The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: What Has To Happen For The Bucs To Beat The Saints?
Scott Reynolds: Brady Must Be Protected And Play Flawlessly
One of the biggest common denominators in Tampa Bay’s two losses to New Orleans earlier this year was the sub-par play of quarterback Tom Brady. Of course Brady doesn’t deserve all the blame for the Bucs’ two losses to the Saints this year, as Tampa Bay’s defense has only surrendered 30 points twice this year. Can you guess which games? If you said both Saints games you would be correct. Technically, Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t allow 34 points in Week 1 at New Orleans. Brady threw a pick-six in that game, and therein lies the problem for the Bucs.
Brady has been sacked only 21 times this year, but the Saints got him on the ground six times in two games. Brady only threw 12 interceptions in his first year in Tampa Bay, but nearly half of them (five) came in two games against the Saints. In order for the Bucs to rise up and beat the Saints Brady must be well protected and given time to throw. That means left tackle Donovan Smith, who played one of the best games of his life against Washington defensive end Chase Young, must play better than he’s played against New Orleans pass rushers like Trey Hendrickson, Marcus Davenport and Carl Granderson, and Aaron Stinnie must step up and play well for the injured Alex Cappa at right guard against defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata.
Whether Brady is pressured or not he must avoid the errant throws and interceptions he had against the Saints in both meetings. New Orleans won the turnover battle in each game and Brady must ensure that doesn’t happen again in the third game this year. Brady was still learning the plays and his teammates when he first battled the Saints in Week 1. In the rematch on November 8, Brady was still getting used to throwing the ball to Antonio Brown, who was playing in his first game as a Buccaneer, and he didn’t have left guard Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay’s best offensive lineman, protecting him. Brady and Brown have really connected over the last month, evidenced by Brown’s five touchdowns in the last four games. In order for the Bucs to finally beat the Saints, Brady needs to continue his stellar play since the bye week, as he’s thrown 14 TDs and just one interception, by having a flawless performance in New Orleans.
Mark Cook: Protect Brady, Match Saints Score For Score
I would love to see the Bucs defense come up with an unbelievable game plan, execute it to perfection, and hold the Saints to 21 points or less. I would also love to hit the MegaMillions jackpot this week then seeing my Seminoles beat Alabama in the College Football Playoffs championship game next year with me in the stands next to my new girlfriend Margot Robbie. And since none of those three are happening, let’s hope the Bucs can keep quarterback Tom Brady upright to enable him and the offense to match the Saints score for score.
I like the Buccaneers’ chances of beating the Saints on Sunday a lot better than I did a month ago. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been outstanding as of late and has figured out ways to keep the pocket clean for Brady. And with time to throw, Brady is just as deadly as Saints’ QB Drew Brees – if not more so – with the plethora of weapons he has at his disposal. Donovan Smith accepted the Chase Young challenge last Saturday, and needs to have just as good of a game against the Saints’ pass rush this week.
The Buccaneers may have to just match the Saints and score on nearly every possession – and with touchdowns, not field goals. If Ryan Succop leads the Buccaneers in scoring this week, and Bradley Pinion has to punt more than a couple times, Tampa Bay’s season likely ends in New Orleans on Sunday. Go shock the world, Buccaneers. And in the meantime I will be checking my lotto tickets, following FSU on the recruiting trail and sending Robbie a couple DMs. Just in case.
Jon Ledyard: Press Man Coverage Or Die
Drew Brees' completion percentage drops from 74.6% when both outside cornerbacks are playing 'off coverage' compared to 57.6% when both are pressed. Two-man coverage has also given him the most problems of any defensive coverage. Do with that information what you will.
I had already assumed this to be true, but seeing the data on it from ESPN’s Jenna Laine’s account was even more convincing. The last time the Bucs and Saints met, Tampa Bay spent the vast majority of the game in zone coverage, which flies in the face of the biggest strengths in its cornerback room. Spot-drop Cover 3 against Drew Brees is probably the worst thing you could do as a defense, and Todd Bowles did it all game.
Carlton Davis III shut down Michael Thomas in Week 1 playing a healthy amount of press man coverage, and he’ll need to do so again in the divisional playoffs. Thomas caught five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Bears’ stout defense, so it’s clear he’s rounding back into form just in time for New Orleans. The Saints have other weapons in tight end Jared Cook, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Deonte Harris and running back Alvin Kamara, but in the passing game, it starts with taking away Thomas, and press man coverage is the best way to do it.
The Bucs defense is not going to shut down the Saints offense on every play, but the other thing that more press man coverage might allow you to do is force Brees to hold the ball a tick longer on a handful of plays. This could greatly aid a Bucs pass rush that has had a hard time getting home without blitzing, especially against an elite Saints offensive line. Tampa Bay can’t afford to let Brees get comfortable in the pocket with easy throwing windows underneath. Roll up the corners, keep the linebackers more shallow in their drops and force Brees to throw the ball down the field more frequently, something he hasn’t done all season.
Matt Matera: Brady Needs To Play Like The GOAT
Normally going into the postseason, it’s Tom Brady and his team who are looked at as this enormous, unbeatable foe that needs to be conquered at the end of a story in order to reach your goal. This time around it’s Brady who’s looking to exercise some demons and defeat Drew Brees and the Saints for the first time in three trees. Brady is a player driven by proving others wrong and achieving greatness, which is exactly what he’ll need to be on Sunday.
Since we’re under the assumption that the Bucs’ defense won’t change from playing soft-zone coverage against the Saints, it’s going to be on Brady to carry the Bucs to a victory in this one. Tampa Bay is going to have to match New Orleans score for score and hope that they can make a big play late. It’s going to all on Brady, who’s seeing the Saints’ defense for the third time and will have them well scouted by now with all his playmakers at his behest. They need Brady to be the GOAT, but that’s why they brought him here.
Brady has been pedestrian so far against the Saints this season, throwing for just 448 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions in two games. Coming down the stretch, though, no quarterback has turned it on like Brady has as of late. He’s piled up 10 touchdowns in his last three games along with 1,128 yards to one interception. Brady can continue to play up to that level on Sunday against New Orleans and he’s peaking at the right time to do so.
Taylor Jenkins: Limit The Saints’ Offense And Allow Brady Time To Execute
In the Bucs’ first two meetings against the New Orleans Saints in 2020, Tampa Bay has managed to lose to by a combined 46 points. And despite a 34-23 contest in the season-opener following a pandemic-shortened offseason and no preseason, the Saints managed to come back and with an even more dominant performance in their second meeting, winning 35-3 in Week 9. The Saints have the Bucs’ number, plain and simple. New Orleans has won all four of its meetings in the Bruce Arians era, and the last five games against Tampa Bay dating back to 2018. So when they face the Bucs they don’t just think they can win, they know it.
The first thing Tampa Bay will need to do to beat the Saints is get pressure on Drew Brees, play tight man coverage on New Orleans’ receivers and force the Saints’ aging quarterbacks to beat them over the top. Tampa Bay’s pass defense has struggled mightily over the second half of the season and they can’t allow New Orleans to make short completions and move down the field with ease as the Saints are too well-coached, they execute too well, and the Bucs can’t rely on a “bend but don’t break” mentality against the fifth-best red zone offense by scoring percentage in the NFL.
Offensively, the Bucs will have to protect Tom Brady and limit mistakes. The Saints have a solid defense led by defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson up front with a number of talented and versatile defensive backs in Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore and nickel C.J. Gardner-Johnson on the back end that have forced Brady into some uncharacteristic performances this season. In fact, five of Brady’s 12 interceptions in the regular season came in two games against New Orleans. When given time in the pocket, Brady can seemingly shred anything a defense throws at him and the Saints are absolutely not a team that you can give extra possessions to, because they’ll cash in.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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