Nov. 22, Bucs at Saints
Dec. 27, Saints at Bucs
By the time the Saints and Bucs finally get around to playing each other, the Bucs should at least have some idea of what the Saints will throw at them on defense.
For the Bucs, it could be a make-or-break game for Luke McCown, who has a chance to throw against a secondary that is shaky at best. If he can rise to the occasion, the Bucs might have a shot at sweeping the Saints, which are set on offense but are going through a severe change on the defensive side.
On one hand, new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is one of the most respected in the game and will have had most of the season to recreate the new Saints defense.
On the other hand, the Saints will enter training camp with no clear idea on what it will be throwing at the Bucs, not to mention the rest of the NFL.
The Saints offense was not the problem during last year’s 8-8 tailspin that kept them out of the playoffs. Quarterback Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards.
The Saints struggled to run the ball and lost Deuce McAllister to free agency, but coach Sean Payton has said that the 2009 season is where former first-round pick Reggie Bush finally makes an impact.
It’s the defense that is suspect and, by the time the two teams meet in New Orleans, the Bucs should finally have an idea about the direction Williams has taken.
For the first part of the season, Williams will be trying to mix and match. After last year’s debacle where the Saints lost two of their final three games at the buzzer, including a crushing 33-31 loss to division rival Carolina in the final game of the season, Payton made changes. Gone are former defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, along with three quarters of the secondary.
The Saints went out and spent a lot of money on Darren Sharper and Jabari Greer to reinforce the secondary, and Paul Spicer was brought in from Jacksonville to solidify the line. Williams has a whole new crew to work with, anchored by Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker.
So what does that mean for the Bucs?
They will have plenty of time to scout the Saints. The NFC South schedule is backloaded so the Bucs be able to check out the Saints early and often. The week before their first meeting on Nov. 22, the Saints will be at St. Louis, which shouldn’t be a challenge, but the early part of the Saints schedule is difficult.
After a home opener against the Detroit Lions, the Saints travel to Philadelphia and Buffalo, neither of which should be easy games on the road.
Brees can light up any secondary and he has the receivers to work with. Brees isn’t known for firing deep, but Lance Moore and Marquis Colston are two of the more underrated wideouts in the league. If Bush is fine after his knee injury from last year, he also offers Brees an option than could sting the Bucs defense that is lacking in the secondary.
Also, don’t discount the signing of free agent fullback Heath Evans from the Patriots. His blocking will give Brees extra time and he can take on Bucs defensive ends Gaines Adams and Stylez White.
On defense, quarterbacks Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich won’t be able to take advantage of the Saints incohesiveness. New Orleans brought in veterans and first-round draft pick Malcolm Jenkins should be starting at cornerback by the time the teams meet.
The defensive line is lacking and Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward should be able to move the ball, especially if the Bucs go to the power game against a weak middle.
The Saints have a defense in transition, so it’s hard to tell what it will look like by the time the two teams face off in the second half of the season, but the Bucs can win both games. In the topsy-turvy NFC South, it’s typical for one team to be out of contention by Thanksgiving and it’s likely that one of these teams will be out of contention.
Too close to call, but, if the Bucs are still playing for January, there’s no reason they can’t sweep the Saints.
LAST SECOND SHOT: Do you remember that, for years, the Bucs couldn’t win a game in temperatures lower than 47 degrees? They went from 1976 until 2002 before they did. This year, the Bucs won’t have to play in any game where the temperature might dip below 70 degrees.
They play the Bills, Redskins, and Eagles on the road, but that ends in Philadelphia on Oct. 11. After that, the road games are in Miami, Atlanta (dome), Carolina, Seattle (maybe some rain), and New Orleans (dome).