Sure the game wasn’t over until John Kasay made it a two score game, but the reality is the Bucs got dominated in such a way it makes you question just how exactly anyone ever saw them as playoff contenders. Now one game doesn’t make a season and it’s important not to go over the top, but Raheem Morris is going to need to get to work after an incredibly sloppy display made life easy for New Orleans.
That isn’t to say the Saints didn’t deserve this. With Drew Brees making some poor throws it was the turn of the running game to power them to victory, answering the calls of my colleague Ben Stockwell to respond after their abysmal display against the Rams. The Bucs will be looking for that kind of turnaround next week, but for now all they can do is examine some of the areas for improvement. Fortunately I’m going to point them in the right direction.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Tackling the problem
How many missed tackles is too many for one team? I’d say 14 in one game would fall into that category as the Bucs came off their bye and decided that the fundamentals of football didn’t matter. The chief culprit was the frankly atrocious Tanard Jackson (-5.3) who managed to miss five. To put that in perspective, that’s as many as his not quite as bad safety partner, Sean Jones (-4.2) has missed all year (including two yesterday). They were by no means the only offenders, but a big reason the Saints had such success running the ball was the inability of the safeties to bring the ball carriers down. It has me shaking my head just relieving it.
When he’s playing well, Josh Freeman (-1.4) reminds you of Ben Roethlisberger. Able to shake off defenders to make plays, he’s become one of the best in the league when it comes to fourth quarter comebackers. When he’s not? Well he kind of looks like he did against New Orleans. A little unsure, very inaccurate and unable to challenge a secondary that can be got at. The biggest problem with Freeman seemed to be a lack of touch on balls being lofted over receivers. The Fox commentary duo may have tried to place blame at his receivers hands, but if Freeman had been able to hit Kregg Lumpkin (10:55 in the third) or Erik Lorig (00:31 in the third) both men had enough space to make a serious run for the end zone. It was symptomatic of his struggles in a game where he was only graded positively five times, and only completed three passes on balls thrown over 9 yards.
Earning his money … Or Not
I was among a number who were astounded when the Buccaneers decided to hand over so much money to Quincy Black (-4.7). It’s not that I thought he was a bad player, just for a guy who has performed serviceably in a two down role it seemed a risky investment. Well in one of those all too rare, ‘I was right moments’. I feel the need to highlight just how bad Black was in this one, something not in isolation as he is currently our lowest ranked 4-3 OLB. Black was handled with ease by Jermon Bushrod, while even making Jimmy Graham look like a competent run blocker. At least he only missed one tackle, which was one less than Mason Foster (-5.6). Foster has had a decent rookie year, but looked completely lost against the Saints. He had plenty of problems in coverage in giving up seven receptions (even if one of those was a screen pass that went for a touchdown), and you have to question the defensive scheme when it leaves him trying to chase Darren Sproles as it did on four occasions. Factor it some uneven work in run defense (he made some plays but was generally fodder for Carl Nicks) and it was a bad day at the office for the Bucs linebackers bar Adam Hayward (+0.2).
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Winning on the ground
Do I speak about how great the offensive line was or do I speak about how fantastic the running backs were? Screw it, I’m going to throw as much praise as my editor allows me at both of them. Let’s start with a line where every member graded in the green (+1.1 or above). Between them they gave up just four pressures, but there real success was in the run game, and the surprise highest graded performer? Brian De La Puente (+4.1). The man who made Olin Kreutz expendable didn’t win all his battles, but to say he dominated Brian Price would be an understatement. As for the running backs, it’s hard to know who to be more impressed by. Pierre Thomas (+3.8) and his ability to turn just eight carries into 66 yards, or Darren Sproles (+3.4) who looks likely to pick up a big chunk of yardage whether he’s a receiver or rusher. Pick your poison, as both men carved the Buccaneers defense up at will.
First year fun
If I’m completely honest, Cameron Jordan (+4.0) hasn’t exactly enthralled me as a rookie, but the more I watch him the more I think the Saints have got exactly what they needed. His game against the Bucs marked his fourth consecutive ‘in the green’ game in run defense, where he is really starting to establish himself. He regularly got the best of Jeremy Trueblood (he’s not the first, nor will he be the last), and even added a QB hit to his stat sheet when he beat Trueblood quicker than a hiccup with 11:55 to go in the game. He’s not putting the eye popping numbers up, but given the porous nature of the Saints linebacking unit, the development of Jordan is encouraging for a run defense unit that traditionally struggles.
With a host of injuries at the position, the Saints were forced to put Leigh Torrence (-4.0) on the field for extended action (read 33 snaps). It did not go well. Torrence looked out of his depth in giving up six balls for 91 yards, regularly being out of place in his zone or struggling to keep up with his man. There’s a reason why he’d only managed 75 snaps before this game, and it will be interesting to see if New Orleans opts to keep faith with him or brings in a new face to ease his load.
– Not a great day for Drew Brees going deep. He completed one of four attempts, and badly overthrew an open Devery Henderson for a sure fire touchdown.
– Mike Williams caught 6-of-8 balls thrown his way. But for just 46 yards (7.7 yards per catch).
– The Saints missed just six tackles compared to the 14 of the Buccaneers.
PFF Game Ball
They combined to terrorize the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so it’s only fitting that Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles share this award.