The New Orleans Saints will head to Tampa, FL to take on the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time this season. In their last matchup, the Saints pulled away impressively with an offensive performance that felt shaky, but a defensive performance that many would call a mirage. After forcing two interceptions against Tom Brady to open their schedule, the Saints have only reeled in two more over the following six games. One of which came as recently as their Week 8 matchup against the Chicago Bears. Takeaways, defense, and reunions highlight this week’s five questions ahead of the Week 9 battle in Tampa, the Saints at Bucs.
How much of an effect with Bucs WR Antonio Brown have?
One Tuesday, Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians told Tampa media that recently signed (and eligible) receiver Antonio Brown is expected to play on Sunday night. Citing that while 60 plays would be a farfetched expectation for the much maligned wideout, Brown could be seen in on “10 plays [or] it could be 35 plays.” Such a return would reunite the former Patriot with Tom Brady, the quarterback from whom he caught a touchdown pass. In his potential return to the NFL, Brown could have an impact if he’s game ready. The last time he faced the Saints defense was was in the 2018 Week 16 Pittsburgh Steelers matchup. In that game, Brown hung 185 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches against the Saints’ secondary. Expecting a repeat performance, however, seems wildly unrealistic. But what effect he will have remains to be seen against a struggling Saints secondary.
Will the Bucs be the Michael Thomas bookend?
The Brady-Brown reunion may make more of the national news cycles this week, but the Who Dat Nation will be keenly focused in on this week’s injury reports for another story. The last time the New Orleans Saints were fortunate enough to field their star wide receiver Michael Thomas, it was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to open the season. In that game, Thomas caught only three passes for 17 yards. After weeks now of the single-season reception record holder missing games injuries and one week for disciplinary purposes, there’s very little imagination needed to know how much Thomas wants to be back out on the field. In addition to that, and for whatever reason contrary to popular belief, the Saints want him back on the gridiron as well. Getting Thomas back in the offense could bring about a huge boost for this team that has been missing in some key game situations. Even if he needs some time to shake the rust off, he would have a positive effect for New Orleans.
Can the Saints’ secondary keep pace with Tampa Bay’s offense?
During their Week 1 contest, the Saints didn’t allow a single 40+ yard play, though they did allow a few of 20 or more. However, New Orleans has now allowed seven 40+ yard plays since. They’ll now be taking on a team in the Bucs that are far more cohesive than they were to open the season. In his last four games, Tom Brady has thrown for a better completion percentage, better passer rating, and no interceptions after throwing four to open the season. Meanwhile, very little improvement to discuss surrounding the Saints back end. A big piece to that unit will be the play of Marshon Lattimore and there are two large factors to his success. The first is that Lattimore tends to perform very well when matched up with Mike Evans. In their first meeting this year, Evans caught only one pass for two yards, none with Lattimore in coverage. The second is that the former Buckeye’s confidence clearly received a boost after his interception against the Bears Week 8. Can he build on those boosts to perform well in a key divisional game?
Why is no one paying attention to Deonte Harris?
Okay, okay. Harris got some love from Peter Schrager of Good Morning Football. But even still, he’s gone widely under-appreciated. Harris is seventh in the NFL in yards per kick return and second in yards per punt return. He’s a big part of the reason New Orleans starts with the sixth-best starting field position (31.4 yard line) in the league. Meanwhile, his expanded role on offense has been remarkable. After seeing only six targets in 2019, Harris has been targeted 19 times through six games (he missed one with injury). He’s hauled in 73.7% of those targets for 120 yards, a touchdown, and eight first downs. He has become a bit of a go to in the first down game, picking up five over the last three games. If Harris continues his production as the fifth most targeted offensive player for New Orleans, even if the numbers drop off with players coming back from injury, he should continue to be a reliable weapon for which teams will have to account.
Will the roles reverse?
When these two teams met to open up their 2020 seasons, New Orleans was considered the more familiar and consistent team. On the other hand, Tampa Bay was working to implant a new signal caller, offense, and weapons. The time around, the Bucs have looked to be getting steadily more cohesive sans struggles against the New York Giants. The Saints may be getting some big pieces back in Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Marquez Callaway. Could the Saints end up now being the team that’s not on point in this matchup? Communication with both Thomas and Sanders took time in getting comfortable with Brees. If that times is needed again, it could spell trouble moving the ball on the offensive side for this game. But if the pieces all snap into place, we could see an exciting showing between these two NFC South powerhouses.
What are your biggest questions ahead of the Sunday Night Football action? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , on Instagram at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.