Like most folks who follow the NFL, New Orleans Saints fans probably sat down before the season and tried to figure out who their greatest rivals would be in ’19.
Maybe the vile L.A. Rams, who conspired with the referees to steal the NFC Championship Game last winter? Or maybe the Green Bay Packers, if the coaching change turned out to be magic and Aaron Rodgers turned up 100%? How about the Chicago Bears, sporting what is potentially the Midway’s finest defense since the 1980s.
It is unlikely that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came up in those conversations very often. If at all.
But it’s Week 5, and Tampa’s offense is surging to the point where the team’s 2-2 record almost feels like a bum-luck fluke, as opposed to the potential mirage it might have been touted as in preseason W/L handicapping.
Meanwhile the Saints have 3 wins, 1 loss, and 1 catastrophically-injured star quarterback on the season. Stuff like that is hard to factor into advance-handicapping of “Ws” and “Ls”…you’d need a 3rd column for “I.”
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
When: Sunday, October 6th, 1 PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Lines: TB (+3) at NO (-3) / O/U Total: (45.5)
Jameis Winston caught fire last week, throwing for 385 yards and 4 TD’s as the Buccaneers upset the defending Super Bowl representatives by the astounding score of 55-40.
As if to make up for the Tampa defense not pulling its weight, Ndamukong Suh scooped up a fumble late in the game and rumbled into the end zone against his former team.
Linebacker Shaquil Barrett forced the fumble, by the way, and Barrett’s stat line could be more eye-popping than “55-40.” The strip was his 3rd forced fumble of the young season, and gives him 9 sacks in 4 games. He’s a human wrecking crew. Myles Garrett is getting in on the edge-rush fun with 6 sacks. Damn skippy.
Consider that the New Orleans Saints are without Drew Brees, and the offense is without the upbeat rhythm that characterizes Sean Peyton teams on offense. Dallas sacked Teddy Bridgewater 5 times last week. Could the meeting of poor protection and swift pass-rush from the opponent lead to New Orleans getting blown out?
The Saints have looked grand at home so far this season, but each of the Buccaneers’ 2 wins have come on the road. Ultimately the Saints know that Bridgewater will need to execute a pass-first game plan for the team to be successful, and so far he looks like strictly a play-action-flourish type of guy.
Bridgewater was efficient completing 23 of 30 passes in the 12-10 victory against the Cowboys last week, but he just couldn’t get the egg into the end zone. Thankfully Tampa’s placekicker Wil Lutz was on point while nailing 4 of 4 FG’s, and the defense was able to contain Ezekiel Elliott and company for an entire 60 minutes.
CB Marshon Lattimore had had a rough start and was ranked among the worst at his position by analysts through the first 3 games, but rebounded in Week 4 with his best game of the season:
Lattimore allowed Los Angeles Rams receiver Brandin Cooks to get behind him for a 57-yard catch, and he gave up a 2-yard TD catch to Cooks. He was also guarding Rams receiver Cooper Kupp in a rare appearance in the slot when Kupp turned a 9-yard catch into a 66-yard gain. Lattimore was the first of four Saints defensive backs to miss a tackle on that play when Kupp stiff-armed him around midfield Some of those big plays appeared to involve zone coverage, so it’s hard to tell if free safety Marcus Williams should have bailed Lattimore out on any of them. But as a result, NFL Next Gen Stats data had Lattimore credited with allowing a NFL-high 319 yards through the first three weeks when he was the nearest defender in coverage.
That’s why Lattimore’s performance against Cooper was so emphatic. Cooper caught just four passes for 39 yards on eight targets with Lattimore in coverage. Lattimore broke up two of the passes and drew an offensive pass interference call. “It was really good,” Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked if it was Lattimore’s best performance of the year. “He’s played well, so I don’t know about comparing it to the other games. But he did a great job against a good player.”
Bruce Arians is being called the “quarterback whisperer” in Tampa Bay, but as much as I respect Arians’ overall contributions to the sport, some of his Arizona teams didn’t exactly shine at QB. He’s not a miracle man.
Neither is the NFL full of miracles – just things that bubble to the surface and look obvious in hindsight. If the Buccaneers’ early-season marauding through opposing backfields is going to settle down – and it must – then the Superdome is just the place. New Orleans can use home-field advantage to protect Bridgewater and put a little pressure on Winston, meaning that Tampa is unlikely to feast on turnovers and short-field points.
Still, I’m liking the Over (45.5) more than Tampa ATS, as the current line-movement toward the Buccaneers reflects fans imagining the demolition-derby will continue indefinitely.