Mercifully, another week of football in the postseason brings us another week of our Interview with the Enemy series. This week, James Yarcho of Bucs Nation answers 5 quick questions ahead of the highly anticipated Divisional round trilogy: Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints vs. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I’m sure I’m the first person to bring up the Week 9 38-3 Saints victory. I bring it up, however, from the perspective of zero expectations of a repeat. The playoffs are a clean slate; say what you will about Tom Brady in the regular season, but his playoff record speaks for itself with an NFL-record 31 wins.
It’s safe to say neither team is entering the Divisional round as the same team from the regular season. How does Tampa Bay look, both from a personnel standpoint and play-wise, compared to the team that played the Saints back in Week 9?
The Week 9 game was far from indicative as to how close these two teams are in terms of talent and ability. We’ve all seen those games where nothing goes right for you while everything goes right for the opposition. I think the closest New Orleans fans came to that was the losses to either the Raiders or the Eagles. For the Bucs, unfortunately, it came on a national stage against a bitter rival. The other thing to think about is that the Bucs were without guard Ali Marpet - who hasn’t allowed a sack since week six in 2019 - and it was their first game with Antonio Brown so he was still becoming acclimated to the offense.
Abandoning the run so early in Week 9 was a panic move that I don’t foresee them making again, especially if Ronald Jones is healthy. Even without RoJo, Leonard Fournette played extremely well against Washington in the Wild Card round. As the season progressed, the Bucs got better and more cohesive on offense to the point. Though, outside of that week nine loss, there was a feeling that no matter the deficit the Bucs were always in the game. This team isn’t going to be a cake-walk like the one in Week 9. That was the outlier, not the norm.
Are there any key injuries on the Buccaneers you expect to impact this game?
The loss of guard Alex Cappa is certainly going to hurt, but backup Aaron Stinnie did well in place of Ali Marpet earlier in the year when called upon. Obviously there is going to be some drop off when you lose your starter, but the Bucs line still played well in the second half after losing Cappa to the broken ankle, and Stinnie is a step up from Ted Larsen who filled in last week. Other than that, the loss of special teams captain Kevin Minter will hurt, should he not be able to come back from the COVID-19/Reserve list. As of now, there is no new information as to whether he tested positive or if it was a close contact that sent him to quarantine. If it was a close contact, the timeline should work out that he could return but we have no new information on that as of this moment.
Who is one under-the-radar player on both sides of the ball that you believe can change the outcome of the game?
I don’t know how “under-the-radar” it is, but it would have to be Donovan Smith, right? Smith did a fantastic job shutting down the likely defensive rookie of the year in Chase Young, keeping him to just one solo tackle, no sacks, and no quarterback hits. However, Trey Hendrickson has absolutely dominated Smith in the recent past. If we get the Smith we saw against Washington then Brady will have ample time to get rid of the ball and put points on the board. However, if Smith can’t replicate that level of success, Brady will be forced to hurry far too often, which would take the offense out of its rhythm. Another name to mention which certainly doesn’t fall under the category of “under-the-radar” is Rob Gronkowski — but not for his receiving. Gronk was back in pass protection quite a bit on Saturday, and as a result, Cameron Brate had a really good day receiving. That is certainly something that could happen again on Sunday.
If you were Sean Payton, how would you try to attack this Buccaneers defense?
I don’t think Payton needs any help from me on this front. He seems to have an answer for anything the Bucs try to do defensively. It’s all about the quick passing game and getting the ball into the hands of the Saints playmakers. Tackling has been a bit of an issue lately for whatever reason, so having Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris, or Super Kamario get the ball in space could create big plays out of short passes. The big boost for the Bucs defense lately has been the play of Devin White, who has missed each of the last two games with COVID but has been activated and will play. He’s second on the team in sacks while fifth in the NFL in tackles.
He will be chomping at the bit to get in his first playoff game and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is tasked with shadowing Alvin Kamara or Taysom Hill wherever they may roam. There may not be a linebacker in the league with the closing speed of White, so he’s a big x-factor as far as what the Saints will be able to do offensively.
What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?
This is tough. Teams that are 2-0 against an opponent in the regular season and face them in the playoffs are 15-7 at being able to close out the sweep. On the flip side, the home field advantage won’t be a factor for New Orleans which certainly helps the Bucs — as does the controlled environment of being in a dome and not Lambeau Field. A team with Tom Brady as their quarterback has only ever lost to the same team three times in a row once throughout his career and that was the four in a row against the Denver Broncos (Oct 2005, Jan 2006, Sep 2006, Oct 2009). Antonio Brown adds a new dimension to this offense and he is fully engrained in what they’re doing which certainly puts some strain on New Orleans.
To me, it will boil down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Whether that’s penalties, turnovers, three-and-outs, or some combination thereof. It will be close and come down to the final possession. Call me a homer, that’s fine, but I find it hard to believe that Brady won’t find a way to win this one and avoid a three game sweep at the hands of the Saints. Bucs win 30-28.
Hard to argue that this score won’t come down to a field goal, either way. Equally a homer, I find it hard to believe Brees won’t find a way to win this one and pull off the three-game sweep. Thank you, James, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Jeff and the work his guys are doing over at Bucs Nation. You can follow Bucs Nation on Twitter @Bucs_Nation, James @JYarcho_BUCS, and of course, you can follow me @MaddyHudak_94. Three Dat!