Although there was a bye week directly after, New Orleans won its first game of the year in Week 5 and hopes to take the momentum of that victory and build upon it for the rest of the 2012 campaign.
Tampa Bay played its most complete game of the season last week in a 38-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Josh Freeman threw for 328 yards and both Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount averaged well over five yards per carry.
With both teams apparently headed in the right direction, what do the Buccaneers need to do to build a game plan to beat the Saints?
Go with the Power Run Game
Against the Chiefs, Blount and Martin combined for 134 yards on the ground on 20 carries. It’s very safe to say that if this duo can combine for 6.7 yards per carry against the Saints, things will go well for Tampa Bay.
The Saints give up, on average, 172.8 yards per game on the ground (only Buffalo is worse) and haven’t kept a team under 100 yards rushing yet this season.
An area of attack for Tampa Bay will likely be running towards the left side of the line, behind Donald Penn and Carl Nicks.
Martin has carried 31 times in that direction and gained 157 yards and scored a touchdown. While the 5.1 yards per carry going left is impressive, the fact that he’s caused eight missed tackles when he’s been able to bounce outside around the left tackle shows that this is the direction Tampa Bay needs to focus on.
The Saints also seem to have a problem when teams run to that side. Opponents have continually ran at Will Smith’s side of the defensive line—36 times, as a matter of fact. Since New Orleans gives up 7.75 yards per carry when teams get to the outside around Smith, expect Tampa Bay to try and exploit that area of the line.
Depend on Josh Freeman’s Arm
Last week, Freeman notched his first 300-yard game of the season—his first since Week 11 of last season, actually—and much of his success was proliferated by landing the deep ball.
Freeman was 3-of-5 for 160 yards and a touchdown on deep balls against the Chiefs, and he seemed to have a great rapport with Mike Williams on the go route on the left side.
His success in Week 6 will allow head coach Greg Schiano to give Freeman more opportunities to exploit defenses deep. And the Saints give up plenty of yards through the air. Only four teams have given up more than the four plays of 20 yards or more through the air that the Saints have allowed.
It’s not just the deep ball, however, that Freeman has improved upon since a slow start to the season. His completion percentage has gone up as well.
Through the first three games of the year, Freeman was 41-for-80 (51 percent) with four touchdowns. In his last two games, he’s 39-for-65 (60 percent) with four touchdown passes.
Freeman seems to have gained a new confidence after being allowed to throw the ball more frequently. Against the Saints' horrid run defense, Tampa Bay is going to attack on the ground. Freeman might not have his biggest game of the year in terms of passing attempts, but if he works on using the weapons that are the most lethal for him, he’ll shine on Sunday.
Take Away the Saints Run Game
The Buccaneers have the fourth-ranked run defense in the league and give up just 75 yards per game on the ground. Believe it or not, this advantage will come into play on Sunday.
Who will win on Sunday?
With Drew Brees and the New Orleans lethal passing attack, it doesn’t seem logical that stopping the run is important. But it is.
Looking at the last two seasons, including the 2011 playoffs, New Orleans is 2-5 when held to 75 yards rushing or less. In fact, last year in Week 6, the Buccaneers held the Saints to 70 yards on the ground and won the game (that was with Brees throwing for 383 yards).
It’s next to impossible to stop Brees, and it's incredibly hard to even slow him and the Saints passing offense down. But stopping the New Orleans ground attack should be much easier, and it’s proven to be an effective way to beat the Saints.