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Know Your Enemy: After missing Week 1, Marcus Davenport gets his shot at Tom Brady

In a key divisional match-up, New Orleans’ pass rush might be more important than Drew Brees’ arm

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When the New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2020 NFL Season, they were aided in large part by Trey Hendrickson. Playing for Marcus Davenport, Hendrickson came up big for his squad with his four tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and two hits on Bucs quarterback, Tom Brady.

While the stat line doesn’t look amazing, the context sheds a bit more light on things. After the Buccaneers took an early 7-0 lead, the Saints came back to tie and then add another touchdown, giving them a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Tampa Bay then drove the ball into field goal range aided by a Marshon Lattimore personal foul, and had the ball at the New Orleans 31-yard line facing 3rd-and-14. Not an ideal conversion attempt, but with the ball in field goal range Bruce Arians’ team had a solid opportunity to at least trim the lead and maintain the back-and-forth feel of the game by balancing some of the momentum.

On the third-down play however, Hendrickson got in to the quarterback for a five-yard sack and pushed the Buccaneers to the 36-yard line resulting in a 54-yard attempt instead of a 49-yard or closer attempt by kicker, Ryan Succop.

The kick was blocked, Drew Brees and the Saints got the ball back at their own 45-yard line, and before the half was over they expanded their lead to 17-7. New Orleans took all the momentum into the locker room, and it didn’t get any better as Brady’s fourth pass of the second half was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

What does all of that have to do with Marcus Davenport? Well, in most - if not all - circles, Davenport would be considered an upgrade over Hendrickson. So if the back-up finds success against a team it’s reasonable to expect the starter could have similar if not more success.

Standing between Davenport and being a catalyst in the latest Saints win over the Buccaneers will be Donovan Smith and whomever is playing left guard in the absence of Ali Marpet who is ruled out with a concussion.

Aaron Stinnie is listed on the depth chart as the second left guard, but I expect it to be a fluid situation as the Bucs look to plug a big hole on their offensive front. Another thing I expect is for the Saints defense to ensure Davenport has plenty of one-on-one opportunities against Smith by occupying his help on the left side of the Bucs offense.

The third-year defensive end missed the first four games of the season before returning in Week 5 against in a New Orleans win over the Los Angeles Chargers. In his season debut, he got hits on rookie Justin Herbert twice and defensed one pass in a close three-point win for the Saints.

Since then, he’s gotten at least one hit on the opposing quarterback in his last two games and has a total of 1.5 sacks in the process. As he’s gotten back up to full playing speed he’s shown the disruptiveness he can have on an opposing offense which doesn’t leap of the stat sheet, but has a big impact in the win column.

Of course, he won’t be doing it alone, which just adds a layer to the threat. Remember Hendrickson? Well, he isn’t just going away. Leading the Saints with 5.5 sacks this season the Buccaneers should be expecting to see a healthy rotation allowing them to keep their pass rush fresh and energized late into the game.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Third on the team right now is Cam Jordan who has 2.5 sacks through seven games, his fewest through seven games since 2016. In Week 1 against the Bucs, Jordan left the game with four tackles, one for a loss, and just one hit on Brady. I’m sure he was happy to also leave with the win, but Jordan hasn’t been held without a sack in a season series against Tampa Bay since his 2011 rookie season.

Historically, Smith has fared well in his four match-ups against the Saints with Davenport in the lineup with pass blocking grades of 73.9 or better in each of those. In Week 1 of this season Smith wound up with a pass blocking grade of 58.8 which is not good for those of you unfamiliar with the PFF grading scales.

Perhaps a return to a familiar foe in Davenport will actually help Smith and the Buccaneers pass protection. Having faced Hendrickson for an entire game already this season should actually have helped Smith work through his preparation so he’ll be better equipped for what the pass rusher brings in Week 9 compared to Week 1.

We can’t discount the potential for Davenport to be playing on a whole other level of energy though either. A night game, against their top divisional foe, with a chance to sack Tom Brady. You have to believe it’s enough to inspire any pass rusher. Even if Davenport was downplaying the opportunity on Friday, saying,

“You know, I haven’t experienced that yet (playing against Tom Brady). You know, luckily playing, I’ve got to play, you know, many different QBs. So it’s just another one of those games. And I just have to be ready.”

We won’t have to wait long to find out how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line does against Marcus Davenport and the New Orleans Saints defensive front, as they face off tomorrow on Sunday Night Football in Week 9 of the 2020 NFL Season!