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How a revamped Saints O can exploit a Stout Bucs D through the air

The Saints had all their guns offensively in Week 1, and struggled to move the ball consistently against Tampa. Will it be different this time around?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

What seems to be an underrated storyline heading into the Week 9 matchup of the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is how porous the Saints offense was in Week 1.

Don’t be fooled by the score of 34-17. The offense was far from crisp.

Aided by a pick six and two other costly Tampa turnovers, they sort of got a pass for an abysmal day.

They averaged only 4.2 yards a play and went 5/15 on third down. Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara played well below their potentials, but it didn’t matter because of how bad the Bucs were on special teams and offense.

With new weapons and a more cohesive unit around Tom Brady, in addition to a largely unreliable Saints defense, I wouldn’t count on the same this week.

With that being said, the Saints are going to have to put up some points in order to win this ballgame.

So, how can they better attack this stingy Bucs defense more effectively this time around? I took a look back at all the passing plays from that game, and more, to see.

Currently listed as Questionable on the injury report, getting Michael Thomas back would obviously be a God-sent for NOLA. Brees has been missing his go-to guy, and even his second go-to guy in Emmanuel Sanders over the past two weeks, and it’s shown.

This isn’t to say the passing offense has been bad, but it’s definitely not at its full potential.

The offense is currently 12th in the league in EPA per play, at just under 0.1, and T-14th in yards per pass attempt, at 7.3.

You can just see the lack of confidence in the outside weapons in the play-calling, as well. Sean Payton’s offenses are almost always pass-heavy on 1st downs, but according to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, the Saints are -4% on early-down pass rate over expected this year.

There have been a lot of predictable, early-down runs that are giving me headaches to watch. And I’d much rather those downs be option routes to Mike out of the slot, or just more quick game in general. One can only think once MT gets back up to speed, that will indeed be the case.

And this will need to be the case against a Bucs defense that is not going to allow much success on the ground.

But they also just haven’t allowed much success in the passing game. Their 6.3 yards per pass attempt allowed is sixth-best in the league, and overall, their EPA allowed per play is second-best, at just under -0.1.

Now, the biggest question for the Saints in this game will be whether or not Thomas will be himself if he plays Sunday. I would imagine he’d be on a snap count, but nonetheless, his presence is needed.

Even if he’s going up against a particular corner who’s played him very well in the past — Carlton Davis.

Davis lowkey locked MT up in Week 1, holding him to two catches for nine yards on four targets when in primary coverage.

Davis has been a beast this year. He’s tied for the league-lead in picks (4) and pass breakups (9, according to PFF), and he’s allowing just over a 50% catch rate on only 10.4 yards a catch.

He’s fast, physical and makes plays. His only weakness, as it was last year, seems to be penalties — of which he is tied for the NFL-lead among corners for, with seven.

When Mike is right, he can make plays on just about any corner. But if I were Coach Payton, I’d try to get him in the slot as much as possible, because Tampa doesn’t typically shadow receivers.

That way, he can exploit that inside leverage we talk about when the Bucs play Cover 1 on slants and in-breaking routes like these:

A key difference with the preparation for the Bucs defense this time around is that they’re a lot less predictable. They mix up coverages a lot and don’t give you the same look very many times, which is odd, because Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles has always primarily been atop the league in how much Cover 1 he deploys.

While they haven’t run it quite as much this season as a whole, they did play their fair share of it against NOLA in Week 1.

I think they like this coverage against Brees because the middle-of-the-field Robber allows them to sometimes cut off a quick throw, which we know Brees loves. And they’re good at this.

Watch this play:

The Bucs are in Man coverage and are bracketing MT with a safety here. The other safety is in what you would call a “Robber” role, to rob routes that cross his face. So, when Tre’Quan Smith runs a crossing route here on 3rd and long, the safety darts down to cut him off. And what does the corner who was covering TQS do? He takes the robber’s place.

It’s almost like switching off of a pick and roll in basketball. You just have to have good chemistry and timing with it, and they seem to have just that in that secondary.

Sometimes they will play Cover 1 Man without the robber and rush five. Brees just has to get it to an open man on plays like the one below, where he misses the correct read.

I also suspect there will be a couple opportunities for big plays in this game, via the double move. I know I predicted Brees to hit a TD off of a double move last week, but it very well could happen this week due to the overzealousness of Jamel Dean.

The Giants targeted and beat him on double moves twice last week, but Daniel Jones couldn’t find him.

The Saints have tried double moves to Deonte Harris for two weeks in a row now. One ended in a check-down, and one resulted in a DPI.

Look out for that trend to continue on Dean, who is a solid player, but just very aggressive.

Whoever plays in the slot the most in this game is who I suspect will eat for the Saints, because out of the Bucs secondary — with great talent like Davis, Dean, Antoine Winfield Jr. — their one spot that isn’t necessarily great is in the slot, where Sean Murphy-Bunting presides. He’s not bad, just not special.

I think Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook or Thomas should be able to feast on him if they get single looks.

Another thing to watch out for is the Bucs’ pass rush. They bring some wild blitzes and stunts that confuse blockers, like this one — where inside linebacker Devin White switches spots with Shaq Barrett on the edge.

The protection is all out of whack, and the play is over before it started.

Vita Vea (90.3 PFF pass rush grade) and Barrett (39 QB pressures) are studs who can create consistent pressure inside and out, and solid role players like Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and Jason Pierre-Paul are good off of these stunts — as well as Devin White, whose best attribute as a linebacker might be his pass-rushing.

And I feel like I can’t just not mention Lavonte David, who’s been a top 5 LB for as long as I can remember, and has continued that level of play. He’s a dog in run defense, and will be one of the toughest matchups Alvin Kamara sees in coverage all year, allowing only 6.7 yards per catch in primary coverage so far this season.

Overall, this is a tough matchup for the Saints offensively and defensively. If they continue the level of play they’ve been at for most of this season, they’re at a disadvantage. That’s why I picked Tampa to actually win this game.

But if the offense goes back to being unpredictable on early downs and Mike Thomas goes back to looking like he can’t be guarded, who knows? It could be a Breesy Sunday night in Tampa.

How do you think the Saints passing attack will fare against the Bucs defense? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Instagram at @SaintsCSC, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.