Saints, Bucs a Season Defining Game

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Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a prime time Sunday night game with playoff implications.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

 

New Orleans Saints (5-2) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

Sunday, Nov. 8, 7:20 p.m.

TV: NBC WDSU 6

Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM

 

First place in NFC South

The New Orleans Saints are looking to stake their claim to their fourth straight NFC South crown with a season sweep over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints beat the Buccaneers in a 34-23 Week 1 win. Since then both teams have fought for first place in the division. The Bucs (6-2), who haven’t had a bye yet this season, have a half-game lead over the Saints (5-2), who are on a four-game win streak – the last three of which have all been won by a field goal, and two of those were won in overtime.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is hoping to have his full arsenal available Sunday Night in Tampa. Reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year wide receiver Michael Thomas has been sidelined since Week 1 with a high ankle sprain and strained hamstring, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has missed the last two games due to COVID-19.

The offense has been able to adjust, mainly by relying on the near-MVP caliber play of running back Alvin Kamara, who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception and leads the team in rushing yards (431), receptions (55), receiving yards (556), and touchdowns (seven).

While the Saints have had a bumpy road in 2020, the Buccaneers have been silky since their loss in New Orleans. They’ve won six of their last seven games with their only defeat coming in a one-point loss to Chicago, 20-19, in Week 5. Tampa QB Tom Brady threw two interceptions in his first outing against New Orleans, but the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October has thrown 20 TDs and one pick in his last six contests. It’s interesting to note that in his 20 NFL seasons Brady has never been swept by a divisional opponent. This week the Bucs will add wide receiver Antonio Brown to a loaded passing attack that includes WRs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight end Rob Gronkowski, and a deep corps of running backs, including Leonard Fournette.

On the other side of the ball, Tampa’s defense has been a wrecking ball. They are tied for first in the NFL in interceptions (11) and tied for second in sacks (28).

Although the NFL is only half way through the 2020 season and there is a lot of football left to be played, this game will have major implications on the divisional and NFC playoff race. If the Saints win, they’ll have sole possession of first place in the NFC South and a two-game head-to-head tiebreaker over Tampa. If the Bucs win, they’ll stay in first place and erase the Saints’ head-to-head advantage in potential postseason positioning.

The 40-plus year old QBs will be the star attractions for this game, but there is talent on both sides of the ball on both teams. If the Saints offense doesn’t show signs of rust, it could be an explosive game that helps define the 2020 season.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage

When the Saints have the ball

The Saints are averaging 29.4 points, seventh best in the NFL and 10th in the league with 385.9 yards per game, 266.6 through the air (7th) and 119.3 on the ground (14th).

The Buccaneers are giving up an average of 20.6 points (seventh in the league) and 299.5 yards per game (third in the NFL). They are first against the run (70.4) and 14th in passing defense (229.1).

 

When the Bucs have the ball

Tampa ranks 14th in the NFL with 368.4 yards per game, 265.8 in the air (8th) and 102.6 on the ground (25th), and fourth in scoring average (30.9).

The Saints D is giving up 28.1 points per game (23rd in the NFL). They rank eighth in the league in total defense (328.4 ypg), third in rushing defense (90.6) and 17th in passing yards per game (237.9).

 

Goal to Geaux

To secure this win, the Saints will have to keep Drew Brees on the field and Tom Brady on the sideline. It will likely be difficult to run, so expect a lot of short passes to keep the chains moving. The offensive line will have keep Tampa Bay’s fearsome defensive front in check to give Brees time to operate effectively.

The Saints’ defense will look to bend but not break. They’ll look to stuff the run and pressure Brady to make hurried, off balanced throws.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 8

  1. Nice to see the Saints defense get a season-high five sacks against Chicago. DEs Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson, DT David Onyemata, and DB Malcom Jenkins each had one and DT Sheldon Rankins and DE Marcus Davenport split a sack.
  2. After a rough start to the season, Taysom Hill had a crucial 20-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. He finished with 35 rushing and 30 receiving yards.
  3. With three wide receivers sidelined, tight end Jared Cook stepped up with five catches for 51 yards, including a 16-yard TD reception just before half time.

 

Quotes of the Week

“That man punch like a female” – Saints safety C.J. Garner-Johnson on the sucker punches thrown by Bears wide receiver Javon Wims, who was ejected after the third quarter incident and suspended by the NFL for the next two games.

“Well he does a lot of things well. He’s smart, he’s instinctive, he’s a run and hit player that has very good speed and instincts. No, I wouldn’t just say that. I think he’s very good in coverage, but he’s also very good in defending the run game.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on newly acquired linebacker Kwon Alexander.

“It’s definitely heightened. But, I think you hit on it before. It’s the next game right? All the games are important, especially right now…. We can’t focus on how big the stage is, or how important it is to our future. But we got to go out there and focus on us and do our job.” – Saints tight end Jared Cook on the team’s matchup with Tampa Bay

 

 

Inside the NFC South

                                                W   L   T   Win %   PF       PA     DIV

Tampa Bay Buccaneers         6    2    0    0.750      247     165     1-1

New Orleans Saints               5    2    0    0.714       206     197     2-0

Carolina Panthers                  3    5    0    0.375       179      193    1-3

Atlanta Falcons                      2    6    0    0.250      209     224    1-1

 

Atlanta Falcons (2-6) vs. Denver Broncos (3-4)

Since naming Raheem Morris interim head coach, Atlanta has won two out of their last three games, including a 25-17 win over Carolina last week. The Falcons have talent and are seemingly better than their records. The Broncos have won three of their last four. Denver scored a 21-point comeback for a 31-30 win over the Chargers last week. The offensive burst was surprising as Denver is beat up and going through growing pains with QB Drew Lock. Atlanta is favored by four.

 

Carolina Panthers (3-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)

Carolina has lost three in a row and now has the daunting task of going on the road to face the defending Super Bowl Champions. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is likely to return from injury. That will help them in future games, but KC just has too much. The Chiefs are favored by more than 12.

 

NFC Playoff Picture

Below are the current NFC standings through Week 8. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.

 

Seed  Team             Division       W L   T

1          Seahawks       West               6    1    0

2          Buccaneers    South              6    2    0

3          Packers          North             5    2    0

4          Eagles             East                3    4    1

5          Saints           South            5    2   0

6          Cardinals       West               5    2    0

7          Rams              West               5    3    0

8          Bears              North             5    3    0

9          49ers              West               4    4    0

10        Lions              North             3    4    0

11         Panthers         South              3    5    0

12        Washington   East                2    5    0

13        Vikings           North             2    5    0

14        Cowboys        East                2    6    0

15        Falcons          South              2    6    0

16        Giants            East                1    7    0

 

Record Watch

This may be the last head-to-head matchup between New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 41, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, 43. The two have jostled for first place as the NFL’s all-time leader in career passing touchdowns. Brady currently leads by one. Brees is still the NFL’s career passing yardage king; he leads Brady by 2,554.

 

Career Touchdown Leader

Rank    Player   TDs

1             Brady      561

2             Brees       560

 

Career Yardage Leader

Rank    Player   Yards

1             Brees       79,314

2             Brady      76,760

 

The Extra Point: Ambassador of Kwon

Now halfway through the 2020 NFL season there were expectations that there might be some significant movement before the trade deadline this past Tuesday, but for the most part they were unfounded. New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton rarely miss an opportunity to make a deal to land talent. They saw a need and filled it this week by trading LB Kiko Alonso and a conditional fifth-round pick to the 49ers for LB Kwon Alexander.

Both linebackers are playmakers, but have a history of injuries.

Alexander, 6-foot-1, 227-pounds, is expected to help in pass coverage, especially against opposing tight ends. He will split time with Alex Anzalone as the weak-side LB in the Saints two LB defense alongside Demario Davis. Tampa Bay selected the former LSU Tiger in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft. Over his career he has 444 tackles, seven interceptions, and eight forced fumbles, and made the Pro Bowl in 2017.

Alexander, 26, was limited last year by a torn pectoral muscle and has missed the last three weeks with a high ankle sprain. He returned to practice last week and is expected to make his Saints debut in Week 10 against his former team, the 49ers.

Alonso, 30, has become a journeyman in his eight-year pro career, no doubt due to his injuries. Buffalo selected the 6-foot-3, 239-pound LB in the second round of the 2013 draft. Since then he’s been traded four times – to Philadelphia, to Miami, to New Orleans, and now to San Francisco. He has 588 career tackles, 10 interceptions and seven forced fumbles, but including his college career has torn ligaments in his right knee twice and the left knee once. He recently returned to practice, but has not played yet this season after most recently tearing his right ACL in the Saints’ playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings in January.

San Francisco (4-4) has endured a number of injuries at multiple positions, is currently in fourth place in the NFC West, and may be looking forward to next year.

With 2020 expected to be QB Drew Brees’ last season and facing an underwater salary cap situation in 2021, the Saints (5-2) are trying to maximize their chances to win this year.

I like the move. The Saints have the third best run defense in the NFL. A healthy Alexander will help to shore up the pass defense. Payton says he can run. In football, speed kills. A faster Saints D that is able to fill holes will limit opponents’ opportunities to move up field and continue drives. That’s exactly what the Saints will need to reach their goals for the 2020 season.

 

 

 

Categories: Pre-Snap Read