The NFC South leading New Orleans Saints host a division rival when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town this Sunday. The 5-2 Saints, winners of five in a row, will be playing consecutive home games for the first time in the 2017 season. The Buccaneers come in at the opposite end of the spectrum, with a record of 2-5 and losers of four games in a row after many people projected them to be contenders in the NFC South.
Let's take a look at how these two teams match up when the Saints offense takes the field against the Buccaneers defense.
Saints pass offense vs. Bucs pass defense
For the first time since October 4, 2009, against the New York Jets, the Saints won a game when Drew Brees failed to throw for a touchdown pass. Brees still had a solid afternoon against Chicago, completing 23 of 28 passes for 299 yards without throwing an interception. The Saints passing attack currently ranks 4th in the league, averaging a little less than fans are used to seeing at around 271 yards per game. Much of that has been because the team's running attack has been so productive, but Brees has also been without one of his most reliable weapons, as well as getting used to a few new receivers.
Wide receiver Willie Snead has only been active in two games, and has just one reception, as he recovers from a hamstring injury following a three game suspension to begin the year. In Snead's absence, Alvin Kamara and Ted Ginn Jr. took a few games to build up a rapport with their quarterback, but are now firmly entrenched as major factors in the New Orleans offensive attack. Kamara is second on the team with 32 receptions, and is far more than just a check down option, often moved around the formation and creating mismatches down the field. Ginn is on pace for the best receiving season of his career, currently second on the team with 421 receiving yards and a surprising catch/target percentage of 77%, providing a solid intermediate target and able to turn short quick passes into big downfield gains. Brandon Coleman continues to be a solid compliment to the Saints attack, averaging 18.8 yards per reception and leading the team with 3 touchdown catches.
Michael Thomas is the best receiver in Brees' arsenal. The second year wideout leads the team with 42 receptions for 480 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has yet to break the 100-yard barrier this season, but has at least five receptions in all but one game, and over 75 yards receiving in five of the seven games played. With the Saints tight ends essentially a non-factor in the receiving game, Snead's return to full effectiveness is a key to an even more versatile Saints passing attack.
Tampa Bay came into the 2017 season expecting to improve on a 22nd ranked pass defense from a year ago, a young unit that intercepted 17 passes and sacked the quarterback 38 times. The Bucs pass defense has instead regressed badly, currently ranking 30th while giving up 275 yards per game through the air, with just 5 interceptions and 7 sacks.
They still certainly have some dangerous defenders that New Orleans will need to contain to be successful. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is an All-Pro, that has given the Saints line fits in the past. The eight-year veteran has 44.5 sacks in his career, but just 2 this season, tying for the team lead with fellow tackle Clinton McDonald. The Bucs pass rush suffered a huge blow when promising outside rusher Noah Spence was placed on injured reserve, leaving Tampa to rely on pressure from their tackles or blitzing linebackers.
The team has a very athletic linebacking trio of Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, and LSU rookie Kendall Beckwith, the team's leading tackler. They will have their hands full with the talents of Alvin Kamara, but will also provide a challenge for the Saints’ dynamic rookie. Tampa Bay has underrated safeties in Chris Conti and Keith Tandy, but they are athletically limited in coverage.
The Buccaneers may be without their best cornerback for this game, Brent Grimes, who is questionable with a shoulder injury. That leaves former 1st round pick Vernon Hargreaves as the top match up against New Orleans wideouts, along with veteran Robert McClain. Hargreaves has played better in recent weeks after an early season benching for poor play, on a defense that has given up at least 260 yards passing every game until last week against Carolina.
Saints run offense vs. Bucs run defense
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are as good as any duo in the NFL, averaging just under 4.8 yards per carry. Ingram leads the Saints in rushing with 464 yards and 4 scores, and Kamara has been a great compliment, adding 243 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ingram did fumble the ball twice in the 4th quarter of last week's win over Chicago, but he is normally a sure-handed back, and has shown a history of bouncing back strong. Kamara has shown that he has the ability of an every down back, making the Saints offense much less predictable even if Ingram is on the sidelines for any plays. The New Orleans offensive line continues to be solid, not only protecting Brees in the passing game but opening holes for their talented running backs well into the second level of a defense.
The Buccaneers defense has had a bit more success against the run than the pass, giving up around 3.9 yards per carry. Saints interior linemen Andrus Peat, Max Unger and Senio Kelemete must be able to handle the inside push of the Bucs defensive tackles, allowing their tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk and tight ends to take on Tampa's athletic linebackers.
What to Expect
The Saints look like they may be able to pass at will against a porous Buccaneers that is missing one of their best pass rushers (Spence) and possibly their best cover man (Grimes). New Orleans has shown a more aggressive downfield passing game in recent weeks, allowing for more room on their screen plays and shorter routes for bigger yardage.
Saints coach Sean Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael still have utmost confidence in their rushing attack, so we can expect to see a continued balance in the play calling for a New Orleans offense has not yet hit it's peak.
Who do you expect to have the Saints best performance against Tampa Bay?
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Ted Ginn Jr.