While the Saints found a way to hang around in Arizona, the Buccaneers were getting shellacked at home by the Titans! Given those results, you would think that New Orleans will inevitably give Tampa Bay a serious butt-whooping in the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Sunday...right? Not so fast my friends, the NFL is a weird, wild and unpredictable animal.
To get a bit more familiar with Tampa Bay, we spoke with Sander Philipse of SB Nation's Bucs Nation. Here's our conversation below.
1) After all the fanfare that came with drafting Jameis Winston this offseason, what is the mood among Bucs fans following Winston's dismal performance last Sunday? Was it just first game jitters or are there bigger concerns?
I'd certainly say there are bigger concerns than just rookie jitters, although those jitters were part of the problem. It's far too early to say anything definitive here after one game, but the problems that Winston had coming into the draft haven't really been fixed: he's slow in his dropbacks, his footwork is uneven and his mechanics are sluggish - and then he has a tendency to make a few ill-advised throws every game. In addition to that, he reacted much more poorly to pressure than he usually does. I'd expect the latter to be a result of rookie jitters, but the mechanical and footwork problems may be a much longer-term project. As for the fans' mood - that depends on who you ask. Those who liked Winston before the draft still do. Those who didn't are now convinced that he'll never amount to anything. Overall, the fans are much more concerned with the team's performance as a whole than with Winston specifically.
2) The Buccaneers' defense was ranked 18th in the NFL by Football Outsiders in 2014, second in the NFC South behind the Panthers (15th). Many presumed (I am in that number) that Tampa's defense would be even better this year. Excluding Winston's interceptions, what happened against the Titans that led to giving up 42 points?
Everyone on the Bucs' defense forgot how to play football. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. Players simply were not doing their jobs even though almost all of them had had prior experience in this same exact system. None of this was new to them, but they were making the most basic, fundamental mistakes - like biting very hard on run-action when you've got coverage responsibilities, or missing easy tackles. The scheme calls were largely fine to stop the plays that they faced - the players just failed to execute them properly. Which is probably a lot more worrying than some scheme issues, because how do you even start fixing that problem?
3) Despite a loss, there are always some positives to draw from a team's performance. What did you like from the Bucs in last Sunday's game?
Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Doug Martin. That's about it. Every other aspect of the team was a disaster or middling at best, but both of those offensive players looked like they could be a big part of the Bucs' resurgence - you know, if resurgence actually happens. Martin looked more like his rookie self than he's looked at any point over the past two seasons, while Seferian-Jenkins was a constant receiving threat, putting up 110 yards and two touchdowns on just five catches, forcing me to get really good at flawlessly typing his name.
4) If you were New Orleans' offensive play-caller Sean Payton, how would you attack Tampa Bay's defense? And on the other side of the ball, if you were Rob Ryan, how would you try to slow down the Bucs' offense while also trying to save your job?
Based on last week's game, you could probably do anything and be successful. Assuming the Bucs have actually improved from that horrendous performance, though, I'd do two things. One, I'd script a lot of quick run-action throws, because the defense couldn't stop jumping those fake runs, giving Marcus Mariota a lot of easy completions last week. That also stops the Bucs from getting any kind of pass rush going, and Drew Brees is experienced enough not to get caught throwing interceptions into trap coverages that way. Second, I'd try to find ways to exploit the Bucs' lack of speed at safety - that probably means getting Brandin Cooks running away from safeties somehow. The Bucs allowed multiple short passes to turn into big gains because they both failed to tackle well, and because their safeties simply got outrun. If the Saints can exploit that, they should put up a lot of points.
5) Prediction time for you Mister Philipse: who wins this game between the Saints and the Bucs and why?
I'm going to stick with the bold, optimistic and probably completely unrealistic prediction of a Bucs win. I wasn't overly impressed with the Saints' performance against the Cardinals, especially on defense, and I think the offense will be much-improved - especially the rookies, who collectively looked to be suffering from a lot of rookie nerves. If the Bucs can keep the game a little close, Doug Martin should get far more carries than he did last week, and he can gash the Saints defense. Meanwhile, Winston should be more comfortable in his second game in the NFL - a lot of his issues came down to a lack of comfort. The Bucs' defense probably won't be as bad as they were last week, but they'll still be pretty bad - which means we're looking at a shootout, especially given the fact that the Saints couldn't run the ball last week. And that means I'm going with a 31-28 win for Tampa Bay. Yes, I know - ludicrous.
Many thanks to Sander for taking the time to speak with us.
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