Riding a four game winning streak to the #6 playoff seed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense will be tested in a divisional matchup
In a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome to town their division rival, the New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers, winners of four straight, control their own playoff destiny going forward, as they currently hold down the six seed in the NFC. On the other side of the coin, the New Orleans Saints looked to be hanging around in the playoff race, but have dropped three of their last four games and are now only hanging on by a thread.
Also following the trend of teams going in opposite directions, the Buccaneers have the 8th youngest roster (25.7 years old) in the NFL, and are definitely a team on the rise. Young leader Jameis Winston has this Bucs squad believing in themselves. Averaging 26.4 years old and in possession of the 26th oldest squad in the NFL, the Saints seem to be closing a book on their prime years. Although Drew Brees is still playing at a high level at 37 years old, the Saints defense has been awful and are in need of a re-build, something Drew Brees won’t get to see through.
This is a game the Buccaneers must have of they plan on not only making the playoffs, but competing for a division title. Currently tied with the Falcons with a 7-5 record, the Falcons are 3-1 in the division, compared to the Buccaneers at 2-1. Division record is the second playoff tiebreaker after head-to head (the Bucs split against the Falcons this season) matchup, so divisional games are huge down the stretch. The Bucs will face division foes in three of the last four games this season.
Keys to Victory
Don’t fall victim to the trap game- With the Buccaneers playing as well as they are, a lot of the buzz recently has already moved ahead to the upcoming games against the Dallas Cowboys. Up until the conclusion of the game against the Saints, the Cowboys shouldn’t even be a thought in the Bucs player’s heads. If they get caught in the ‘trap’ scenario of looking ahead, the Saints offense can quickly make opponents pay.
In fact, the game against the Cowboys next week may be good for ratings and recognition, but the other three games (including today’s game) are division matchups and are essentially more important to the Buccaneers playoff run.
Take the big play out of the Saints arsenal- With an abundance of speed at the wide receiver position, and the big arm of Drew Brees, the big play has been the bread and butter to the success of the Saints offense. Getting penetration up front, and not giving Brees time to allow the big play to develop downfield will be key for the success of the defense, who have been on top of their game lately.
Bress will find the open man, even under pressure, but the less time he has to be comfortable the less chance there is for a play downfield. Also, as true with most quarterbacks, the less time the quarterback has to get rid of the ball, the more chance he has of making a mistake. Great coverage in the secondary will allow the defensive line the extra half-second needed to put Brees on his back and not allow him to find his groove.
Establish the running game- Whether it is Doug Martin as the workhorse, or a combination of Martin and Rodgers with a sprinkle of the returning Chris Simms, the ground game needs to establish a rhythm to control the tempo of the game. Although the Buccaneers do have the firepower to hang in a shoot out with the Saints, that is playing into the Saints strengths. Instead the Buccaneers need to keep the Saints defense on the field by establishing the running game, and setting the pace of the game instead of the other way around.
Although Doug Martin hasn’t exactly been stellar since returning from injury, his presence alone in the lineup has been a huge boost for the Bucs offense. The return of Charles Simms this week, and the dimension he adds to the passing game should actually help Doug Martin out as well, especially if both are on the field at the same time. If Doug Martin was waiting to have his breakout game, he should use the Saints and their 11th ranked run defense to remind everyone why he received a big contract in the offseason.
Questionable DNP-Did not practice LP- Limited practice FP- Full Practice
- Terron Armstead, offensive tackle (Quadricep) LP
- Max Unger, center (foot) DNP
- Daniel Lasco, running back (hamstring) LP
- Senio Kelemete, offensive guard (hip) LP
- Craig Robinson, linebacker (shoulder) DNP
- Shiloh Keo, safety (hamstring) DNP
- Michael Thomas, wide receiver (foot) LP
- Mark Ingram, running back (toe) LP
Max Unger not practicing doesn’t bode well for his chances to play, and will be a huge advantage for the Bucs in their quest to contain Bress and the big play.
- Chris Conte, safety (chest) DNP
- Demar Dotson, offensive tackle (concussion) DNP
- Adam Humpries, wide receiver (concussion) DNP
- Luke Stocker, tight end (ankle) DNP
- Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle (foot) LP
- Evan Smith, center (knee) FP
No surprises on the injury report as both McCoy and Smith should be good to go.
With the Buccaneers playing as well as they have the last few weeks, and the winning atmosphere being a almost forgotten about feeling in Tampa, the Bucs will not take this game lightly. The defense will do enough to prevent a shootout, and the offense and big arm of Jameis Winston will take advantage of the poor Saints secondary.
New Orleans Saints 20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31
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