You can dive deep into analytics to form opinions in all areas of sports. Sometimes, numbers tell a definitive story. On other occasions, they are not truly indicative of why a team won or lost.
The New Orleans Saints have owned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in two NFC South meetings in 2020. New Orleans has outscored the Bucs 72-26.
Delving into the numbers, the results were not a lie but a revelation. The Saints dominated in all phases.
The first, and perhaps the most important indicator, is found up front.
- New Orleans has handled, at times, manhandled the Buccaneers up front on both sides of the football in the two previous meetings.
- In two games, the Saints have sacked Brady six times and hit him 16 times.
- Conversely, the Buccaneers have sacked Drew Brees twice and hit him just six times, keeping him quite clean.
- The Saints have rushed 71 for 220 yards (110-yard avg.) and two touchdowns while the Bucs have rushed 31 times for 91 yards (45.5 avg.) and one score.
- That included the incredible statistic from the second meeting where Tampa Bay attempted only five rushes and gained just eight yards while throwing it 38 times.
TIME OF POSSESSION
- The Saints have controlled the football in both victories over Tampa Bay.
- The Saints have a combined 137 snaps to just 105 for the Buccaneers.
- New Orleans has won the time of possession in both meetings, keeping the ball for 71:37 to just 48:23 for the Buccaneers.
- The Saints have 45 first downs to 36 for Tampa Bay in the two games.
- In the passing game, the Saints have simply been much better, much more efficient.
- Drew Brees has been accurate, completing 44-of-62 passes (70.9%) for 382 and six touchdowns with no interceptions.
- Brady is 45-of-74 (60.8%) for 448 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions.
- Brees has a Quarterback Rating of 115.85 combined in the two victories while Brady has a Quarterback Rating of 59.5 in the two losses.
- Marcus Williams has intercepted Brady once in each of the two games while Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, and David Onyemata each have an interception.
The narrative is clear heading into this contest.
The Saints are getting healthy at the right time, perhaps healthier than they have been at any point of the season, and are the deeper team, if not the deepest team in the NFL. There is no Kwon Alexander but otherwise, the team, as a whole, is healthy.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE BUCCANEERS
- The Buccaneers, you have and will continue to hear, are not the same team they were when the Saints dismantled them 38-3 on Nov. 8.
- Antonio Brown has stepped up his game. Since catching three passes for 31 yards against the Saints in that last meeting, in seven games, Brown has caught 44 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns with the five scores coming in the last four games. Brown has a touchdown catch in each of the last four games.
- Chris Godwin has five touchdown catches in his last four games.
EVANS vs. LATTIMORE
Mike Evans is one of the top receivers in the NFL.
According to NextGen statistics from the 34-23 victory in September, Evans lined up against Lattimore 29 times and caught no passes on just two targets from Brady. Evans had just one catch in the game and it was against zone coverage.
In defense of Evans, he did draw a pair of pass interference penalties which totaled a substantial number of 77 yards against the Saints. One of those penalties was a 22-yard infraction against Lattimore while the other was on a deep ball with Marcus Williams being penalized.
In the 38-3 Saints win, Evans had two targets against Lattimore with no catches.
After the game, Lattimore went to Twitter, saying “better luck next year.”
Of course, it is now 2021, a new year, though part of the same season.
In fact, in the last three meetings between the Saints and Buccaneers, Evans, when going against Lattimore, has no catches and just six targets. That is erasing the biggest weapon of the opponent, to be certain.
In 13 games against the Saints in his career, Evans has just one game where he exceeded 100 yards in receptions, averaging just 51.4 yards per game in reception yardage against New Orleans.
Evans has been held to one catch or fewer just six times in his outstanding 7- year career and four of those six have come against the Saints and primarily against Lattimore.
The two combatants truly have an intense dislike for each other. They regularly push and shove each other.
Back in 2017, Evans was suspended for a game after shoving Lattimore in a 30-10 Saints win in New Orleans.
Tampa Bay has definitely improved offensively since the second loss to the Saints.
The Buccaneers have averaged 34.6 points in the seven games since the 38-3 loss to New Orleans.
Of course, the Bucs scored 24 points each in losses to the Rams and Kansas City and the wins came against the Falcons (twice), Detroit, Minnesota, and Carolina, all teams with losing records. The combined records of those teams are 21-43.
Can the Buccaneers ramp it up against a good Saints defense that ranks fifth in the NFL?
If the Buccaneers and their All-Star team assembly of Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brown, and Leonard Fournette want to change the outcome, they will have to compete better up front and make big plays.
The Saints will have other ideas.
These will be two highly motivated teams, one trying to squash the narrative of Tampa Bay being too talented to lose three times to one team while the other trying to prove it is who many pundits say it was originally.