3TFO: Saints @ Buccaneers, Week 2
Two division rivals with very different feelings about Week 1 get set to square off. The Saints come off of an impressive win over a very good Atlanta team. They’re undoubtedly confident about this season’s outlook with Sean Payton running the show again. With the passing game firing on all cylinders and the defense holding the Falcons to just 17 points, the Saints look like they are primed for a bounce-back season. That said, it’s only been one week, and things can change in a heartbeat in the NFL.
For Tampa Bay, Sunday can’t come soon enough. As poorly as the Bucs played in Week 1, they still had victory in their grasp up until the final seconds. The team can point to a number of factors besides the late hit as to why they didn’t close out the Jets. As they prepare to face a high-octane Saints offense, the Bucs will need to generate some offense of their own in order to keep pace. They simply can’t afford to come out flat like they did in Week 1. Chewing up clock with the ground game and a more efficient passing attack would help put Tampa Bay in position to rebound from last week’s debacle. Here are some of the matchups to pay special attention to on Sunday.
Sproles and Graham vs. the Bucs’ Linebackers and DBs
As we’ve seen many times, Drew Brees loves to take advantage of the mismatches that both Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham create. Both present matchup nightmares in man coverage, and both do an excellent job of finding soft spots in zone coverage. Last week, the Falcons paid special attention to Jimmy Graham, often using a defensive end (even when Graham lined up in the slot) to bump him at the line and disrupt his release. While this did help contain Graham, Atlanta had no answer for Darren Sproles, who caught all six of his targets for 88 yards, including 43 yards after catch. Attempting to limit both weapons schematically provides a major challenge for Tampa Bay, and it may be a case of “pick your poison.”
It will be very interesting to see how the Bucs plan to limit the New Orleans passing game. Darrelle Revis should be able to lock onto one receiver (likely Marques Colston) and limit his production, but the Saints do move their receivers all over the field and we could see a lot of different matchups over the course of the game. A week ago, Leonard Johnson played the slot and allowed 7-of-10 completions for 62 yards into his coverage. That was against the Jets. Drew Brees will probably continue to test Johnson, and he’ll have to step it up this week in order to keep the Saints from repeatedly marching in… to the end zone.
New Orleans’ Offensive Tackles vs. Tampa Bay’s Defensive Ends
Not exactly a strength-on-strength matchup here, but an important one nonetheless. Zach Strief put in some excellent pass blocking last week, allowing no pressure the entire game. Strief also played very well last season against the Bucs, but overall his 2012 was very average in both run blocking and pass blocking. Charles Brown struggled a week ago in pass protection (-1.7), but he’ll primarily face Adrian Clayborn, who only produced two hits and a hurry in his 41 pass rushes last week. Clayborn also missed two tackles. The Bucs would love to see Clayborn beat his blockers with more regularity. On the left side for Tampa Bay, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and Da’Quan Bowers combined for just four total pressures in 51 pass rush snaps last week. The Bucs also rarely used Bowers in run situations despite his solid play against the run in the past. Can one team dominate the edges in this matchup, or will both continue to wallow in mediocrity?
Tampa Bay’s Deep Threats vs. the New Orleans Secondary
One thing that often keeps Tampa Bay in games is the ability of their outside receivers to come up with big plays in the vertical passing game. Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have speed, size, and the ability to win jump balls in traffic. The team will certainly need them to make plays in the intermediate passing game as well, but it’s tough to see the Bucs winning without a few home run balls to their playmakers. In last year’s Week 7 matchup against the Saints, Vincent Jackson caught seven balls for 216 yards and a touchdown as the Bucs came so close to pulling out a victory.
Trying to curtail this production will be a New Orleans secondary that managed to hold Matt Ryan without even a single deep pass attempt last week. Ryan still managed to move the ball quite a bit with the pass, but for the most part the Saints bent but didn’t break. Rookie Kenny Vaccaro played every snap last week, lining up all over the field including at 3-4 outside linebacker in the base, and free safety in the nickel. Vaccaro made his presence felt in coverage (+1.1) immediately, knocking away the potential game-winning pass and helping seal a victory last week.
Josh Freeman has struggled with accuracy and consistency (only a 58.1% Accuracy Percentage last week, worst in the league), so the Saints will look to take away the big play and put the onus on Freeman to beat them with the short passing game. However, at some point Freeman will test the deep coverage. Last year, he attempted 89 deep passes in the regular season, third-most in the league. Look for New Orleans to give help over the top to their corners for most of the game, forcing Freeman to either throw into double coverage deep, or stick with the short passes.
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