The Saints are now just three days away from a crucial division game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their first meeting of the season. In preparation for that matchup, I had a chat with with SB Nation's Tampa Bay blogger, Niko Houllis over at Buc 'Em. Read on to hear his thoughts on Aqib Talib, Josh Freeman and the disappointing season thus far. Niko also wanted to let you guys know that you might want to stop by Buc 'Em this weekend for enemy flashback and classic enemy flashback; some great Bucs/Saints video highlights. Some of our older fans might enjoy that.
CSC: Are you surprised at all by how the season has played out for the Buccaneers? It seemed like most people were expecting this.
BE: No one was really surprised, although I was one of the few on my site that felt we could be competitive more. It would have been easier if the Bucs had told us this was straight-up a rebuilding year, but that doesn't sell season tickets. Now that fans have seen Josh Freeman, most have calmed down a little as they see there is a future.
CSC: How are fans feeling about Josh Freeman? Must be excited. What do you see in him that makes you believe he will be the long term answer at quarterback?
BE: It's now obvious Morris knew what he was talking about when he said if he had the no.1 pick in the whole draft he would have taken Freeman. Josh shows nice poise, and leadership ability too. This is (two) more 4th quarter comebacks in as many games as we had in the last few years! Its just too bad the defense let the team down, something we are not used to here. We have seen so many players fill the position over the last decade, so we are so happy to see a guy who may be able to fill this thing up for a decade or more.
CSC: Aqib Talib has been a man on fire lately with five interceptions in the last six games. Should Drew Brees be afraid?
BE: I don't think Drew Brees with throw his way, I think he will follow everyone else's suite and throw towards Mack who is struggling in his first year as a starter. Barber, too, is doing a great job shutting down receivers, but you don't hear about him as much. Talib has shut down major receivers, and if Brees and co. are not careful, someone could make him pay. Expect at least one pick Sunday but if there are more, the score could be closer.
CSC: What do you expect the Buccaneers to do to try and beat the Saints that other teams haven't been able to do yet?
BE: We've been able to beat you guys the last couple of years by controlling the clock and keeping your offense off the field. However we have not been running the ball as much or as effective as we wanted to. This will change as starting left guard Aaron Sears has reported to the team but he probably wont be ready to start until our rematch. Expect our running game to be better by then, but that's on the road; traditionally we run better at home.
CSC: Tell us something about the Bucs that would surprise Saints fans to know.
BE: In this age of Blogs and Internet access, there is little I could tell you that would surprise you. The Bucs have new confidence in their kicking game, and in fact, we have the no. 1 Special Teams in the league. Our return game is dangerous, and our cover teams do their jobs thoroughly. We don't Punt very well with 911 punter Dirk Johnson, but new kicker Connor Barth is an instant success with booming kickoffs that go through the uprights when he kicks off, and Barth tied four of the NFL's best of the best kickers to sink 3x 50+ yard FGs in one game.
CSC: Bonus: Care to make a prediction?
BE: "Prediction? I predict Pain!" Ok, That was my Clubber Lang. I don't give us much of a chance, however, I know my Bucs history, and NFL history, and this has upset written all over it. Divisional game, undefeated team, fantastic offense, terrible defense, team with one win, it all spells 30-17 win for the Saints. However, the one in Minnesota's 15-1 regular season record in 1998 was to Tampa Bay when they came in here 8-0. We were a better team in '98, but it was not our best year. If we were capable of running the ball as well as we did back then, it could be possible. It wont shock me but three things have to happen for us to have a chance...
1) If you guys have 90+ yard rushing by halftime, the game is over.
2) If Drew Brees has 3 TD's by halftime, its over.
3) If we are only down by ten points or less, or have rushed for 65 yards or more, or have 2 TD's by halftime, we have a good shot.