The New Orleans Saints won a game without scoring a touchdown for the first time since October 25, 1998. The Saints 12-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night moved their record to 3-1, and was their second consecutive win with the injured Drew Brees on the sideline. Even though New Orleans was only able to put four Wil Lutz field goals on the board last week, the Saints offense was able to control the football and convert some key first downs in the second half. New Orleans now hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) in a key division game to stay on top in the NFC South. The Buccaneers have shown some defensive improvement over last season's abysmal unit, and have been able to force opponents into key mistakes. The Saints have played mostly mistake-free football in Brees' absence, but have taken very few chances offensively. Lets see if that may have to change if New Orleans is to notch their first division win of the 2019 season.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS PASS DEFENSE
Obviously, the New Orleans passing attack is not nearly as dynamic without Drew Brees. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has completed 73.6% of his passes in his two starts, throwing for 370 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He has been safe with the football, taking what defenses give him but has also executed a few key conversions. Bridgewater simply does not take chances down the field though, allowing defenses to clamp down on shorter routes. His delayed decision making at times has also caused a few sacks and made it more difficult for his receivers to have a chance for extra yardage once the ball is delivered. Bridgewater does have one of the most reliable receivers in the game at his disposal in Michael Thomas. The fourth year Thomas leads the NFL with 34 receptions, totaling 361 yards and scoring once. Alvin Kamara is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and is second on the team with 20 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown. Kamara and Thomas are responsible for just shy of 60% of the team's receiving production, an even higher percentage than last season. Tight end Jared Cook was more involved in the offensive game plan against Dallas last Sunday. Cook was officially targeted six times, catching 3 for 21 yards and bringing his season total so far to 8 catches for 90 yards. While Cook's involvement would help the intermediate passing game, veteran Ted Ginn Jr. is the Saints best deep threat. Ginn opened the year against Houston with 7 receptions for 101 yards, but only has five catches for 34 yards since. With second year wideout Tre'Quan Smith expected to miss his third straight game with a leg injury, the onus is on Cook and Ginn to make plays, thereby loosening the focus on Thomas and Kamara. The Saints offensive line, normally a fortress of protection for their quarterback, struggled last week against the Cowboys in surrendering five sacks. Left tackle Terron Armstead had an especially rough game, having fits with speed rusher Robert Quinn. While New Orleans expects a rebound performance from the entire line, Armstead will face off against another pass rusher on a roll this week.
Tampa's retooled defense has 11 sacks on the year so far, but 9 are from edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. An offseason free agent addition after five average seasons in Denver, the 26-yr. old Barrett is one of the league's early season surprises, and also has an interception, 3 forced fumbles, and 7 tackles for loss. Long-time Saints tormentor Gerald McCoy moved on this offseason, but the Bucs capably replaced him with veteran Ndamukong Suh, who teams with last year's top pick Vita Vea (8 combined quarterback hits)to make a formidable duo inside. Veteran ends William Gholston and Carl Nassib, who have a combined two sacks and six qb hits, form an underrated combo along the edge. While Tampa is able to pressure the opposing passer, they still have loads of issues in their secondary after finishing near the bottom of the NFL last year in every passing category. The Buccaneers are next-to-last last in passing yards surrendered, giving up 318 yards per game. Tampa Bay cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves (drafted 11th overall in 2016), Carlton Davis, and M.J. Stewart are limited defensive backs, and haven't been able to contain opposing wideouts. Safety Jordan Whitehead may be the team's most consistent defensive back, and has one of Tampa Bay's four interceptions along with leading the team in pass breakups. The Bucs secondary also gets a boost this week, with cornerback Ryan Smith returning from suspension. The Buccaneers used the 5th overall pick on linebacker Devin White in part to upgrade team speed, but also to contain the division's athletic backs like Kamara and Carolina's Christian McCaffrey. White is questionable for this game though after missing the previous two with a knee injury. Inside linebacker Lavonte David is as good as they come, but White's injury has forced the Buccaneers to give increased snaps to Kevin Minter and Anthony Nelson in passing situations.
Matchup to Watch:
Terron Armstead vs. Shaquil Barrett
Armstead is as good a tackle as there is in the game. Although his struggles against Quinn and the Dallas pass rush were uncharacteristic, his performance against the Bucs pass rush bears watching. Especially when facing off against Barrett, who has been one of the league's most disruptive defenders over the season's first quarter.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS RUN DEFENSE
Despite extra attention by opponents on the run game with Brees sidelined, the offensive line and Alvin Kamara have found enough running room to remain effective and balanced. Kamara has rushed for 280 yards and a score so far, and has been most effective in the second half of ballgames. The third year back has elite balance and vision, as well as underrated strength, to go along with his gamebreaking versatility. Latavius Murray provided some short yardage pop last week against the Cowboys, and the team hopes that he'll be able to increase his production and ease some of the burden on Kamara.
Tampa Bay has shown vast improvement in their rush defense early this season. The Buccaneers are currently 1st in the league against the run, allowing only 59 yards per game and 2.9 per rush attempt. Nose tackle Vita Vea is living up to his first round draft billing, and Tampa has quality inside depth with Beau Allen and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, with Suh and Gholston also underrated run defenders. Their ability to win their up front matchups allows Lavonte David and Kevin Minter to make plays in the gap, thereby holding top backs like McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley in check.
Matchup to Watch:
C - Erik McCoy vs. Vea/Suh
Rookie center McCoy is quickly establishing himself as one of the league's better young interior linemen. He is flanked by two established guards in Andrus Peat and Larry Warford, making up a trio that has controlled the running game as each game gets into it's latter stages. Vea has tremendous strength and possesses an explosive first step, so McCoy in particular will be tested right at the snap. Kamara will face important showdowns with David and Devin White (if he plays), but will have an added advantage as a runner if the New Orleans blockers are able to open multiple creases for the running back's reads.
Kamara has given the Tampa Bay defense nightmares in his four games against them, totaling 508 offensive yards, averaging nearly 8 yards per touch, and scoring 7 touchdowns. Michael Thomas has been almost as monstrous against the Bucs, averaging nearly 10 receptions and 107 yards in five meetings, including 27 catches for 278 yards and a score in two contests last year. Both will be heavily involved again in the Saints offensive game plan, with each player again appearing to have favorable matchups. New Orleans must be able to convert red zone chances into touchdowns, something they were unable to do multiple times last week. The Saints have had a propensity to stay patient with the run, and it has paid dividends late in ball games. The Buccaneers have had a stout run defense though, something that might force New Orleans to make more plays with the pass. The offensive line must play more up to their normal standard to keep their quarterback upright, but there are clear opportunities to exploit the Buccaneer secondary. Given the explosiveness that Tampa Bay has offensively, Bridgewater will almost certainly have to step out of his comfort zone and make plays down the field to take advantage of those matchups to win this divisional clash.
What is the most important match up for the Saints offense vs. the Tampa Bay defense?
This poll is closed
Terron Armstead vs. Shaquil Barrett
Saints WR's vs. Buccaneers CB's
Alvin Kamara vs. Lavonte David
Saints interior offensive line vs. Vea/Suh