FAB 3. Koetter’s Game Plan For New Orleans
Not only is this a big week for the Buccaneers, it’s also a big week for Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter and his offense. A win in New Orleans against the 5-2 Saints, who are currently leading the NFC South, and the Bucs are 3-5 and still have a chance to make something happen this year. A loss in the Big Easy would be Tampa Bay’s fifth in a row. With a 2-6 record midway through the season, any chance for a playoff berth would seem mighty bleak.
In order for Koetter and his Bucs to beat the Saints, they will need to rebound from last week’s three-point outing against Carolina and light up the scoreboard at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Drew Brees and the Saints offense have the second-best offense, averaging 390.4 yards per game. The Bucs offense isn’t too far behind, ranking fourth in the league with 376.6 yards per game.
But as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken said, it’s all about scoring points.
“We are paid to get our players to perform on Sundays and offensively to score points,” Monken said. “The rest of it is just window dressing to make yourself feel better. It just is – plain and simple. The rest of it just makes you feel better. The bottom line is we have to score and we have to score touchdowns.”
Therein lies the problem for Tampa Bay, whose scoring offense is ranked 18th in the NFL with 21.1 points per game, while New Orleans is ranked sixth in scoring, averaging 27.3 points per game. That’s nearly a touchdown ahead of the Bucs.
Both Monken and Koetter believe that the offense was balanced against the Panthers last week, but the stats suggest otherwise. Tampa Bay ran the ball 22 times for 85 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, but passed the ball 38 times for 194 yards.
That’s nearly twice as many throws for twice as many yards. And Doug Martin was having a good day with 71 yards in a game that was never really out of hand on the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter.
Having Winston throw the ball 38 times with an injured shoulder on a very windy day in Tampa Bay wasn’t wise, especially considering the fact that Winston struggled throughout the game – mostly on third down where the Bucs were just 2-of-12. I didn’t understand the reasoning last Sunday, and that certainly wasn’t Koetter’s finest hour as a play caller. Poor execution from the offensive players and untimely penalties didn’t help, either.
To beat the Saints in New Orleans, Koetter needs to really rely on the running game – and not just to aid Tampa Bay’s ailing defense, which gives up an average of 34 points per game on the road. The Saints’ run defense is ripe for the picking.
New Orleans’ defense ranks 20th, allowing an average of 344.7 yards per game, but its run defense ranks 21st, allowing 120.3 yards per game. Last week in a win over Chicago, the Saints’ fifth straight, the Bears ran for 157 yards on 31 carries. Chicago’s 5.1 average yards per carry was higher than the 4.9-yard average that the Saints are surrendering this season, which ranks 29th in the league.
New Orleans also ranks 29th in the league in third down percentage, allowing a 47 percent conversion rate, so that might be the tonic the Bucs need to improve their third down woes on offense. Tampa Bay’s defense is experiencing a similar problem as a year after ranking first in third down defense the Bucs are now the worst team in that category, allowing opponents to convert on 49 percent of third downs.
Where the Saints excel is in pass defense, and not necessarily in limiting passing yards, as they allow an average of 224.4 yards per game, which ranks 16th in the league. New Orleans plays a lot of man coverage with a single high safety and it blitzes on third downs, especially from the secondary. New Orleans has 19 sacks, which ties Baltimore for the 12th most in the NFL.
The Saints have nine interceptions this year, which is tied for fifth best in the league. New Orleans’ pass defense is sixth in the NFL when it comes to allowing passing touchdowns, as it has done on just nine occasions.
The biggest improvement the Saints defense has made has been in scoring defense where it ranks 12th in the league, allowing just 20.7 points per game. Which brings us back to scoring points – preferably touchdowns – with Tampa Bay’s offense.
Having a truly balanced attack that features a consistent running game is going to be a must on Sunday for Koetter’s offense. Getting into manageable third down situations is going to be key, and that may be best accomplished with short passes that get the ball out of Winston’s hands quickly. You know, the same type of game plan that Winston had success with at Buffalo three weeks ago when he completed 72.7 percent of his throws for 387 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
The temptation to exploit man coverage with deep passes will be there for Koetter, but he needs to take the focus on trying to get explosive plays in this game and move the chains instead. Short passes and a heavy dose of Martin should comprise the main thrust of the game plan.
Koetter needs to remember that the artificial turf at the Superdome sits on some awfully hard concrete and he needs to limit the number of five- and seven-step drops for Winston against the Saints’ blitzing defense. The last thing Koetter needs is for Winston to re-aggravate his shoulder injury by getting driven into the turf.
Just ask Austin Seferian-Jenkins about how hard that turf is. He injured his shoulder in the second game of the 2015 coming down hard on it in the end zone and missed half the season.
Koetter needs to remember why this team signed right guard J.R. Sweezy and moved Ali Marpet to center. Run Martin behind those guys and exploit the Saints’ glaring weakness with a lot of two- and three-tight end sets. This might even be the week to have seldom used rookie tight end Antony Auclair active.
The Bucs must resist the temptation to get into a shootout with Brees. Play ball control by controlling the clock with long, time-consuming touchdown drives that limit the Saints’ offensive possessions. Brees can’t hurt Tampa Bay from the sidelines.