The New Orleans Saints beat the Dallas Cowboys at home last Sunday 12-10 to move to 3-1 on the year. It was a defensive slugfest that resulted in the Saints winning a game without scoring a touchdown for the first time in 21 seasons. New Orleans is playing defense at a championship level in recent weeks, but now host one of the NFL's most explosive offenses in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers come into this matchup with a 2-2 record, and have increased their point total each of the past four weeks. Tampa Bay scored a franchise record 55 points in a big road win over the Los Angeles Rams last week, and are riding high with a wave of confidence that starts with first year coach Bruce Arians. Let's see how the New Orleans defense matches up with their NFC South foe in this divisional showdown.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS PASS OFFENSE
New Orleans is giving up around 278 yards per game through the air (ranking 24th), fairly close to the average given up last season. The often maligned Saints secondary had their best game of the season in last week's victory over Dallas though, just in time for a difficult challenge against the Tampa Bay receiving corps. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore locked down Cowboys wideout Amari Cooper, holding him to just 48 yards and making him a non-factor. Fellow corners Eli Apple and P.J. Williams have solidified their coverage in recent weeks as well, and all three are at their best when they are physical with wideouts at the line of scrimmage. Safety Vonn Bell is playing his best football, despite incredibly not having an interception in 52 career games, and is perhaps one of the most underrated defensive backs in the league. Free safety Marcus Williams has anticipated much better over the last two games, and his aggressive play is becoming reminiscent of his 2017 All-Rookie campaign. The improved play of the Saints secondary is aided by the defense's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks with their front four without necessarily having to blitz, often allowing for an extra defender in coverage. New Orleans has 10 sacks on the year, but have hit opposing quarterbacks 28 times and rank among the league's top defenses in quarterback hurries and pressures. Second year defensive end Marcus Davenport has become the disruptive presence coaches hoped for when moving up in the 2018 draft to get him. Davenport will be matched up against the Buccaneers best lineman Donovan Smith and has yet to register a sack, but leads the team in qb hits and has been breathtakingly close to a number of game changing plays. No stranger to game changing plays is fellow end Cameron Jordan, who has 2 sacks on the year and is the player up front that opposing coaches gameplan against. Jordan has compiled All-Pro numbers over his career against the Bucs, particularly their right tackle Demar Dotson. In his last 14 games against Tampa Bay, Jordan has accumulated 11.5 sacks, 20 qb hits, 40 tackles (11 for loss), forced 3 fumbles and recovered two with 6 passes defensed. New Orleans defensive tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle have both applied good interior pressure, and the team benefited greatly last week from the return of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the lineup. Rankins was playing at an All-Pro level before his Achilles injury in the playoffs, and his addition will provide an extra disruptive presence for a line playing excellent football.
Tampa Bay has an explosive passing attack that attacks opposing defenses down the field. The Buccaneers led the NFL in passing yardage in 2018, and are averaging 274 yards through the air so far this season. Quarterback Jameis Winston, who has thrown 63 interceptions in 60 career games, is beginning to cut back on the errors that have plagued him since being selected first overall in the 2015 draft. He has some outstanding targets to distribute the football to. Wide receiver Mike Evans is widely considered among the league's best, and has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in all five of his seasons. Evans is off to another hot start in 2019, catching 18 passes for 368 yards so far and 4 scores, including 8-190 and three touchdowns against the Giants two weeks ago. Despite his skill and production, Evans is not even the leading receiver on his own team. That distinction belongs to Chris Godwin, who has 26 receptions for 386 yards and four touchdowns, including a 12-catch 172-yd. outing against the Rams last week. Godwin is one of the NFL's rapidly ascending receivers, and will make defenses pay the price for paying too much attention to Evans. Winston also has a pair of dynamic tight ends that can threaten defenses all over the field in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. The two have a combined 19 receptions for 192 yards and a score, and are dangerous down the seam, through the intermediate zones, and as runners after the catch. The athleticism of Brate and especially Howard are a mismatch for most linebackers. They will certainly present a challenge for Demario Davis and A.J. Klein, with the team likely to use Vonn Bell in man coverage situations.
Matchup to Watch:
Lattimore/Apple vs. Evans/Godwin
Lattimore vs. Evans has been a marquee physical battle all four times these teams have met since Lattimore was drafted in 2017. Evans was completely shut down by the Saints cornerback in their first showdown, during 2017, catching only 1 ball for 13 yards and losing composure in the process. Lattimore followed that impressive performance by holding the Buccaneer star to only 55 yards on 5 catches in their 2017 rematch. Evans would toast Lattimore and the Saints coverage for 7 catches, 147 yards, and a touchdown in the 2018 season opener though, then followed that up with 4 receptions for 86 yards during their second meeting last season. Godwin had an outstanding game against New Orleans in the 2017 season finale, catching 7 passes for 111 yards and the game winning touchdown, and had 3 catches for 41 yards and a score in the '18 opener. During the 2018 rematch in Tampa, and primarily under the coverage of Apple, Godwin caught only 1 ball in his 10 targets. Lattimore may be asked to shadow the physically imposing Evans yet again, but both Saints corners will be under the microscope this game. Regardless of how coordinator Dennis Allen plays the talented Buccaneers duo, Lattimore and Apple must be up to the task of eliminating the big play, and containing the two most important weapons in the Tampa Bay offense.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs. BUCCANEERS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints have been able to flex their defensive muscle in recent weeks by holding two of the NFL's best rushing attacks (Seattle and Dallas) in check. The Seahawks running and Cowboys All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott combined for only 92 yards on 37 carries, an average of only 2.4 per attempt. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown played dominant football against the Cowboys, getting good push inside to disrupt the run and expertly sliding down the line to clog gaps. Onyemata and Tuttle have been stout inside as well, and Saints ends Jordan and Davenport have snuffed out plays quickly when a runner bounces outside. The New Orleans secondary is outstanding in run support, but the ability of the defensive line to win the point of attack allows the Saints linebackers to make standout plays. Demario Davis has played like an All-Pro and has devastated opposing backs, but A.J. Klein and Kiko Alonso have also done a fine job of finishing plays.
The Buccaneers are considered a pass-first offense, but have been able to run the ball well enough to keep opposing defenses honest. Tampa Bay splits carries between Ronald Jones (50 carries) and Peyton Barber (53 carries), who have combined for 416 yards and three touchdowns. Jones (234 yards) has been the more effective runner, averaging 4.7/carry, but Barber is a solid veteran with good receiving skills out of the backfield.
Matchup to Watch:
Dennis Allen vs. Bruce Arians
Allen, along with head coach Sean Payton, are masters at in-game and halftime adjustments. Byron Leftwich is the Buccaneers offensive coordinator but make no mistake, this is head coach's Bruce Arians show. Arians loves the aggressive downfield passing game, but must remain patient and disciplined in his playcalling. It will most likely be the Buccaneers passing game, rather than the rushing attack, that gives them the best chance to defeat New Orleans. Tampa Bay must maintain some sort of balance to keep the Saints pass rush off balance however, thus reducing the pressure on their sometimes mistake-prone quarterback.
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been extremely efficient against the blitz, able to stand up against the rush and get the ball quickly to his gamebreakers in one on one coverage. The Saints expect to be able to pressure the Bucs' pass pocket with their talented defensive front against a suspect Tampa Bay offensive line that has given up 12 sacks. If able to do so, the Saints will be able to run more intricate coverage packages while easier able to protect against the big play deep. That makes it more likely that Winston could force the ball, creating opportunities for the Saints defense to make big plays, something they have done in winning two straight even without their Hall of Fame quarterback.
Which is the biggest match up for the New Orleans defense against the Buccaneers offense?
This poll is closed
Cam Jordan/Marcus Davenport vs. Demar Dotson/Donovan Smith
Vonn Bell/Demario Davis vs. O.J. Howard/Cameron Brate
Dennis Allen vs. Bruce Arians
Marshon Lattimore/Eli Apple vs. Mike Evans/Chris Godwin
Saints DT's vs. Buccaneers interior line