Most teams welcome the bye week, and for rest and getting players healed up, the New Orleans Saints surely enjoyed their week off. However, since the Saints finally broke into the win column in Week 5 and many aspects of their defense improved, it kind of broke momentum.
The Saints will travel to play the Buccaneers Sunday to see if they can reignite the same spark they showed against the San Diego Chargers in the second half, a game where New Orleans held San Diego to just seven points in the second half and scored 17 unanswered points to end the game.
Here’s what else the Saints will have to do to build a winning game plan to beat the Buccaneers.
Never Let Off the Gas
It’s usually not terribly important to tell the Saints that they need to score a bunch of points. That’s just what they inherently do. But Sunday, it is going to be very important to score early and often.
The Saints rank eighth in the league offensively, scoring 28.2 points per game, and they do most of their damage through the air. New Orleans has scored 14 touchdowns through the air and just two on the ground. This works out fantastically for the Saints because of how Tampa Bay plays defense.
The Bucs are fourth in the league against the run and next-to-last in the league against the pass. Opposing teams have been just bullying Tampa Bay with aerial assault after aerial assault.
Eli Manning tossed for 520 yards in Week 2, helping the Giants beat the Buccaneers. Robert Griffin III notched 321 yards in Week 4 en route to Washington edging the Buccaneers and Tony Romo almost got to 300 yards, falling short by three.
Teams that don’t have to depend on a running game to succeed have a shot at beating Tampa Bay, and that’s New Orleans, right?
The Saints have the best passing offense in the NFL and one of the worst running offenses (No. 30). That’s good news, but the Saints don’t have room for mistakes.
Tampa Bay’s offense awoke last week against Kansas City and there’s now reason to believe that the Bucs can put up points when they need to. Therefore, Drew Brees and the Saints offense need to get into the end zone every chance they get.
Expect a Big Game from Brodrick Bunkley
Even though the Buccaneers only average 3.43 yards per carry when doing so, they run through the middle of the line more often than any other direction—almost twice as much in fact.
That means Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis are going to have to do a good job of fighting off blocks and containing Tampa Bay running backs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount.
In addition to containing the Tampa Bay run game, Bunkley has an interesting matchup with right guard Jamon Meredith, who just took over at the position for Ted Larsen, who wasn’t playing as well as the coaching staff wanted.
Meredith’s best attribute is that he’s extremely strong, which is a bonus in the run game. However, he’s not as sound in pass protection as he needs to be. This is where Bunkley can shine.
Bunkley needs to hold his own fighting against the strong Meredith in the run game, and when given opportunities to get after Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, he needs to do so.
Meredith gave up two hurries against Kansas City last week and Bunkley is actually the only Saints defensive tackle with a sack this year.
Take Big Play Away
Tampa Bay receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams both have five receptions on balls thrown 20 yards or more. With Josh Freeman getting more comfortable and the Bucs coaching staff calling the play more often, he’s throwing down the field with more regularity.
Who will win on Sunday?
Williams ranks fourth in the NFL with 227 yards and Jackson ranks seventh with 175 yards on passes of 20 yards or more. Conversely, Corey White is the sixth-worst corner in the NFL in regard to giving up yards after the catch and Patrick Robinson ranks 11th.
Williams had a field day last week against Kansas City, catching passes between 20-40 yards and then running for 20 or more additional yards. And since both he and Jackson are being targeted deep, that could happen frequently on Sunday in Tampa.
New Orleans must do something to either help White and Robinson out in coverage or change a few things with the cornerbacks to make them less likely to give up big-time yardage after the catch.