The New Orleans Saints, winners of five in a row and in first place of the NFC South, take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losers of four in a row and sporting a 2-5 record. This will be the 51st meeting between the two franchises, with the Saints leading the series 31-19, including a 17-11 record at home.
New Orleans has an 18-12 advantage over Tampa Bay since the two were joined in the NFC South division in 2002. Today, Canal Street Chronicles takes a look at some key matchups to pay attention to when the New Orleans defense takes on the Tampa Bay offense in the latest edition of these divisional rivals.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
The Saints rank 17th in the league in pass defense, but while the overall numbers show that they give up 225 yards per game through the air, Dennis Allen's unit has given up an an average of under 159 yards passing over the last five games. They've had 9 interceptions, and 16 of their 19 sacks have come during their winning streak. Safety Kenny Vaccaro leads the team with 3 interceptions, and has covered slot receivers well on intermediate routes, but it's rookie Marshon Lattimore that is beginning to be the talk of the league. Lattimore has given up just 6 receptions for 75 yards and has not surrendered a single touchdown in coverage over his six games played, putting him among the midseason favorites for defensive rookie of the year. Safeties Vonn Bell and rookie Marcus Williams have struggled at times with poor angles in coverage, but have proven to have playmaking abilities. Cornerback Ken Crawley is tied with Lattimore and Vaccaro for the team lead in passes defensed, and has been an underrated compliment to Lattimore. Both cornerbacks have played tight and aggressive coverage on all routes, allowing the Saints pass rush to blitz more frequently.
Cam Jordan leads the team with 5.5 sacks, and is at times almost unblockable as both a pass rusher and run defender. The Saints look to have finally found a compliment at defensive end opposite Jordan. Alex Okafor is second on the team with 3 sacks, and has consistently applied pressure to hurry opposing quarterbacks, and rookie 3rd round pick Trey Hendrickson is playing better with each week. Linebackers Craig Robertson and A.J. Klein have proven to be both capable blitzers and solid in pass coverage as well, able to match up well with backs and tight ends in recent weeks.
The Tampa Bay passing attack ranks 2nd in the league, averaging over 295 yards per game. The problem is that they have been prone to turnovers. Former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston is one of the exciting young talents at the quarterback position, but has thrown six interceptions so far on the season. Winston has a talented array of targets to find. Wide receiver Mike Evans is one of the best in the league, and leads the Buccaneers with 39 receptions for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns. Offseason free agent addition DeSean Jackson gives Tampa one of the most feared deep threats in the NFL, and he has 397 yards receiving and 2 scores. Adam Humphries is one of the league's more underrated wideouts, and is 3rd on the team with 29 receptions, although he has been limited with a rib injury. How Saints corners Lattimore and Crawley fare in this match up against this talented trio will be one of the most pivotal and entertaining of the game.
The Bucs have a dangerous duo at tight end. Cameron Brate is second on the team with 31 receptions for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Buc's 1st round draft pick this spring, O.J. Howard, has the team's longest reception (58 yards), leads the team in average per catch, and has scored on 3 of his 13 receptions. Saints safeties Vaccaro and Vonn Bell, along with linebackers Klein and Robertson, have clamped down on opposing tight ends and backs well enough to let rookie free safety Marcus Williams continue to play a centerfielder role, and could put him in a prime position to read Winston to make a play on forced throws into coverage.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
The Buccaneers rank just 29th in the league in rushing, averaging only 89 yards per game and less than 4 yards per carry. Doug Martin has been inconsistent at best in his four games since returning from a league suspension, averaging just 60 yards per game. Jacquizz Rodgers has been just as ineffective, and the two have combined for just 3 rushing touchdowns. Both Martin and Rodgers have had big moments against New Orleans in the past, and the Saints defense has struggled a bit to stop the run early in each of the last two games.
New Orleans ranks 21st in run defense, and the final statistics against both Green Bay and Chicago in each of the last two games indicate a struggle, but a closer look may reveal otherwise. Outside of a 50-yd run by Chicago running back Jordan Howard and a 46-yd broken field scramble by Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the Saints held the Chicago running game to just 2.2 yards per carry. The Packers rushing total of 181 rushing yards the week before that was bolstered by an opening drive of 70 yards on the ground, but held to 111 the rest of the way.
New Orleans defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata have controlled the interior well, tying up blockers and allowing other Saints to swarm to the ball. Jordan and Okafor are top run defenders from their end positions, while linebackers Robertson, Klein, and Manti T'eo with Kenny Vaccaro combine with their line to make plays near the line of scrimmage
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Marshon Lattimore covering Mike Evans is almost a pay-per-view worthy match up by itself, but it will also be interesting to see how Crawley manages to contain Evans. The Saints will have their hands full with Tampa Bay's other weapons as well, perhaps the best passing attack New Orleans has seen since Tom Brady and the Patriots in week 2. Jameis Winston is prone to turnovers, however, and the aggressive Saints defense will look to pressure him to force throws into coverage.
It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will be able to mount a sustained running attack against New Orleans, but the Saints need to eliminate the big rushes that they've been giving up a couple times each game. Winston will get his yards, but the Saints secondary will get the better of a big-time match up in the end for a win.
Saints 34. Buccaneers 28
Which Saints defensive star needs to have the best performance against Tampa Bay to get a win?
This poll is closed