Saints Game Balls from Week 1 win over Bucs

Bob Rose

The New Orleans Saints opened up their 2020 NFL season with a 34-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.  They were the only NFC South team to win their opening game. The game started-off shakily for the three-time defending NFC South champion. They would go three-and-out on the first series of the game, then went down 7-0 when Bucs QB Tom Brady scored on a 2-Yd sneak after an 85-Yd drive, greatly aided by two questionable pass interference calls.

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Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

An expected duel between legendary quarterbacks Drew Brees, and Tom Brady instead turned into a showcase for both defenses, despite what the final score might show. The two offenses combined to convert just 10 of 28 third-down chances. The Saints had only 271 total yards in the game, while the Buccaneers managed just 310 total yards. New Orleans stumbled with questionable play-calling and poor offensive execution for much of the game but would take care of the ball and make some timely big plays for the game's difference.

The Saints offense had some bright spots. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk kept LB Shaq Barrett from registering a single sack or QB pressure for the third consecutive game between these two teams and teamed with RG Nick Easton to help New Orleans establish some running success over the right side. Alvin Kamara scored two touchdowns and flashed some of the burst that had been missing most of last season, and TE Jared Cook led all receivers in the game with five catches for 80 yards.

However, for New Orleans, it was defense and special teams that ruled the day in this matchup of offensive star power. Here were some of the Saints' standout performances in their Week One victory.

THOMAS MORSTEAD, PUNTER

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CREDIT © SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network via Imagn Content Services, LL
  1. Defensive lineman Margus Hunt blocked a Tampa Bay FG attempt, 
  2. WR Bennie Fowler recovered a Buccaneers fumble on a 3rd quarter kickoff, 
  3. WR Deonte Harris had a few nice punt returns to set up better field position, 
  4. Wil Lutz converted both of his FG chances,  
  5. CB Justin Hardee spearheaded an outstanding game by the New Orleans punt coverage unit. 

But what made the New Orleans special teams special in this game was their punter. Morstead averaged 44 yards on his six punts. His longest kick, a 51-yard boot, flipped field position for his defense when the Saints were pinned deep in their territory. 

All five of Morstead's other punts pinned Tampa Bay inside their 12-yard line, giving the Bucs a longer field to drive against the aggressive New Orleans defense. Morstead also took the kicking duty after the Buccaneers penalty on a Saints touchdown in the 3rd quarter that was enforced on the ensuing kickoff.  He kick-popped the ball in the air in a location difficult for the Tampa Bay return team to handle, leading to Fowler's fumble recovery.  The turnover led to a New Orleans field goal for a three-score lead to clinch the game.

MARCUS WILLIAMS, FREE SAFETY

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Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) fumbles as New Orleans Saints defensive end Carl Granderson (96) knocks away the ball during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Williams would have the game’s first turnover, intercepting a Tom Brady overthrow in the 2nd quarter that set up the Saints' second touchdown. They victimized him on a pass interference penalty in deep coverage by WR Mike Evans on a blitz pickup, but he had to take a penalty to prevent the scoring play. Williams had just one tackle in the game. Still, his reactions to downfield receivers effectively took the deep pass option away from Brady, allowing the New Orleans defense to eliminate the big play. Williams’s ability to shut down the deep throws allowed the rest of the Saints secondary to play more aggressively underneath.

MARSHON LATTIMORE & JANORIS JENKINS, CORNERBACKS

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Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

Jenkins brilliantly stepped in front of a Brady pass on the first series of the third quarter and returned the interception 36 yards for a touchdown that put the Saints up 24-7. He also had nine tackles on the afternoon, several to prevent bigger gains and some key pass breakups against Tampa Bay's deep corps of pass-catchers. 

Lattimore had just two tackles, but once again frustrated and took WR Mike Evans out of the game in a showdown between these two Pro Bowlers. Evans, who entered the game nursing a hamstring injury, was held without a reception until a 2-Yd scoring catch late in the fourth quarter. 

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Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers other Pro Bowl wideout, had six receptions for 79 yards but was mostly bottled up when drawing Janoris Jenkins in coverage. The Saints safeties and linebackers combined to hold a dangerous trio of Buccaneer tight ends to just 47 combined yards, but Lattimore and Jenkins eliminated Tampa Bay's most lethal offensive weapons.

TREY HENDRICKSON, DEFENSIVE END

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Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson (91) during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY

The entire New Orleans defensive line, along with linebackers Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone, held the Buccaneers running attack to just 3.3 yards per carry on 26 attempts. Davis and DE Carl Granderson each had 1 sack, while DE Cam Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins, and DT Malcolm Roach got a good push into the Buccaneers backfield on several plays. In this contest, the New Orleans standout player upfront would be Hendrickson. 

The fourth-year defensive end earned the start in place of the injured defensive end Marcus Davenport. He had four tackles on the day, including a 2nd quarter sack of Brady that ended a Tampa drive. Another Hendrickson pressure forced Brady into an intentional grounding penalty to help end a Bucs drive before halftime. He flushed Brady from the pocket on a 4th quarter play on another near sack.

The 34 points scored by the Saints in this game were not indicative of how well we know the New Orleans offense can play. We expect that Drew Brees and all the talent on that side of the ball will turn in far better performances throughout the season than they did on Sunday. It was the New Orleans defense that carried the team against a division rival that has as much offensive talent as anyone in the NFL. 

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