Photo by: USA Today
Anytime the Saints and Bucs meet in Tampa Bay, things get a little weird. Last time, the Saints had three takeaways, two interceptions from Marcus Williams and a kick return touchdown by Alvin Kamara and still ended up taking an L on a late Chris Godwin game-winner. That was the first of two losses that the Saints took from the Bucs in a row. The Bucs now stand a chance to beat the Saints for the third time in a row for the first time in their franchise’s history. Meanwhile, the Saints look to win and clinch the NFC South for the second year in a row. A first in their franchise history. So here are five keys to ensure that the Saints are the ones rewriting history today.
1. Churn out yards on the ground with Ingram and Kamara.
There have been thunderstorms in Tampa all morning and even though the rain is set to settle down during the game (between 10-31% chance of percipitation) the field conditions will still be affected. If this impacts the throwing game at all, it means both teams must rely on their backfields. The Saints got away from their usual run-first offense last week against Dallas rushing for only 39% of their offensive plays. That was the first time in their last five contests that they ran more than thrown. Even still, when the pass outweighed the run against the Rams, the split was 49/51%. The Saints should feel comfortable leaning on the run game against a porous Bucs run defense that allows 121 rushing yards per game, 21st in the NFL and 160 yards per game in their last three, 26th in the league.
2. Don’t get frustrated.
The Bucs come in to the game with the league’s #1 offense and passing game in terms of yardage. However, they score 26.5 points per game. That’s a top-10 scoring offense, yes, but it’s not enough to keep pace with the Saints who sit 3rd in the league with nearly 35 points per contest. So, if they Saints defense gives up a chunk play here and there. The key is to not get frustrated and continue to play the defense they’ve played over the last five weeks which includes only allowing 30% of opponent’s red zone possessions to end up in a TD. The Saints D also has done a good job at getting takeaways after the opposition has moved the ball down the field. Remaining poised and confident in those success will lead to key results down the stretch. Particularly if they’re able to add takeaways and pressure. While Winston hasn’t thrown an INT in the last two games, he’d thrown 11 in his first five and still took four sacks from the Panthers last week who severely lack a pass rush.
3. Dictate the pace of the game
This is also a part of #1, I admit, but it goes into another category in need of getting back on track from the Dallas game as well. New Orleans only converted on 27% of their third downs at the Cowboys last week, 3 of 11. That’s their worst output in recent games this season. Converting on third down will be pivotal to keeping the ball in the hands of the offense and continuing to control the clock. In order to do this, though, winning on first and second down will be key as it will put any third down tries at a manageable distance
4. Take advantage of mistakes and opportunities.
Jameis’ lack of turnovers over the last two weeks has been impressive. But history says that it’s likely that streak will come to an end very soon. He’s only gone more than two games without throwing a pick twice in his career so far. So if he makes any mistakes today, the Saints will need to take advantage. Especially if the game becomes run-reliant, as he would be limited in his mistakes made through the air. So make them count. The Saints have also been one of the most aggressive defenses when it comes to forcing fumbles having knocked out 15 so far this season. They’ve turned 9 into takeaways, 4th most in the league. Taking advantage of those opportunities and capitalizing on Tampa’s mistakes, even just poor decision making on third down, will help put the team in position to win time of possession and enforce their will upon a weak Tampa Bay defense.
5. Offensive line has to bounce back.
The Saints’ Oline struggled in Dallas after putting together a series of successful games. They’ve allowed three sacks in the last two games after not allowing any in the previous four and were only able to pave the way for a humbling 65 yards on the ground. They’ll need to find a way to return to form against a capable Bucs defensive front that has eight sacks over the last two games but has been thrashed in the run game. A good matchup and barometer with Armstead remain out.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC