The 0-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were winless in the NFC South last year and have a chance to steal a division win against the 0-1 New Orleans Saints on Sunday. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, La. When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX Last meeting: 23-20 loss at Tampa Bay in 2014 Series notes: Saints have a 29-16 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. COOL BREES WITH MULTIPLE INTERCEPTIONS
New Orleans has won the last seven games against Tampa Bay and has swept the Buccaneers the last three seasons. Yet the Bucs have come close to winning. The recipe to keep the game close and have a chance of winning is to intercept future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints won two close games last year – 37-31 (OT) at New Orleans and a 23-20 at Tampa Bay – but Brees was picked off three times in each contest, including a pick-six by linebacker Danny Lansanah in the Big Easy.
In the closest game between the two teams over the past four years, the Bucs lost 16-14 at Raymond James Stadium in 2013 but Brees only had one touchdown and two interceptions, including a pick-six by linebacker Mason Foster. In fact, the last time Tampa Bay beat New Orleans was at home in 2011, 26-20. You guessed it. Brees had one touchdown and three interceptions. He’s hard to sack and has a quick release, but when the ball is in the air, the Bucs need to take it away and have the athletes to do it. Advantage: Buccaneers
2. WIN THE BOURBON STREET BRAWL
The one thing that jumps out about New Orleans’ revamped defensive line is its size. Left defensive end Akiem Hicks is 6-foot-5, 324 pounds, while defensive tackle John Jenkins is even bigger at 6-foot-3, 359 pounds. Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams is still a handful at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds. The smallest Saints starting defensive lineman is Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, their best defensive player, who is 6-foot-4, 287 pounds. That’s 1,281 pounds of defensive fury that Tampa Bay’s offensive line will have to move out of the way to protect rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and pave the way for running back Doug Martin.
Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has to play better up front in New Orleans. The 31-year old Cherilus wore down in the second half and had two false starts, gave up two sacks and had a holding call. Rookie left tackle Donovan Smith will have his hands full against Jordan and rookie linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who blitzes from the outside. Being able to win the battle of the trenches and establishing Martin and the running game for four quarters will minimize New Orleans’ pass-rushing opportunities. Advantage: Saints
3. TAKE AWAY BREES’ NEW TOYS
The Saints traded away Kenny Stills, their leading receiver from a year ago (63 catches for 931 yards and three touchdowns) and leading touchdown producer in Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham (85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns). That should help the Bucs on Sunday, but New Orleans has replaced Stills’ speed with an even faster player in Brandin Cooks, last year’s first-round pick, and Graham’s size with 6-foot-6, 225-pound receiver Brandon Coleman.
This is Coleman’s first year in the NFL and he came through with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in his debut last week against Arizona. His size presents a match-up problem for the Bucs as Tampa Bay only has one cornerback taller than 5-foot-10, and that’s Johnthan Banks, who is 6-foot-2. Cooks, who had 53 catches for 550 yards and three touchdowns in an injury-shortened season last year, will be the fastest player on the field. Look for New Orleans to try to match Cooks up against the slower Banks and Coleman up against the shorter Alterraun Verner. If that doesn’t work, Brees always has old reliable Marques Colston to throw to. Advantage: Saints
4. HIT THE MARK ON DEFENSE
Running back Mark Ingram, a former New Orleans first-round pick, enjoyed his finest season a year ago with 964 yards and nine touchdowns – both career highs. Although he was held to just 24 yards on nine carries last week on the ground, Ingram showed off improved receiving skills with a career-high eight catches for 98 yards against Arizona, including a 59-yarder. While C.J. Spiller may be returning from injury this week and Khiry Robinson will also get a few touches, Ingram will continue to be the primary weapon on the ground for New Orleans.
Historically, Tampa Bay has done a good job of stopping Ingram, who has yet to rush for 100 yards against the Bucs in six previous meetings. In fact, Tampa Bay has been held under 25 yards rushing in four of those games. But with Stills and Graham gone, Brees will be relying on Ingram even more as a rusher and a receiver. Holding Ingram under 50 yards rushing and under 75 yards rushing will be key if Tampa Bay is going to have a chance of pulling off a super upset in the Superdome. Advantage: Saints
5. MAKE THE JUMP, JAMEIS
Rookie quarterbacks usually make a big jump in completion percentage from their first NFL game to their second game – typically around eight percentage points. That would certainly be a welcome sight as Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston completed just 48 percent of his passes in last week’s 42-14 loss to the Titans. Winston’s first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and was one of two bad picks in his debut. Winston reverted to some bad habits, such as throwing off his back foot and needs to focus on his footwork in Week 2 as it got sloppy last Sunday.
With better footwork and better pass protection, especially from Cherlius, Winston should be able to complete between 56-62 percent of his passes against New Orleans, especially with its banged up secondary, which will be without starting cornerback Keenan Lewis and starting free safety Jarius Byrd. Vincent Jackson has always fared well against the Saints with 27 catches for 516 yards and one touchdown since joining the Bucs in 2012. He needs to step up for Winston more than he did last week (four catches for 51 yards), and Mike Evans, who is returning from a hamstring injury, needs to win his match up with 6-foot-4 Saints cornerback Brandon Browner and produce a 100-yard game. Advantage: Buccaneers
6. STEP IT UP, SMITH
Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith wanted to take on more responsibility this year on defense by taking the play-calling duties away from Leslie Frazier and calling the defense himself. It’s only been one game, but it was a disastrous affair last week as the Bucs defense surrendered five touchdowns to a rookie quarterback, including four in the red zone. Smith got out-coached by Ken Whisenhunt last week, and it doesn’t get any easier this week going against Sean Payton. But hey, Jon Gruden, another high-paid, highly successful Bucs head coach, was up to the challenge during his tenure. It’s time for Smith to step up.
When his players lack fire, as was the case when Tampa Bay trailed 21-0 in the first half against Tennessee last year, it’s the job of the head coach to light that fire on the sidelines. While that might be out of Smith’s normally stoic character, he needs to come out of his shell more as a leader on game day to try to get his team to respond to adversity better. Advantage: Saints
Because the Bucs vs. Saints game went to overtime last year in New Orleans, here’s an extra key to victory for Tampa Bay …
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
OT – DAVID NEEDS TO BOUNCE BACK BIG IN THE BIG EASY
I want to start by saying I have all of the respect in the world for Bucs weakside linebacker Lavonte David. I think he’s one of the premier outside linebackers in the NFL today and has a chance to become a Buccaneers legend. Yet David might have played his worst game as a pro last Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 42-14 loss to Tennessee. David bit on several play-action fakes by rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, and was late getting over on touchdown passes to running back Bishop Sankey and tight end Delanie Walker.
David was given a very lucrative contract extension right before the start of the season and needs to bounce back from a five-tackle game in which he also forced a fumble. David needs to create more splash plays in New Orleans on Sunday if the Bucs are going to have a chance at ending their seven-game losing streak to the Saints. Given the fact that David and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy called a defensive players-only meeting this week, chances are that David will be ready to make up for last week’s performance. Advantage: Buccaneers
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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