NO-TB Grades: Winston struggles to find targets against Saints
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Saints’ 24-17 win over the Buccaneers:
New Orleans Saints
– Tim Lelito replaced the injured Jahri Evans for the second week in a row and followed up a solid outing against the Panthers with the best game of his career in Tampa. Lelito consistently made positive first-level blocks on the Saints’ zone runs, doing the bulk of his work against tackles Henry Melton and a hobbled Gerald McCoy (-3.1). Take a look at his block on McCoy at 0:58 of the third quarter to clear a path to the end zone for RB Tim Hightower.
– This was a much needed bounce-back game for the Saints’ defense, particularly the back seven, as they held Jameis Winston to his second-lowest passing total of the season. Safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd both had solid days in coverage, combining to allow two receptions for 21 yards in five targets while not letting anything behind them. The pair impressively forced a three-and-out late in the third quarter with consecutive pass breakups—Vaccaro knocked the ball away from Austin Seferian-Jenkins at 0:31 of the quarter while Byrd ended the drive on the next play, getting his hand on an intended pass to Cameron Brate at the sticks.
– TE Ben Watson (+2.4) continues to be a safety blanket for Drew Brees, and on Sunday, played one of his best games this season. He saw a team-high 10 targets, catching seven for 70 yards against six different defenders in primary coverage. Four of those catches resulted in a first down, three of them coming on third down to extend Saints drives. Where Watson has usually struggled has been as a blocker, but he finished even in the run game, controlled a few times at the point of attack while also making several positive blocks, including at 14:04 of the second quarter.
RG Tim Lelito (+5.1)
LT Terron Armstead (+4.0)
LG Andrus Peat (+2.6)
TE Ben Watson (+2.4)
DE Cameron Jordan (+1.8)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– Jameis Winston was playing as well as any quarterback coming into the game, but couldn’t match his exceptional Week 13 performance as he struggled to find anything downfield, finishing with only three completions over 10 yards in the air. Dropped passes were an issue but he also misfired several times—perhaps the worst being his play at 4:35 of the fourth, overthrowing a wide open Charles Sims. Winston faced a moderate amount of pressure (38.9 percent of his dropbacks), but also left a clean pocket a handful of times.
– It was a rough game for the Buccaneers’ defensive front, with all four starters on the defensive grading at -1.9 or below (-11.0 combined). The group was ineffective rushing the passer as ends William Gholston (-1.9) and Howard Jones (-4.1) notched just four pressures in 71 combined rushes. On the ground, the Saints frequently ran outside zone and tackles McCoy and Akeem Spence struggled on those plays against the Saints guards Lelito and Andrus Peat. RB Tim Hightower also averaged more than five yards per carry through the A-gaps.
– The play of the defensive line made for an up-and-down day for Tampa’s linebackers. Bruce Carter (+0.5) and Lavonte David (+0.3) combined for 14 stops, helping hold the Saints under 3 yards per carry rushing, both ending up slightly positive despite being occasionally hung out to dry by their front four. The two struggled immensely on New Orleans’ touchdown drive late in the third quarter– Carter’s missed tackle for loss at 4:46 was probably his worst play of the game—but otherwise they both had solid games. Carter avoided blocks well at the second level and gave up just 16 yards in coverage, while David came away with two pressures and a batted pass in eight blitzes.
LG Logan Mankins (+3.9)
LB Danny Lansanah (+2.9)
DT Tony McDaniel (+1.7)
S Major Wright (+1.7)
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (+1.0)