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Saints vs. Buccaneers Showdown: Positions to Watch

A marquee week two battle between New Orleans and Tampa Bay could come down to the performance of these key positions.
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An important week two NFC South showdown takes place when the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Both squads come into the game at 1-0 after the Saints defeated the Falcons 27-26, and the Buccaneers took a 19-3 victory in Dallas.

New Orleans leads the all-time series between these teams 39-22, including a 21-13 record at home. The Saints have won the last seven meetings between the two and all four regular season matchups since Tom Brady joined Tampa Bay in 2020. However, the Buccaneers took a 2021 Divisional Playoff game in New Orleans on their way to the Super Bowl and ended the Saints four-year streak of NFC South championships last season.

Both teams have terrific defenses and star power scattered throughout the roster. The Saints defense has been nearly unsolvable for Brady, holding his offense to an average of 13 points and forcing 11 turnovers in their four regular season victories.

Plenty of intense one-on-one battles are going to decide the outcome of this clash between these two physical and talented teams. Here are the positions to watch closest for the Saints.

Quarterback

Oct 31, 2021; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) takes the snap against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY

Oct 31, 2021; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) takes the snap against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY

Tom Brady vs. Dennis Allen and the Saints defense is the marquee matchup, but the other quarterback in this game provides an equally juicy storyline.

Jameis Winston was the first overall draft choice by the Buccaneers out of Florida State in 2015. In 70 starts for Tampa Bay, Winston threw 121 touchdowns and averaged 280 yards passing per outing, which included a 5,109 campaign in 2019. He was also just 28-42 as a starter and threw 88 interceptions.

Winston was allowed to leave in free agency once the Buccaneers signed Brady, where he would try to resurrect his career as the eventual successor to Drew Brees. He proved that he could avoid crippling turnovers last season, when he threw 14 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions but managed just 186 yards passing in six starts.

The 28-year-old Winston was lost for the 2021 season with a knee injury suffered in week 8….against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Before the injury, he looked well on his way to having an outstanding outing in his first game against his former team after some early jitters.

An emotional player, Winston will have to contain those early emotions and avoid trying to do too much. He’ll also have to overcome an aggressive Buccaneers defense that will likely blitz their former quarterback early and often.

It was a strategy used by the Falcons with great success in week one. However, Winston overcame those obstacles and completed 16 of 19 fourth quarter throws for 212 yards with two touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the Saints historic comeback win.

Offensive Line

Nov 8, 2020; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

Nov 8, 2020; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

One of the reasons that Atlanta had so much success blitzing Winston was because of a poor performance by the New Orleans front. This was especially true out of the team’s two guards, Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz. The Falcons sacked Winston four times and registered 11 pressures, with most of that coming on the inside.

New Orleans also had a hard time establishing their running game and getting RB Alvin Kamara on track. Both offensive lines will be tested against pressure-oriented defenses, but the Saints front is relatively healthy after an injury-marred 2021.

Saints tackles Ryan Ramczyk and James Hurst will be tested against Tampa Bay edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Their ability to handle them one-on-one would allow New Orleans to be more creative in setting up interior protection packages.

Expect Tampa Bay to challenge the Saints guards and C Erik McCoy with extra defenders like linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David inside to join disruptive linemen Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks. New Orleans will not only need to answer that challenge to give Winston time to throw, but also enable them to establish balance with Kamara and Mark Ingram in the running game.

Wide Receiver 

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas (13) after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas (13) after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay has an extremely physical secondary with corners Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting joining versatile S Antoine Winfield Jr. In two wins over the Buccaneers last season, a short-handed Saints crew of wideouts combined for 18 receptions and 265 yards. Marquez Callaway had nine of those catches for 142 yards, including the unit’s only 100-yard outing of the year from a wideout in week 15.

A New Orleans passing attack that finished last in the NFL last season got plenty of reinforcements not just with the return of Winston and record-breaking WR Michael Thomas, but also free-agent addition of Jarvis Landry and first-round pick Chris Olave.

All three receivers payed great dividends last week, combining for 15 receptions, 212 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a 2-point conversion against the Falcons.

Aside from the 2021 playoff loss, when he was a shadow of his dominant form, Michael Thomas has torn Tampa Bay coverage apart. In nine career regular season matchups, Thomas has averaged over 8 catches and 100 yards per game, with at least six catches seven times and over 90 yards six times.

The Buccaneers have had problems against deep receiving units. Thomas has tortured Davis and Dean, and now has help with Landry and Olave. Not only do these three have the power to control a game, but their presence should also open up opportunities for Alvin Kamara in the passing game. 

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Defensive Line

Dec 19, 2021; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

Dec 19, 2021; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY

In four regular season wins over Brady's Buccaneers, New Orleans recorded 16 sacks, 26 QB hits, and 39 pressures. Eleven sacks and 23 of those hits came from the defensive line, with the majority of those coming from their edge rushers. Cameron Jordan has 17 sacks in 21 games against Tampa Bay, with 7.5 coming in the last eight outings.

The Saints defensive front, along with linebackers Demario Davis and Pete Werner, have also done an outstanding job containing Tampa Bay's running game. After getting gashed for 201 rushing yards against Atlanta, expect this unit to have extra motivation coming into this game.

The key to beating Brady is no secret. Defenses must bring interior pressure in his face and punish him as he throws. New Orleans defensive tackles have done a great job at getting inside push, while Jordan and the defensive ends crash down on Brady and the Buccaneers backfield.

Tampa Bay's interior front is already missing injured C Ryan Jensen and LG Aaron Stinnie, with RG Shaq Mason being brought in this offseason to replace the retired Ali Marpet. Rookie second-round choice Luke Goedeke steps in at left guard for a line that allowed two sacks and seven pressures against the Cowboys last week.

Compounding matters for the Buccaneers is an elbow injury to LT Donovan Smith that will probably sideline him this afternoon and an jury to RT Tristan Wirfs that’s had him limited in practice all week. An effective New Orleans defensive front will need to control this game for the Saints to have their best chance of victory.

Secondary

Dec 31, 2017; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass to Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans (13). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 31, 2017; New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) breaks up a pass to Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans (13). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saints CB Marshon Lattimore vs. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans is a matchup worthy of pay-per-view television by itself. In 10 career games against the Saints with Lattimore in the lineup, Evans has four touchdowns, but only 30 receptions for 501 yards. In the last six meetings against Lattimore, Evans a paltry eight receptions for 90 yards, pulling in a meager 40% of his targets.

Lattimore is not the only defensive back responsible for bottling up Evans, but he typically shadows Evans when these teams square off. In those ten meetings against Evans, he’s been primarily responsible for holding the eight-time 1,000-yard wideout to two or less receptions five times. Lattimore had a stat line of one interception, two fumbles forced or recovered, and 13 passes broken up up in those meetings.

New Orleans will be without CB Paulson Adebo (ankle) in this showdown. He’ll be replaced by veteran CB Bradley Roby. Tampa Bay will be without star WR Chris Godwin (hamstring), while former Falcons wideouts Julio Jones (knee) and Russell Gage (hamstring) have been limited participants in practice.

The Saints are also getting acclimated to a new trio of safeties this season. Marcus Maye, Tyrann Mathieu, and former Buccaneer Justin Evans are strong in coverage and versatile playmakers. However, in just their second game with the Saints, this secondary could be vulnerable to communication issues and coverage breakdowns down the field.

Brady's career passer rating against New Orleans is just 71.5. He’s averaged 299 yards per game passing since joining the Buccaneers, but only 259 yards against the Saints while throwing just six touchdowns and eight interceptions during the regular season.

Pressure on Brady and the Tampa Bay backfield is a vital key to New Orleans success. Equally important is clamping down on Brady's receivers and leaving him no place to go with the football. 

Brady lost composure and was visibly frustrated in those four regular season losses to New Orleans. Whether the Saints defensive pressure on every level can do so again will determine which team grabs an early edge in the NFC South. 

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