The Buccaneers enter week five at 1-3, but get to finish a three week long stretch of road games in New Orleans. Before the season began, I wrote an article on the New Orleans Saints and how their upcoming season looked. I saw the Saints as one of the biggest threats to the NFC South crown, a potential Super Bowl contender, and improved from last season. Bear in mind, I also expected Greg Hardy to already be suspended and not to play in game one, didn’t think Bobby Rainey had a ball security issue, and thought our defense would be racking up interceptions. It’s a prediction, not a premonition.
On the surface, it definitely looks like I overestimated the New Orleans Saints. However, so far the only thing that has not performed like I expected is the Saints defense. On paper, they looked like an upgrade. That paper has been spat on as opposing offenses have averaged 396 yards of offense, including allowing a comical 568 yards of offense in a week one overtime loss against the Atlanta Falcons.
Defensively, the Saints weren’t even there for week one against the Falcons or week four against the Cowboys. In week two, they performed decently against the Browns, but turnovers made the difference as they got edged out and defeated 26-24. In week three, the Saints were cut a break in battling the transitional Minnesota Vikings. With Adrian Peterson already out of the mix due to a potential child abuse scandal, an injury to quarterback Matt Cassel forced rookie Teddy Bridgewater to come in.
Bridgewater performed well this week, but the sudden insertion combined with the Vikings rushing attack still getting settled with Peterson was too much for them. They finished the game with a trio of field goals and zero touchdowns in a 20-9 loss to New Orleans. This was good news to Saints fans who were reeling after starting 0-2, but this past week’s pitiful performance against the Dallas Cowboys didn’t help things in the slightest.
Currently, the Saints are 28th overall in the league against the pass. That’s just behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are 29th overall in passing defense. Coming home after a humiliating defeat against a longtime rival, the Saints are going to be looking for blood this Sunday. In order to win, the Buccaneers are going to have to use the blueprint that’s been laid out by the other three teams which defeated them.
The Saints have allowed 123.5 rushing yards per game, and a 100+ yard rushing performance by Doug Martin would put them on their heels. With Mike Evans out temporarily due to a groin injury, Mike Glennon’s receiving options will be hindered. Vincent Jackson’s touchdown may have won the game in Pittsburgh, but he’ll need to manhandle the Saints secondary in order for the Buccaneers to keep up. So far this season, Jackson has made more drops than I’m comfortable with, but he shouldn’t have much difficulty with the Saints defensive backs.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins has already reminded everyone why he was drafted. His stats may not have been off the charts, but he remains a constant threat at tight end. Dallas tight end Jason Witten may not have won the game for the Cowboys, but his level play made a huge difference. Meanwhile, Louis Murphy’s return to the Buccaneers was instantly felt throughout the game. Murphy had a few drops, but his huge catch up the middle to set up the game-winning touchdown will not soon be forgotten. (Reminder: That’s right, return. He was not “picked off the streets” like the horrendous Fox commentators kept saying.)
The Bucs offense has a great opportunity to get some early momentum against a Saints defense that has played poorly, but the play of the Tampa Bay defense will decide things. The Saints may be 1-3, but Drew Brees has led them to 3rd overall in the league in passing yards. Their rushing attack is suspect, but Brees will be eager to exploit our secondary. Interceptions have cost the Saints opportunities this season, and the defense will need to make key plays and get some interceptions of their own. A pick six against Cleveland meant quite a bit when they lost by only two points. Fortunately, the Saints’ offensive line has been inconsistent at best, which Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson should lead the charge in exploiting.
The Saints are having trouble finishing games, and right now it seems like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just learned how. In order to get back into the race for the NFC South, the Bucs need to walk into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and defeat the New Orleans Saints on their own turf. It won’t be easy. The Saints are as undisciplined as the Steelers were, so we won’t have the luxury of multiple fifteen yard penalties granting us first downs. However, it’s certainly within our grasp. If the secondary can show up, the offense can keep rolling with the momentum from the end of last week, and the Panthers and Falcons would please lose again, then the Buccaneers could be within grasp of being tied atop the NFC South after week five.
Prediction: Bucs win, 30-27
(Eventually, I’d like to expect a win by more than a field goal again.)