The Saints take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday for the first of two meetings this season. Like the Saints, the Bucs have been a surprise thus far in 2010 though in differing ways. I had to get the scoop about the team from someone who knows them well so naturally that led me to Craig T from SB Nation's newly-named Bucs Nation. He was kind enough to participate in our usual Q&A and provide valuable insight with his answers. Read on to learn more about the Saints next opponent.
CSC: We're entering week six of the season and the Bucs are ahead of the Saints in the standings. You've got to be surprised, right? Do you expect this to last? Are the Saints weaker than you expected?
BN: Certainly a little surprised, to say the least. They've played four games and matched last season's win total! There are a lot of the same problems from last season, i.e. lack of pass rush, problems with run defense, and poor run blocking, but Josh Freeman has taken a total 180 from last year in that he's much, much smarter with the football and reading defenses. He's developed a quick rapport with budding star WR Mike Williams and has Kellen Winslow and the surprising Micheal Spurlock to throw to.
It's tough to tell if it'll last because you can only win for so long when unable to rush the passer and stop the run. However, every game this team plays is another game for a young and developing front seven to get its sea legs, so there's hope the defense, which has been bend-but-don't-break, will improve and become more productive. I obviously don't see the Buccaneers' staggering number of interceptions (9 through 4 games) staying at the same rate and being able to bail the team out on a weekly basis.
As for the Saints, you guys have Drew Brees. We'll never consider you any weaker than the defending world champion, at least this year anyways.
CSC: Cadillac Williams is only averaging 2.6 ypc this season. Is he finished? Who do you expect to get the bulk of the carries this week?
BN: Caddy certainly seems to be on the backside of his career based on declined productivity. However, despite the overzealous optimism about LeGarrette Blount following his limited (but effective) production against the Steelers and Kareem Huggins as a change of pace back, those two got five combined carries last week to Caddy's 11. It seems they are not ready to roll with the youngsters just yet and will keep giving Caddy the most carries. However, Blount is still learning the playbook and Huggins is coming off of a groin injury, so those guys could see increased work as the season progresses. The wily vet FB Earnest Graham will get looks in short yardage situations.
CSC: After years of facing Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton, the Bucs have some new faces catching passes. Give us a little background on the Bucs two young receivers, Mike Williams and Aurelius Benn.
BN: Split end Mike Williams is just a freak. I don't know what else to say. Rookie WRs aren't supposed to be this productive this early. I remember the sick upside he had coming into the draft, and I was stoked the Bucs were able to land him in Round freaking four. He blew everyone away in offseason workouts and training camp and quickly earned the moniker of this team's #1 WR. He and Freeman have developed a quick rapport and could be another great QB-to-WR NFC South Combo. Flanker Arrelious Benn is making strides, and just earned the first start of his career last week against Cincinnati. He's been slower to make an impact, but he has the size, hands, and playmaking ability to become a productive NFL player.
CSC: What is the key defensive matchup vs. this Saints offense?
BN: Tough to say, as there are so many important matchups when the Saints have as many weapons as they do, but I think DE Stylez G. White on your left tackle is going to be very important. Drew Brees is a guy that you have to pressure with your front 4 in order to slow down. Unfortunately, that hasn't been our forte this year, but if Stylez can get in there and hurry Brees, bat down a pass, and create some disruption to kill a drive or two, that could pay off.
CSC: How is Jeff Faine holding up?
BN: He's out 4-6 weeks with a strained quad muscle. Bad timing to be sure, with the Saints and Falcons ahead during that stretch. However, the Buccaneers were fortunate to have signed G Keydrick Vincent, who started in '09 for the Panthers, in the offseason, which allows them to move G Jeremy Zuttah to center and have at least a serviceable offensive line.
CSC: Care to make a prediction?
BN: Sigh.....I often get these things wrong, but I've been riding the optimism and homer train, so why get off now? Tampa Bay 24, New Orleans 21.