The game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started out eerily similar to the dismal outing the Saints had last week against the Dallas Cowboys. The run game wasn’t there, and Thomas Morstead was called upon, not to hold for extra points, but to punt after failing to sustain drives.
Luckily, the defense was able to contain a Buccaneers offense that put up 48 points against them back in week 1 of the season. This time, the Saints only surrendered 14 points and 279 yards of offense, thanks in large part to their two cornerbacks.
For one, Marshon Lattimore had a much better game against Mike Evans as opposed to the first game. But it didn’t start out quite that way.
On only the second play of the game, Lattimore was beat deep on a “go route” by Evans. At the bottom of the screen, Lattimore will attempt to use a cross-hand check, where he will put his inside hand into the receiver’s chest and ride him into the boundary to give the quarterback the smallest passing window possible. Evans is able to beat the jam by using a “wipe” technique, where he will simply raise his inside arm and push Lattimore’s hand off of his shoulder. Evans then showed off his speed by quickly getting separation. Winston lays the back-shoulder pass in for a gain of 36 yards.
A few plays later on the same drive, Lattimore does a good job at shutting out Evans on a first down pass attempt. The Buccaneers will come out with 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end) while the Saints roll out their base 4-3 defense (four defensive lineman, 3 linebackers). Lattimore (bottom of screen) will use a trail technique to shadow Evans’s movements. At the top of Evans’s stem, Lattimore mirrors his stutter step which allows him to stay in position on the receiver. The rest of the defense is able to cover the receivers and with no where to go, Winston will scramble to pick up the first down.
Eli Apple also continues rebound from his abysmal performance against Dallas two weeks ago. When going up against Chris Godwin, he didn’t give up a single reception.
The Buccaneers were able to get into the red-zone on their first drive, and here attempt to run a fade route with Godwin on the boundary side of the field (bottom of screen). Apple is able to run with the receiver and then does a great job at forcing him closer to the boundary to close the passing lane. With good position on the receiver, Apple is able to bat the ball away and nearly comes down with an interception.
Apple’s most impressive play came when he was covering Mike Evans.
The Buccaneers will run a curl-flat route combo to Apple’s side of the field. The tight end Cameron Brate will run the flat route while Evans will run the curl. The curl route is normally an easy throw and catch, especially with a receiver of Evans’s abilities. But Apple is able to stay on top of him and will sink his hips and drive on the ball at the top of the curl route in order to bat the ball away.
The run defense also continues to dominate and limit opposing running backs. One encouraging sign, especially with the Carolina Panthers coming up is the defense’s ability to defend against the read-option.
Here, the Bucs will line up in shotgun and run the zone read to the right. The key defender that Winston is reading here is Cameron Jordan. One way to take away the threat of the quarterback keeping the ball on this type is play is by “slow-playing” the quarterback through the “mesh-point”. The mesh-point is where the quarterback and running back meet, and either the ball is handed to the back or kept by the quarterback. Rather than crashing down to tackle the running back, Jordan will shuffle laterally, reading what decision Winston will make. This forces the quarterback to hand the ball off and Jordan is now free to make a play from the backside. Demario Davis is then able to get off the right tackle’s block, while Marcus Davenport is able to split a double team and they combined for the tackle.
Being able to make the proper reads on these type plays against a Cam Newton led team, that loves to run option plays such as the one above, will be key to slow down his offense next week.
Overall, the defense did a solid job at limiting one the top statistical offenses in the league. Even without veteran receiver DeSean Jackson, the trio of receivers that the Saints secondary matched up against is one of the better groups in the conference and limited them to nine receptions. They will be tested for the next three weeks as they face two teams that boast dangerous skill players that include Christian McCaffrey, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Antonio Brown. But if they can keep up this effort on defense, home-field advantage through the playoffs could be within reach.