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Buccaneers @ Saints: Key Matchups

Saints and Buccaneers showcase lots of talent. Which matchups will unravel the biggest outcome in this contest?

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Week 1 matchup features two NFC South teams with massive expectations for the 2020 NFL season. The New Orleans Saints have almost the same roster and coaching staff, with a few new faces in the building. Players like Emmanuel Sanders, Malcolm Jenkins, and first round pick-Caesar Ruiz, are additions that should make instant impacts.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has completely revamped their 7-9 roster from 2019, as they try to get back to the playoffs. Tom Brady has signed with the Buccaneers, and he brought his old pal, Rob Gronkowski to the mix. Recently, the Buccaneers even brought pro-bowl running back Leonard Fournette on board.

With all the surplus of talent, there’s bound to be great matchups between the two teams. Whoever wins these battles, will vastly improve their team’s chances of winning this game!

Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs Buccaneers cornerbacks:

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-NFL Honors Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Thomas averaged 148 receiving yards during the two Buccaneers matchups in 2019.

The Buccaneers may have added all this firepower on offense, but the two starting corners from last year remain the same: Sean Murphy-Bunting & Carlton Davis III. The two cornerbacks that were responsible for the 30th ranked pass defense in 2019.

They will have a huge task on their hands to guard the 2019 Offensive Player of The Year, “Cantguardmike”, better this time around. Not only is Thomas taking the field, he has a new counterpart in the receiving corps: Emmanuel Sanders.

Emmanuel Sanders went from being the No. one wide receiver on the Super Bowl featured 49ers squad, to playing the No. two role on another Super Bowl contender.

We will see how the Buccaneers cornerbacks fair. Sean should be covering Thomas, like he did in their last match-up. This time around, he’s not a rookie so his craft should be vastly better in Week 1. If not Sean, Davis may be charged with the task of covering Thomas. No corner has separated themselves to be No. 1 yet, so they may be taking turns covering the former OPOY (maybe not by choice).

Nonetheless, this below average ranked cornerback tandem has to an elite performance in Week 1.

Buccaneers offensive tackles against the Saints defensive ends

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, does the Buccaneers tackle duo need to show up big in this showdown.

Buccaneers rookie right tackle, Tristan Wirfs will be lined up against second team All-Pro defensive end, Cameron Jordan. The Buccaneers will likely be chipping Jordan on obvious passing situations with a tight end or running back, not to mention double teams on our premier pass rusher.

The biggest matchup in this whole game will likely come from the left side of the offensive line. The Buccaneers can’t double team everybody, so the left tackle, Donovan Smith, needs to show up for Brady’s blind side. Right defensive end, Marcus Davenport who has missed two practices this week with an elbow injury may or may not be sparring with Smith, the 32nd ranked tackle by Pro Football Focus. If Davenport isn’t avaviable Donovan Smith will be battling either Trey Hendricks or Carl Granderson. Hendricks recorded 19 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 2019. All this appearing in only 13 games with 3 starts. Could be Trey Hendricks first start of 2020. Granderson, a UDFA the Saints signed, as a rookie recorded 10 tackles and a sack in 8 games. We hope he is ultimately able to play because Davenport is an underrated edge rusher who’s only improving his talent with his 6’6 frame. Davenport, if healthy,is predicted to have a “T.J. Watt” season in 2020. His pressure rate rose from 13.5% in 2018 to 18.4% last season.

Assuming Jordan gives Wirfs fits throughout the sequence of this game, the last thing that can happen, is for one of our DEs to dominate Smith. The Buccaneers needs to have a plan for their pass protection on the edges, so their 43-year-old quarterback doesn’t start the year off bruised and beaten up.

Saints guards against the Buccaneers defensive tackles

NFL: Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Payton knew that protecting Drew Brees was the highest priority going into the 2020 off-season. That was addressed by drafting Cesar Ruiz out of Michigan in the first round. Ruiz has also missed two practices after suffering an ankle injury in camp. The team is well represented in the position by Andrus Peat who the Saints locked up with a long term contract extension.

The pass protection from the interior has to be far better than their last performance against Minneapolis. Peat didn’t have an answer for Everson Griffin kicked out at defensive tackle, who had 1.5 sacks on Drew Brees in the Wild Card matchup.

If Ruiz can’t play Peat will get tested by Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, and possibly Jason Pierre-Paul on the inside. If Peat is healthy and productive, the 6’0 Drew Brees can step up in a clean pocket and attack the defense.

As for Ruiz, the spotlight could be on the rookie going up against a stout Buccaneers front. There hasn’t been any pre-season to evaluate Ruiz, so eyes will be on him in this Week 1 contest provided he has the chance to play.

Everything flows through the strength of the interior line unit. This guard combination needs to handle interior pressure, have quality pulls on traps, and show up big for their 41-year-old quarterback. Brees can’t be successful if he needs to use his legs to escape the pocket in Week 1.