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DEFENSIVE LINETampa Bay’s front four was much more disruptive vs. New Orleans than it was the previous week in Seattle. While it didn’t sustain a great pass rush Sunday, the defensive line demonstrated good gap control and tackling ability. For the second straight week, the Bucs started left end Greg Spires, under tackle Jovan Haye, nose tackle Chris Hovan and right end Kevin Carter.
While Carter started at right end, he spent very little time playing there. Instead, he saw most of his reps at left end and under tackle. Carter didn’t notch a sack, but he was disruptive in the trenches and recorded three tackles. Spires led the defensive linemen with four tackles.
Tampa Bay’s two sacks on the day came from unlikely candidates – Haye and reserve defensive end Greg White. White got off to a shaky start when running back Deuce McAllister ripped off a 15-yard run through his gap in the second quarter. Luckily for White, the Saints later missed a 38-yard field goal on that drive. But later in the second quarter, White, who saw action at defensive end and defensive tackle, blew by Saints left tackle Jamaal Brown and would have sacked quarterback Drew Brees if he hadn’t been held. Brown was flagged for holding on the play. But with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, White came up with his first sack by blowing by Brown and tackling Brees for a 9-yard loss. That was White’s first career sack. He finished the game with two tackles, two quarterback hurries and one sack.
White wasn’t the only Bucs player to notch his first career sack on Sunday. In the third quarter, Haye penetrated the middle of New Orleans’ offensive line and brought down Brees. That sack put the Saints in a second-and-17 situation from their own 18-yard line. Haye finished Sunday’s game with three tackles, one sack and one quarterback hurry.
Tampa Bay rookie DE Gaines Adams saw a significant amount of playing time at defensive end. He came close to notching his first career sack in the second half, but for the most part he was held in check by Brown. However, Adams still managed to notch two tackles and defend a pass at the line of scrimmage. Bucs rookie DT Greg Peterson saw some playing time, most of which came in the second half. He recorded two tackles.
Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who was questionable for Sunday's game with a sprained ankle, faced several double teams and did not record a tackle vs. the Saints.
*New Orleans running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush each carried the ball 10 times for a total of 76 yards. The Saints rushed for 99 yards on 26 carries (3.8 avg.) on Sunday.
LINEBACKERSThis unit performed extremely well vs. New Orleans on Sunday. It was led by middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. A former second-round draft pick out of Nebraska, Ruud made his presence known on the football field early by causing Saints running back Deuce McAllister to fumble on the second offensive series of the game. Not only did he force the fumble, Ruud also recovered the loose ball, giving the offense the ball at their own 43-yard line. Tampa Bay took advantage of Ruud’s turnover by putting together an eight-play, 57-yard drive that ended with running back Cadillac Williams’ 1-yard touchdown run. On the first play of the Saints’ next offensive series, Ruud forced a fumble again, this time on RB Reggie Bush. However, Bush managed to recover the loose ball. Not only did he force two fumbles, Ruud played the run extremely well and put on a show with several impressive open-field tackles. Late in the second quarter, Ruud nearly came up with a sack when he blitzed and drilled Drew Brees, forcing the quarterback to throw an incomplete pass on the third-and-7 play. Ruud finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one quarterback hurry.
Bucs 10-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks responded well to his critics (ones that suggested he had lost a step) by posting eight tackles. Midway through the second quarter, Brooks put a hard hit on Bush and forced him to fumble near the sideline, but New Orleans managed to recover the ball again. Brooks had a sound game in terms of tackling and covering on passing downs.
One of the more interesting developments in this game came when Brooks was replaced by strongside linebacker Cato June in nickel situations. The former Colt made a name for himself in pass coverage in Indy, and he was solid in place of Brooks vs. New Orleans. In fact, on the first series of the third quarter, June ended a Saints drive by leaping into the air and snagging a pass from Brees for an interception. That great play allowed the Bucs to take over on the 46-yard line. Although he’s been knocked for his inconsistent play vs. the run, June proved to be a solid run defender vs. the Saints. New Orleans was in a third-and-1 situation on the last play of the first quarter, but June made sure the drive wasn’t extended by sliding inside on a pitch to McAllister and drilling him for a 2-yard loss, which forced New Orleans to punt. June finished the game with five tackles, one interception and one pass defensed.
*The Saints produced 343 yards of total offense and picked up 13 of their 19 first downs via the passing game.
SECONDARYPhillip Buchanon started in place of starting cornerback Brian Kelly (groin), but Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t really miss a beat without Kelly in the lineup.
The Saints attempted to test Buchanon early. On the third series of the game, Saints wide receiver David Patten beat Buchanon deep down the right sideline, but Buchanon used his speed to recover in time to deflect the pass from quarterback Drew Brees, which caused an incompletion. On a third-and-5 play in the first quarter, Brees attempted to hit WR Marques Colston for a first down in the flat, but Buchanon showed great closing speed to break up the pass and cause the Saints to punt. Buchanon finished the game with one tackle and two passes defensed.
Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber had a solid first half. Late in the second quarter, Brees attempted to throw a screen pass to Bush, but Barber had something to say about that when he fought off a block and still managed to tackle Bush for a loss despite being held on the play. Barber recorded two tackles and two passes defensed vs. the Saints.
However, Barber wasn’t perfect. Late in the third quarter, Brees hooked up with Patten for a 58-yard play that put the Saints on the Bucs’ 11-yard line. Both Barber and Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips missed tackles on Patten on the play. The Saints eventually scored a touchdown on that nine-play, 80-yard drive with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter, cutting the Bucs’ lead to 28-7. Phillips was very active against the run and recorded seven tackles and one pass defensed vs. the Saints. However, he dropped an interception from Brees at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Rookie Tanard Jackson started at free safety for the second straight week. He had some mixed results. In the second quarter, Jackson allowed Colston to haul in a pass over the middle of the field for 14 yards and a first down on a third-and-8 play. But Jackson came up with a couple of big tackles, including a touchdown-saving tackle on fullback Mike Karney’s 10-yard run on a third-and-1 play on the same series in the second quarter. Jackson recorded five tackles on Sunday.
Sammy Davis, who replaced Buchanon as Tampa Bay’s nickel cornerback, played fairly well. He quietly notched one pass defensed and five tackles.
The Bucs allowed Saints WR Lance Moore to haul in a 19-yard pass from Brees on a third-and-20 play near the end of the second quarter. That big play prompted the Saints to go for it on fourth-and-1 and eventually convert.
*Brees completed 26-of-44 passes for 260 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. Colston hauled in eight passes for 70 yards and one touchdown, but a lot of New Orleans’ offensive production came in garbage time. The Saints converted 8-of-14 (44 percent) of their third down attempts.
SPECIAL TEAMS:Bucs kicker Matt Bryant had an excellent game. He drilled a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. He also had two deep kickoffs that resulted in touchbacks. The Saints averaged just 16.7 yards per kickoff return vs. the Bucs.
Punter Josh Bidwell kicked the ball fairly well. He only averaged 38 yards per punt, but Bidwell got off a beautiful 53-yarder that sailed out of bounds and pinned the Saints on their own 21-yard line in the first quarter. Bidwell punted five times on Sunday.
Bucs wide receiver Mark Jones, who was re-signed earlier in the week after being released on Sept. 1, performed well. He returned a kickoff 36 yards and was just one tackle away from breaking it for a touchdown in the third quarter. Jones also averaged 8.3 yards per punt return on three attempts. His best return came in the second quarter when he picked up 16 yards.
Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton fielded a short kickoff in the third quarter and returned it 23 yards to the 39-yard line. Second-year WR Maurice Stovall was called for a false start on one of Bidwell’s punts in the second quarter.
COACHINGBucs head coach Jon Gruden called a great game and did a nice job of opening up the running game in the second half by establishing the passing attack in the first half. Gruden’s best decision might have come on the Saints’ second series of the game when he challenged running back Deuce McAllister’s fumble, which was initially ruled down. The ruling was overturned and that fumble gave the Bucs the ball on their own 43-yard line. Gruden also had quarterback Jeff Garcia exploit New Orleans’ suspect secondary by testing the Saints deep with wide receiver Joey Galloway, who hauled in four passes for 135 yards (33.8 avg.) and two touchdowns. Running back Cadillac Williams picked up 53 of his 61 rushing yards in the second half. Winning the turnover battle and establishing good starting field position clearly helped the Bucs down the Saints on Sunday.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops played well against the run and got enough pressure on quarterback Drew Brees to rattle him early. The Bucs were clearly on top of their game from a tackling standpoint. Kiffin also did a nice job of mixing things up defensively. Defensive end Greg White’s sack late in the second quarter came with the Bucs lined up in a 3-3-5 formation. Having linebacker Cato June see some action in nickel situations in place of Derrick Brooks certainly didn’t backfire on the defense.
Bucs special teams Richard Bisaccia’s group rebounded nicely from a rough outing last week in Seattle. Their coverage units were solid in terms of tackling and Matt Bryant continues to be reliable on field goals and kickoffs.
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