As originally posted here.
Time: 1 p.m. ET Nov. 6
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Weather: High – 74 F/Low 62 F with 30% chance of rain
The last time the New Orleans Saints faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they came away short 26-20 on October 16 at Raymond James Stadium. Many penned the game an upset, but after the Saints failed to take advantage of Tampa Bay’s bye week losing to the winless St. Louis Rams, 31-21, maybe it isn’t so much now.
Both teams have been playing inconsistently lately. While the Bucs have defeated the likes of the Saints, Falcons, Vikings and Colts, their inconsistent and erratic cost them against the Lions, the Bears and especially the Niners. Many thought the Saints were back on track after the 62-7 drubbing they gave to the winless Colts set them back to their winning ways, but a slow start and a pounding from Rams running back Steven Jackson cost them the game.
If the Saints are to stay in the divisional race, they need to defeat the Bucs at home to stay relevant. They face an uphill battle as the Bucs took three out of their last four contests. Here are the 3 things to watch for the game:
Whose backfield will be more explosive?
When the Saints are held to less than 100 yards per game this season, they haven’t won. They hold the longest active streak in victories with 23 when they rush for at least 125 yards. As much of the offense is dependent on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, he needs to soften up the Tampa Bay defense with the run. If first-round pick Mark Ingram is not available, expect Pierre Thomas to fulfill more of his duties. Darren Sproles is also a primary all-around threat especially out in the flat. A successful running attack will put less pressure on Brees so he can better air it out.
Likewise the similar argument goes on Freeman’s success. With running back LeGarrette Blount returning from injury, look for the Bucs to rely on him heavily to take the New Orleans crowd out of the game as well as taking the ball out of Brees’ hands. The bruising style of Blount may provide a challenge to the Saints, who surrendered 159 yards to Steven Jackson.
Will the real Josh Freeman please stand up?
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has been erratic all season throwing for 1723 yards, 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but seems to thrive against the Saints. In their previous contest, Freeman threw for a season-high 303 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Teams have caught on to Freeman’s playmaking abilities throwing more pressure at him and throwing defenders to spy on him. Will the Saints be able to force Freeman into mistakes or has he used the bye week to settle back into his fundamentals?
The turnover battle may provide the final key to this game. When the Saints lost to the Bucs, Brees threw three interceptions against the Bucs stalling key drives which would have changed the momentum of the game. The Bucs defense also forced a fumble and gave up no turnovers the entire game.
While each team shouldn’t have a problem running on each other (Bucs rank 23rd in rush defense and Saints are 24th, respectively), Brees will have an easier time exploiting the young 26th ranked pass defense of the Buccaneers giving up 267.7 yards a game. However the Bucs are better in turnover ratio with a +1 to a -5 margin over the Saints.