By Max Luckan
After a disappointing loss to the New York Giants, the New Orleans Saints will attempt to use the good news that they have recently received regarding the “Bounty” scandal as motivation to play well against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that’s now lost three in a row, and is on the brink of officially being eliminated from playoff contention. The Saints were able to muster 27 points against the Giants, but allowed 52, which highlights the struggles of the Saints’ defense this season. They’ll go up against the Bucs, who have struggled in all facets of the game lately, and will be aiming to come up with what could be a crucial win in New Orleans.
The Saints currently sit at 5-8, which is good for third place in the NFC South division. However, the Saints started the season slow, and have hit a bump in the road recently, having lost three in a row like the Bucs. While the Saints have lost to good teams in recent weeks, they also lost to the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs earlier in the year. But from what their schedule indicates, it’s clear that the Saints are a better team than their record of 5-8 shows.
Their most impressive victory came a few weeks ago when the Saints were able to beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-27.
Saints on Offense
The Saints have, what Bucs coach Greg Schiano called, a “first ballot Hall-of-Famer” at quarterback in Drew Brees. With one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL, the Saints are always a threat to score many points.
And the Bucs have a weak secondary that’s been affected by injuries and a suspension to CB Eric Wright, so the Saints will try to exploit the secondary through the air. However, New Orleans also has a solid rotation of running backs, including Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and Chris Ivory. With Sproles, the Saints like to run plenty screen passes, but all the backs can catch the ball out of the backfield, which makes the running backs very involved in the passing game as well.
Saints on Defense
While the Saints have a spectacular offensive attack, they have struggled all season long on defense. Many players have been out because of injuries, but overall, the defense hasn’t performed nearly as well as in past seasons. This could be because of the departure of Gregg Williams, but in reality, the whole Bounty situation is probably the root cause. And of course, Williams is heavily involved in that ordeal.
Much like the Bucs, the Saints have trouble in the passing game, and allowing 52 points to the Giants is an example of the severity of those struggles. Teams that play the Saints should try to throw the ball early and often, which also opens up the running game. Overall, it’s been a down year for the Saints’ defense.
Saints Players to Watch
Drew Brees: Obviously one of the best in the game, Brees has the ability to extend leads rapidly. The Bucs have to try to, at least, slow him down. Otherwise, they’ll be in for a long game.
Will Smith: The Bucs’ offensive line has struggled against elite pass rushers in recent weeks, and they’ll have to deal with another one against the Saints. Smith is extremely quick and protecting Josh Freeman is a priority for Tampa Bay.
Darren Sproles: It seems as though Sproles always has his best games against the Bucs. And as always, he’s dangerous in so many ways, which means the Bucs have to keep an eye on him at all times.
The Saints and Bucs do not like each other, and is this game will be an example of a good NFC South rivalry. The two teams met earlier in the season, and the Saints barely came out on top. The first game ended somewhat controversially, so the Bucs are definitely looking for revenge.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.