Tampa Bay (2-2) is back in action this week. The team hits the road to take on the New Orleans Saints (3-1) with first place in the division on the line.
It’ll be a tall task playing in New Orleans against a team with a tough defense and quarterback that can make opportunistic plays. When you throw in the electric, suffocating atmosphere - things get heavy real quick.
Get ready, it’s gonna be rockin’ in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday. Fortunately for you, I’ve got all the prep you need right here.
1. The Run Against Running Backs
So far, the Bucs have literally shut down every running back they have played against. What’s more impressive is that these running backs are the best in the league. Names like Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, and Matt Breida have highlighted Tampa Bay’s first four games of the season.
The Bucs have one of the best - if not the best - run defenses in football. According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs are the top run defense in terms of defensive DVOA. The defensive line/front seven is first in yards per carry (2.75), first in power percentage, second in stuff percentage, fourth in second-level yards, and third in open-field yards.
Can you say “e-l-i-t-e”?
As fate just so happens to have it, Tampa Bay will take on Alvin Kamara this weekend. He is one of the best dual threats in the NFL and is the heart and soul of this offense with Drew Brees sidelined for a few more weeks.
He’s averaging 4.7 yards on the ground and around five catches/game. Sean Payton is a maestro when it comes to scheming up plays for Kamara, who currently has the eighth-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL (Chris Carson moved ahead of him after the Thursday night game).
This could be the toughest matchup in terms of running backs for the Bucs. When you combine Kamara’s abilities with Payton’s mind, anything is possible.
Not only will this be something to watch for, it could determine the outcome of the game.
2. A Step Forward?
This is about what happens on the field, but it’s more about the mentality of the Bucs than anything else.
Last week was a big win. It was a much-needed win. It was an emotional win.
Now, the Bucs have to get up and do it all over again. Don’t get me wrong, they can definitely beat New Orleans this weekend.
But can they do actually do it?
We know this is a confident team and a confident coaching staff, so it’s not about whether or not they think they can get the job done. There’s no doubt in any of their minds when it comes to winning this game.
There’s plenty of doubt, however, in terms of executing better than the Saints for a full four quarters. We saw it against the 49ers and Giants. Tampa Bay lost the fourth quarter in both of those games and the end result is a 2-2 record instead of a 3-1 or possibly 4-0 record.
A win in New Orleans would represent a major step forward for this team and would also show that the previous games may in fact be aberrations instead of trends.
3. Pass To Run
Byron Leftwich has done a good job adjusting his game plan to opposing defenses over the last two weeks. In Week 5, he faces a Saints team that is a strong unit in terms of overall play, but like any NFL team, there are matchups to exploit if you look hard enough.
The Saints are an aggressive defense. They’re more aggressive than you’re usual defense. They fly to the ball, are disciplined, and are stout at the line of scrimmage.
The best way to take advantage of this is to lighten the box and set up the running game. You’re not gonna pound it up the middle against these guys. They’re too strong.
So therefore, the Bucs should use an effective, yet efficient passing attack early on to help lighten the box. This will help tremendously in getting the running game going. If/when the Bucs are able to move the ball effectively on the ground, the entire offense will open up.
Quick slants, check downs, hitch-and-go routes - anything that allows the offensive players to get into space in a short amount of time will go a long way toward moving the ball in general.