ReFo: Buccaneers @ Saints, Week 15
This was an unexpectedly one-sided NFC South matchup as the Saints shut out the Buccaneers. New Orleans played their most complete game of this nightmarish season, especially defensively with five takeaways. Disappointingly and frustratingly, though, the performance came as the Saints, though they’re still mathematically alive, have effectively been eliminated from playoff contention.
On the other hand, in a season that once looked promising, Tampa’s now lost four straight and ended what little playoff hopes they had with this crushing defeat. Now at 6-8, the Bucs will be looking to evaluate and build momentum for next year as they head into the final two weeks of the season.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Too Many Turnovers
This was another erratic performance by Josh Freeman, something that’s been all too common during Tampa’s four-game losing streak. His 55.2% completion rate was actually an improvement over the previous two weeks in which he completed 46% and 41% of his passes. However, four interceptions and a 33.3 passer rating with the season on the line aren’t exactly encouraging from a supposed franchise quarterback, especially going against a New Orleans defense that has been historically porous. Freeman was off target all day, and as evidenced by the final score, never able to get anything going. Pressured on 38% of his drop-backs, he did not fare well, throwing two interceptions and putting up a meager 3.0 YPA on those plays. And, as bad as those numbers look, he wasn’t much better when not facing pressure. Perhaps a small consolation is that a few of the interceptions weren’t entirely his fault as there appeared to be some miscommunication on at least one of them, while Dallas Clark could have possibly given more effort to prevent the two that were thrown his way. That shouldn’t absolve Freeman, though, as he made some indefensibly poor throws and was just awful in one of the biggest games of his season.
Struggles Up Front
Perhaps overshadowed by Freeman’s struggles were the poor efforts of the offensive line, which was, frankly, dominated by a Saints defensive line that has been anything but dominant for most of the season. In particular Donald Penn (-3.4) had a poor showing, in what has been a roller coaster of a year for the tackle. In pass protection, he failed to stay in front of Will Smith on multiple occasions, allowing a sack, hit, and pair of hurries. But despite the four pressures, he actually graded positively for his pass blocking — it was in the run game that he was especially bad, unable to block Smith and Sedrick Ellis on the left side. Not surprisingly, the Bucs gained just three yards on four carries to the left edge, though they only ran the ball 15 times on the day.
Penn wasn’t the only Buccaneer offensive lineman to have a rough go of it — RG Jamon Meredith (-3.8) had similar problems, playing just 58 of the team’s 75 offensive snaps. Among his struggles were a holding penalty and four QB hurries at the hands of multiple Saint defenders.
After appearing to hit the proverbial ‘rookie wall’ midway through the season, Mark Barron (+2.0) was back in his early-season form against the Saints. Barron was strong when targeted in coverage, allowing three catches underneath for 26 yards, but his work coming over the top is what earned him a high mark. Twice on throws deep over the middle to Jimmy Graham, Barron was able to come over the top to break up the pass — once with 0:43 left in the second quarter, when a big hit jarred the ball from Graham’s hands, and again at 8:18 in the fourth quarter on a pass in the end zone. The safety was also strong coming up in support, as he logged nine tackles, including two stops, while not adding to his season total of 12 missed tackles. An encouraging performance for a defense that offered little resistance to the New Orleans offense.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Had Drew Brees and the Saints been able to play the Bucs every week, their disastrous 2012 season would likely have gone much differently. Brees (+6.2) completed 74% of his aimed passes for four touchdowns, notching his highest grade of the season. It may not have been the most impressive passing display we’ve seen from the Saint QB — this was his fourth-best performance in terms of completion percentage and passer rating, and just his eighth-highest YPA on the season — but he played an efficient game and, in just his fourth game this season without an interception, avoided the killer mistakes that have doomed them in recent weeks. Of course, it helps that he was pressured on just 21.9% of snaps after facing heat over 40% of the time last week, but Brees is still deserving of praise, particularly for his play against the blitz. On the nine snaps Tampa sent extra rushers, he completed eight of nine passes for 12.2 YPA and a touchdown.
But again, this wasn’t a flawless performance by any means as the Saint quarterback flashed some of the same problems that have come up in his poor performances. Brees continues to show a propensity to lock onto and force the ball to Jimmy Graham in traffic, though the tight end certainly didn’t help with two drops, extending his season total to 13 — the second-highest figure in the league. And despite putting up a season-high 41 points, the Saints’ offense still left scoring opportunities on the field, particularly in the first half. Their high volume of three-and-outs proved inconsequential, but they were still concerning as they’ve been a staple this season.
Greer’s Great Game
On a standout day for the entire Saints defense, no player made more of an impact than Jabari Greer (+5.0), who earned his highest grade of the year, and the highest grade he’s received since he became a Saint in 2009. Targeted 10 times on the day, he allowed just five completions for 63 yards. And of the five balls thrown his way that weren’t completed, Greer got his hands on four, breaking up a pair of passes to go along with two interceptions. The first of which was a thing of beauty, as at 4:11 in the first quarter, he perfectly read and jumped a Freeman pass intended for Dallas Clark, making a spectacular catch in the process. The second interception was no less impressive, as he beat Tiquan Underwood on a go-route and picked the overthrown ball in the end zone. On the whole, Tampa QBs had a passer rating of 30.4 when throwing at Greer — quite the bounce back performance for a guy who allowed a rating of 130 just a week ago in New York.
Standouts at Defensive End
Just a week ago we were rebuking Will Smith for his poor and invisible play this season. Against Tampa, however, he played a significant role in pitching the shutout. Smith (+4.1) flashed the rare ability that made him one of the league’s highest paid defensive ends. He had his most productive game of the season rushing the passer, finishing with a sack, two hits, and three hurries — six disruptions in all. More impressive, though, was his performance defending the run. No play better captures his day than at 10:01 of the second quarter when he exploded off the line, beating Donald Penn to the inside, and stoned Doug Martin for a 4-yard loss. The problem, though, is that games like this from Smith have been far too rare in recent years, especially given his salary.
We also have to mention the play of Junior Gallette. Playing 37 snaps, he notched eight pressures on just 31 pass rushes. It’s that kind of productivity that will have the Saints strongly thinking about letting Smith go this offseason and going with Galette full-time at DRE.
— Doug Martin was on the field for just 62% of Tampa’s offensive snaps, the second-lowest percentage of snaps he’s played all season.
— Allowing just two catches in 45 snaps in coverage, Patrick Robinson gave up 0.64 yards per snap in coverage, a mark that led the team.
— After catching two passes for 61 yards, Saints’ receiver Joe Morgan actually lowered his season average to 41.2 yards per reception.
PFF Game Ball
Jabari Greer gets this one, as his two interceptions led the way for the Saints’ defense.