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Week 16 Snapshot Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints, Part Deux

Overview: For the second time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints will clash in a divisional matchup that has great importance for both teams.  The New Orleans Saints are looking to get back on track following their first loss of the season, a 24-17 home loss to the up-and-down Dallas Cowboys.  The Saints can clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win tomorrow against our Buccaneers, which would give Sean Payton a chance to rest his starters and turn their focus to preparing for the playoffs. 

On the flip side of that coin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off an impressive 24-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Pacific Northwest, a contest which saw the Buccaneers finally line up and force-feed Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward, and the running game down the opposition's collective mouth.  No doubt, the Buccaneers will be looking to come out and continue their new-found success in the running game against a defense that just got punched in the mouth by a Dallas team that came in struggling to run the football.

Last Meeting: New Orleans came into Raymond James Stadium in Week 11 and put to rest all the good vibes the Buc fans had been feeling with Josh Freeman and the previous two weeks with a resounding 38-7 victory over the Bucs.  Our guys jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead following a methodical 95-yard first quarter drive that culminated in a pretty 18-yard TD pass to Michael Clayton.  From there on, the Saints blew past the Bucs and never took their foot off the gas.  Drew Brees was virtually untouched by the Buccaneer defense, finding 8 different receivers on the day.  The Saint running attack was humming, compiling 183 yards rushing that served as the final straw on ol' Jim Bates' metaphorical back.  Meanwhile, Josh Freeman came tumbling back to earth, turning the ball over 4 times with 3 picks.  Confused by the shifting defensive schemes, he often held the ball too long and was sacked 3 times, including once on a blitz off the edge by OLB Scott Fujita that forced a fumble deep in Buccaneer territory.  The Buccaneer running backs gained 89 yards on 21 carries, but the running game was virtually abandoned after halftime.

Key to a Buccaneer Victory

Dallas offered up a heckuva gameplan that the Redskins laid out a couple of weeks prior...line up and power the football on the ground against the Saints defense. Last week, the Cowboys set the tone early and came out physical and strong against the Saints. The Cowboys came out with 2 backs and 2 tight ends in tight. Jason Witten came in motion across the field, putting two tight ends and a lead blocker on one side of the field...and the Cowboy offense clicked, ripping off large chunks of yardage with the slower but punishing Marion Barber on dive runs and through the B-gap. Granted, the Cowboy offensive line is massive, but its had a hard time lately getting a decent push, forcing Dallas to abandon the running game against the Packers, Giants, and Chargers. Against Gregg Williams' 3-4/4-3 sets, the Cowboy interior linemen blasted off the ball and knocked back DT's Sedrick Ellis and Remi Ayodele about two yards, giving the RBs about 5 yards before being touched. The way the Bucs came out and stuck with the run, even when trailing, speaks well for the staff sticking with the ground game and hopefully will attack the New Orleans' front with the same dedication and force as they did last week. With TE John Gilmore probable to play and WR Michael Clayton also likely to go, the Bucs could stack one side of the line and find the same success on the ground between the B-gap and offtackle that Dallas had last week, especially with the quicker Cadillac toting the rock. Putting Gilmore on the left side and bringing Clayton in motion and stopping him behind the Pro-Bowl-calibur Donald Penn could blast open a sizeable lane with Ernie Graham leading the way for Caddy. I think the left side of our line against Will Smith and Shanle could be advantageous.

On defense, the key to the game will be for Stylez and Jimmy Wilkerson to go to work on the Saints' offensive tackles in 4-man rushes, while dropping 7 into coverage. Also, if Roy Miller and Chris Hovan can get through their gaps and push the pocket back, Brees would be forced outside and would have to throw on the move, which is not his forte. With starting RT Jon Stinchcomb gimpy with a hurting knee and LT Jermon Bushrod looking like a matador last week, our front 4 has a puncher's chance to create enough pressure to make Brees uncomfortable and keep this one interesting. Last week, DeMarcus Ware brutalized Bushrod and recorded multiple sacks and QB hits on Brees, forcing Brees out of his comfort zone and into some aborted throws, since the remaining LBs and DBs could sit in coverage and take away the short and mid-range throws. Interestingly, Raheem said on Monday that he doesn't have a DeMarcus Ware to put that kind of pressure on Drew Brees. Can Stylez G. answer Rah's challenge and make some of those impact plays? Perhaps...Bushrod has had some solid games this year against DEs John Abraham and Julius Peppers, but was exposed by a premier speed rusher last week. However....

Keys for a Saint Victory

...What the Saints can and probably will do is put TE Jeremy Shockey or David Thomas in tight next to Bushrod and, if necessary, keep Pierre Thomas in the backfield to chip. A one-back, one-TE set would still put Colston, Meachem, and Henderson on the field. Quite frankly, when those guys are running free in man coverage, Pierre Thomas on a screen pass or Reggie Bush out of the backfield just burns you. If you try to stay in a zone look to manage the short passing game and screen plays to the backs, Brees will find the open man in the weak spot of the defense. Bottom line, if the Saints can adequately protect Brees with just an extra tight end, he's going to be tough to stop.

On defense, Gregg Williams implements both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive front sets and sometimes will adjust his defensive alignment prior to the snap. The first time around against the Saints, Williams confused Freeman, forcing errant throws that were behind receivers or were intercepted.  As we've seen almost every week since the first matchup, Freeman is not afraid to let one fly to a receiver, even if he's not completely open.  He threw 5 picks against Carolina against basic underneath zone coverage and opened the game with picks against the Jets and Seahawks.  Keep changing your fronts between 4-3, 3-4, and 3-3-5, mix in a zone blitz with Will Smith dropping back in coverage and Scott Fujita coming off the edge, etc, etc, etc.  Keep the pressure on the youngster, confuse him with your looks, and try to bait some turnovers. 

Gameday Line: New Orleans -14

Prediction: The Bucs will find some early success on the ground, making life much easier for Josh Freeman this time around, leading to sustained scoring drives.  Stylez G. White and Jimmy Wilkerson will get to Brees more than in Week 11, but won't be enough to significantly affect Brees.  The Saints' skill position players are just too talented and they'll put the determined Bucs away with a 4th quarter score.  Saints 27, Bucs 17.