Bucs vs. Saints I: Big Dang Preview

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their home schedule against hated division rival New Orleans.

Oh what a week its been for the Pewter and Red. In a week of soap opera-ish hyperbole, you had the players calling a players only meeting after the week one loss to the Jets (they didn't, it was the week before and has been described more as a "pep rally"), the quarterback has been late to meetings and missed the team photo, apparently the players don't trust their coach's math skills (even though the captaincy vote was never part of any players only meeting)...and yeah, they lost to the freaking New York Jets, the pre-season favorite in the Clown for Clowney campaign (I'd say Tank for Teddy but they made their bed with Geno Smith).

As we all know, we can overreact just a bit to what happens in week one. Week One in 2012 saw the mighty Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks. The Jacksonville Jaguars took the Minnesota Vikings to overtime before losing a hard fought game. The Jets put up 48 points on the Bills and everyone thought Mark Sanchez had finally arrived.  Indianapolis was beaten by Chicago 41-21.

Week one is an odd week where Jim Mora's old line of "You think you know but you don't know..." certainly comes into play.

But it's what we have to work with so let's take a look at this week's matchup with the Saints.

Series Record: New Orleans leads 25-17

Last Meeting: Dec. 16, 2012 - Saints 41, Buccaneers 0.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. New Orleans Saints Pass Defense

The results were not good for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Josh Freeman in Week One. The embattled Freeman completed less than 50% on his passes, was held to just 210 yards passing, was sacked three times and 1 touchdown against Rex Ryan's defense. Next up - Rob Ryan.

The good news for Tampa Bay is Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are still a dynamic duo, combining for 11 receptions for 206 yds and 1 touchdown against the stingy Jets defense.

Even better news is the Saints don't have the personnel the Jets do on defense, so while they might try to emulate what the Jets did in Week One, there's a good chance they won't be as effective.

One thing is certain, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan needs to come up with a better game plan. Simplified routes and conservative running plays don't help your passing attack (as Sander pointed out in his All-22 Review).

And would a hot route hurt?

Anywho, the Saints definitely fared better than last season on pass defense, limiting the Falcons to 279 yds passing and getting to Matt Ryan 3 times. Keep in mind though Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White was hobbled.

Still, New Orleans is ranked 20th against the pass. Tampa Bay's passing game is ranked 23rd.

Advantage: Push

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. New Orleans Saints Run Defense

Perhaps the best news for Doug Martin is the potential return of behemoth guard Carl Nicks to the lineup. Martin had no where to run against the stingy Jets defense who limited the Pro Bowl back to just 65 yds on 24 carries (2.7 average).

The 8-man fronts and run blitzes will continue until Tampa Bay can prove competency through the air. We'd expect nothing less from the Saints, who surrendered 88 yds on the ground to Steven Jackson and the Falcons. While that looks like a decent total, the Falcons ran the ball 14 times for a 6.3 yd average.

Tampa Bay is ranked 24th in rushing while the Saints are 19th against the run.

Advantage: Push

New Orleans Saints Passing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

Drew Brees remains one of the best in the business. He churned up 357 yds and two touchdowns against the revamped Falcons defense. New Orleans was led by Darren Sproles out of the backfield, who nabbed 6 catches for 88 yds and Brees remained the master of spreading the ball around with four receivers with at least four receptions.

Young wide out Kenny Stills made his presence felt on a 67 yd reception and finished with 86 yds receiving on the day.

Tampa Bay did a solid job against rookie Geno Smith. The Bucs defense held the Jets to 214 yds in the passing game while sacking the Jets rookie five times. Tampa Bay limited the Jets to 5.9 yds a passing play.

Tampa Bay ranks 12th against the pass while New Orleans boasts the 5th best passing offense in the league.

Advantage: New Orleans

New Orleans Saints Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

One of the great things about having Sean Payton back the with Saints is that unlike last season, New Orleans will run the football. During the Saints most potent seasons, running the ball was an overlooked yet effective component to their attack. Against Atlanta though, the Saints didn't fare that well. New Orleans managed just 78 yds on 29 attempts (a 2.7 average) with a long of just 11 yds. New Orleans spread out their carries between Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Sproles, with Thomas being the most effective of the trio (43 yds on 9 carries).

While statistically the Bucs are ranked 20th against the run, most of their 90 yds surrendered came on scrambles from Jets QB Geno Smith - who was the team's leading rusher with 47 yds on 6 carries. That won't be an issue with the pocket passer Brees. Jets running backs managed just 43 yds on 23 carries for a 1.86 average.

New Orleans comes into the game ranked 19th in rushing.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams Match Up

Darren Sporles remains the top returner for the Saints. Sproles returned one kickoff for 23 yds and average 1.8 yds on 4 punt returns.

The Saints have dependable Garrett Hartley, who went 3-for-3 against the Falcons. Thomas Morstead averaged 49.3 yds a punt putting two inside the 20.

Tampa Bay's new kick return specialist is Eric Page who returned one kickoff for 27 yds and 11.7 yds on three punt returns.

Veteran Rian Lindell is Tampa Bay's kicker, he made his only attempt last week. Michael Koenen had a good ballgame against the Jets, averaging 46.6 yds a punt.

Advantage: Push

By the Numbers

  • New Orleans is 11-7 in Tampa Bay and has won in three of their last four trips.
  • The Saints are 3-3 in their last six NFC South road games. Tampa Bay is 3-3 in their last six Home games against the NFC South
  • Josh Freeman had the best game of his NFL career at home last season against the Saints, passing for 420 yds, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 57% of his passes.
  • Freeman had one the worst game of his career in New Orleans, throwing four interceptions and finishing with a QB rating of 37.5.
  • Darrelle Revis makes his home debut for the Bucs. In his only game in Tampa while playing for the Jets, he had a 54 yd interception return for a touchdown.
  • In their only meeting, Revis' Jets held Drew Brees and the Saints to just 190 yds passing and no touchdowns in 2009.
  • The Saints were +1 in turnover ratio last week, the Bucs were even. In 2012, Tampa Bay was +3 in turnover ratio, New Orleans was +2.

Outlook

Week One lies, we established that earlier in this article. Week One would tell us that the New Orleans Saints are one of the best teams in the NFC after beating the pre-season favorite Atlanta. The Bucs must be one of the worst teams in the NFL after losing to a team that most in the NFL believe will be in competition for the top pick in the draft.

I don't think either is true. The Saints aren't unbeatable while the Bucs are not among the worst teams in the league. In fact, either team is capable of comfortably winning this game if things break right.

So how do you pick a winner? The Buccaneers are at home in front of a rare capacity crowd. They're better on defense, maybe not quite as bad as they seem on offense. The Saints are still one of the top offenses in the NFL but still have a defense that can be had, especially with injuries mounting.

So again, the focus falls on number five. If Freeman plays well, the Bucs stand a good chance at winning this football game. If Freeman plays as bad as he did the last time he played New Orleans, it will be just as ugly and the boo birds will be in full effect.

I don't see this as a lopsided contest. I see the Bucs very competitive in the game but the Bucs aren't good in close competitive contests.

I have to give the edge to the Saints in a good one.

Prediction: Saints 27, Buccaneers 21
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