plays. He does a good job in that regard, but Brees also deserves credit as he gets the ball out of his hand in a hurry. The Bucs have taken a committee approach at right defensive end, but Greg White likely will receive a significant amount of reps vs. Brown. White notched one sack vs. the Saints in Week 2 and leads the Bucs with 4.5 quarterbacks takedowns and four forced fumbles this season.
Bucs rookie DE Gaines Adams could continue to see a significant amount of reps at left end, where he and Kevin Carter are filling in for injured DE Greg Spires (calf). They will go up against Saints right tackle Jon Stinchcomb (6-5, 315).
New Orleans likely will use left guard Jamar Nesbit (6-4, 328) and center Jeff Faine (6-3, 291) to double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan. That should leave Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye in some favorable one-on-one situations with right guard Jahri Evans (6-4, 318). Haye accounted for one of Tampa Bay's sacks vs. New Orleans in Week 2.
Defensive Line Although New Orleans' defensive tackles Hollis Thomas and Antwan Lake are suspect against the run, the defense as a whole is surrendering just 95 yards per contest via the ground game.
Tampa Bay's offensive line did a great job of holding off New Orleans' potentially potent pass rush in Week 2. In fact, neither left end Charles Grant nor right end Will Smith notched a sack in that contest.
Grant (6-3, 290) will be matched up again against Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has been a fairly consistent pass blocker. Although Grant has notched just 1.5 sacks this season, Trueblood will have to be on top of his game.
In Week 2, Bucs veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout held off Smith, but Petitgout is out for the season, which leaves Bucs left tackle Donald Penn in the starting lineup. The good news for Penn is he is a better pass blocker than he is a run blocker. The bad news is Smith (6-3, 282) is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, evidenced by his four team-leading sacks this season.
Bucs center John Wade really struggled in the trenches against Washington's defense last week. He will have to rebound from that sub-par performance and help rookie left guard Arron Sears double team Thomas (6-4, 306), who has notched two sacks in 2007.
That will leave Bucs second-year right guard Davin Joseph in some one-on-one matchups with Lake (6-4, 308), who has one sack this season. Even if Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who sustained a bruised lower back last Sunday vs. the Redskins, plays vs. the Saints, expect Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to call running back Earnest Graham's number early and often in this contest.
The Saints have registered 19 sacks this season, but none of them came vs. the Bucs in Week 2. Regardless of who the quarterback is for Tampa Bay, the offensive line must protect him in order for the Bucs to move the chains and score points in this contest.
Linebackers One of the main reasons why the Saints have been able to improve their play against the run is because of their linebackers. This isn't the fastest group of linebackers in the NFL, but they do have good size, which helps them tremendously against the run.
While their size helps strongside linebacker Scott Fujita (6-5, 250), middle linebacker Mark Simoneau (6-3, 244) and weakside linebacker Scott Shanle (6-2, 245) helps them defend the run, these players lack ideal speed and playmaking ability, especially against the pass.
That said, expect the Bucs to attempt to exploit this potential mismatch in the passing game with tight end Alex Smith, who caught two passes for 45 yards vs. the Saints in Week 2. The Bucs would also like to have running back Michael Pittman back for this game as receiving threat, but there's a chance he'll be sidelined again with his lingering ankle injury.
Secondary New Orleans' secondary is extremely suspect against the pass, evidenced by the fact that this unit is surrendering 245 yards per game and is ranked 27th against the pass.
In Week 2, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia completed 10-of-16 passes for 243 yards and tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bucs produced 330 yards of total offense en route to the 31-14 victory over the Saints.
The Saints play quite a bit of man-to-man coverage, which has allowed Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway to thrive in his past several games vs. New Orleans.
In fact, in Tampa Bay's past five meetings with New Orleans, Galloway has caught 21 passes for 353 yards (16.8 avg.) and eight touchdowns. That includes Galloway's Week 2 performance when he caught four passes for 135 yards and scored two touchdowns.
New Orleans likely will ask cornerback Mike McKenzie to cover Galloway throughout most of Sunday's game. If Garcia isn't playing vs. the Saints, it might be difficult for head coach Jon Gruden to get Galloway the ball since either Bruce Gradkowski or Luke McCown would be playing in Garcia's place. While McCown is believed to be the more accurate passer of the two, not having Garcia for this game could be the difference between winning and losing for the Bucs.
No matter who the quarterback is for the Bucs, they will have to be careful when throwing against McKenzie, who has notched two interceptions and returned one of those for a touchdown this season. McKenzie is arguably New Orleans' best defender in the secondary.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard will be matched up with Saints CB Jason David, who has struggled in coverage throughout the year. Hilliard hauled in two passes for 51 yards vs. the Saints in their last meeting. He will attempt to work the short-to-intermediate part of the field. As poorly as he has played, David, a fourth-year player, still has two interceptions on the season.
The Saints use strong safety Roman Harper in the box as a run defender quite often, which should allow Galloway and/or Hilliard to get some favorable one-on-one matchups on passing plays. Harper is second on the team in tackles and has notched two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.
Free safety Josh Bullocks ranks third on the team in tackles, although he doesn't usually spend as much time defending the run near the line of scrimmage as Harper does. Bullocks has tremendous speed, but his tackling needs work. He possesses some playmaking ability, evidenced by his two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble.
The Saints are allowing opposing offenses to convert 43.3 percent of their third downs this year. The Bucs will need to keep the chains moving in order to keep the Saints' potentially potent offense off the field as much as possible.
Special Teams Saints kicker Olindo Mare has made just 8-of-15 (53 percent) of his field goal attempts this season. However, four of his misses have come from 50-plus yards out. Still, Mare doesn't have the accuracy and leg strength he had in his prime with the Dolphins.
Punter Steve Weatherford is averaging 43.3 yards per punt and has pinned 15 of his 43 attempts inside the 20-yard line this season. Tampa Bay's return game is struggling. The Bucs likely will continue to use cornerback Phillip Buchanon and wide receiver Ike Hilliard to return punts. They're averaging 5.5 and 6.0 yards per return, respectively.
Saints wide receiver Lance Moore is averaging a respectable 10.7 yards per punt return. That includes a high of 48 yards. New Orleans' kickoff return game hasn't been as successful. Former Bucs running back Aaron Stecker is averaging 22.8 yards per attempt in that department.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Saints 24 Buccaneers 20
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