The New Orleans Saints open the season this weekend hosting the new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before every game this season, we’ll look at five questions for each matchup. New Orleans is mostly shrouded in anticipation while Tampa Bay has one big concern that could make their Sunday a long one in the Superdome.
Can Drew Brees topple Tom Brady in their first divisional matchup?
One of the most highly anticipated storylines of the 2020 season is the matchup between future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Since the moment Brady made the decision to sign with the Tampa Bay buccaneers, assuming quarterback duties from now-Saint Jameis Winston, the NFL world has clamored at the idea of seeing Brees vs. Brady at least two times this season. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait too long as the first matchup is Sunday.
Brees is currently ahead of Brady by nearly 3,000 yards and six touchdown passes in the race for careers bests at each statistic. But Brady has the rings. The GOAT conversation runs deeply between the two and has been actively debated every which way. But head-to-head will be a compelling argument during and beyond their playing careers. Can Brees expand on his 3-2 lead to open the season and perhaps extend to 5-2 by regular season’s end and before a potential playoff matchup as well?
How will rookie OL Cesar Ruiz perform against a talented defensive interior?
The Tampa Bay defensive line, particularly now under the coaching of Todd Bowles, plays with multiple fronts. That’s a lot of information for a young offensive lineman to process. How does the very capable rookie perform against this Tampa defensive front whether he’s lined up at center or right guard?
The Saints struggled when the lost on the interior through 2019 and made some changes along the area in the hopes of improving their chances in 2020 to hold strong. Andrus Peat dropped weight and is looking like he’s in shape, Erik McCoy looks to build on an impressive rookie season, and the Saints replace Larry Warford with either McCoy or Ruiz (presently Ruiz on the early unofficial depth chart). Can the rookie, where ever he plays, hold his own to open up the season?
Have the Bucs had enough time to get in synch following a busy offseason?
One of the largest advantages the Saints have in this opening matchup is their familiarity. On the offense, only wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, fullback Michael Burton, and interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz are new starters. On defense, safety Malcolm Jenkins returns to New Orleans, and either Zack Baun or Kaden Elliss will take on the SAM linebacker position as new starters. Janoris Jenkins also joins the team, but got some starts with the Saints in 2019.
Cohesion, communication, and chemistry will separate teams early in 2020. Especially with the truncated and distanced offseason. If the Saints are connect and in rhythm, the Bucs will need to be in order to hang around. It’s a challenge for the Bucs though who have seen changes at major positions.
Can the Saints avoid stumbling out of the gate?
There’s no mystery that the Saints have struggled in opening games. Since they opened the 2014 season, New Orleans is 1 - 5 in the last six week one bouts. Thankfully, the one win came in the 2019 match against the Houston Texans so perhaps the trend is already bucked. The Saints will hope to repeat the positive side of history to open 2020.
The losses haven’t been much a fault of the offense as they averaged 29.3 points per week one game. Outside of a pair of 19-point games, the offense has been a sure bet for 30 or more. It’s been the defense and costly mistakes surrendering an average of 34.6 to opponents. The defensive showing will be key in a win on Sunday, particularly the performance of the Saints secondary which looks to benefit from the experience and play style of both Malcolm and Janoris Jenkins. Over on the offensive side, the Saints can start off on the right foot by simply picking up where two keep players left off.
Running back Alvin Kamara kicks off the 2020 season against a team he’s performed well against totaling six total touchdowns, a 4.82 yards per carry, and over 700 scrimmage yards in six career matchups. He was playing hurt last season, but looked much better to close the year piling on four of his five rushing touchdowns in the last two regular season games. Meanwhile, tight end Jared Cook went off at the end of 2019 to the tune of 28 catches for 537 yards and seven touchdowns over the final eight games of the season. He should be a big part of the gameplan along with Kamara, Michael Thomas, and one of these biggest 2020 offseason additions.
How will Emmanuel Sanders fare in his first game as a Saint?
That addition of course, being wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. There is a lot of anticipation around his opening performance in a Saints uniform. And while his first shot with the team may not be indicative of what his entire season might look like, coming out of the gate strong is obviously better. Vegas has his over/under on catches set at 50. That’s already a 40% increase from the catch total of last year’s WR2 Ted Ginn Jr.
Sander averaged 13.9 yards per catch in San Francisco, very close to Ginn’s 14.0. At that rate, even a push on that over/under would yield 695 yards or 43.4 yards per game. That total would have been good for third on the 2019 Saints team. Sanders adding even just that level of production along with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, and others would be a valuable boost to Sean Payton’s offense.
Lagniappe: Which new additions prove to be immediate contributors?
What are your biggest questions ahead of the Saints-Bucs Week One matchup on Sunday? 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, 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.