It’s week eight, and we’re all still waiting for a team to emerge from the NFC South. Back in week two, after a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Saints stepped to the front of the queue with four wins, but then a funny thing happened, the Buccaneers beat the Saints.
That was followed up with the Bucs looking out of sorts in a defeat to the Bears in London, while the Saints put up 62 points against the Indianapolis Colts. It was at that point, that I thought the Saints would start to separate themselves from the rest of the division, but then they dropped the ball against the then-winless St Louis Rams. So where are we now? Pretty much back at the start; waiting for someone to emerge. This week may go a long way to determining that as Tampa Bay goes to New Orleans in a rematch from earlier in the season. So what areas should we be focusing on this Sunday? Let’s take a look.
1) LeGarrette Blount vs. The Saints’ linebackers
It comes as a massive relief to Tampa Bay that LeGarrette Blount (+4.7) will be back this week. Blount has forced a total of 14 missed tackles this season, two as a receiver and 12 as a runner. He’s a distance off the pace he set last year, when he forced 50 missed tackles, but he is still likely to cause problems for the Saints’ linebackers. Of the Saints’ top four linebackers, only Scott Shanle has a positive grade against the run. All four of them have missed at least three tackles so far, and both JoLonn Dunbar (-5.6) and Johnathan Casillas (-5.9) are ranked amongst the worst five 4-3 outside linebackers against the run. Believe it or not, no middle or inside linebacker in the league has a worse grade against the run than Johnathan Vilma (-7.7 against the run). It all potentially adds up to a long day for the Saints as they try and stop Blount.
2) Michael Bennett vs. Zach Strief
Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett (+19.5) has produced two of the best weeks of any player in the NFL this year. In the first game against New Orleans, Bennett (+5.4) registered four pressures and was dominant against the run, but that performance paled in comparison to his week four game against the Indianapolis Colts. On that night, Bennett (+11.6) managed two sacks, one hit and two pressures and an astounding +6.6 grade against the run with five defensive stops. In the other games so far this season, Bennett hasn’t been nearly as disruptive, but this week he gets to go up against Zach Strief (-3.5). Strief didn’t exactly light things up before his injury, so it will be interesting to see how he handles Bennett on his return to the starting lineup.
3) Drew Brees vs. Josh Freeman
After a fast start to the year, Josh Freeman (+10.8) has struggled recently. He was terrible in London against the Bears, finishing the game with an overall grade of -4.4. He’s particularly struggled going downfield, where he has completed just five of 16 passes and of his 10 interceptions, seven have come when he’s thrown the ball across the middle of the field. By contrast, Drew Brees is having a fantastic year. Using our signature stat, Quarterback Accuracy Percentage which takes into account dropped passes, spiked balls and throwaways, Brees’ accuracy for the season so far comes in at a staggering 76.5%. He trails only Aaron Rodgers in that regard. And in terms of his full grade, Brees is our top ranked quarterback and leads the league by nearly 400 yards in terms of passing yards. It’s safe to say that Brees will show up on Sunday, the question is which Josh Freeman will be on the opposite side?
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