ATLANTA, GA – SEPTEMBER 11: Jameis Winston #2 of the New Orleans Saints drops back to pass during the first half of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
Game time: Sunday, 12pm CST
TV/Radio: Fox / Saints Radio Network (Lake Charles-KNGT 99.5 FM, KLCB 1270 AM)
What’s at stake:
These two teams are the cream of the crop in the NFC South. Last week, the Falcons kept it close against the Saints. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers appeared to struggle with a wounded Cowboys team. Don’t let those results fool you. Things are different when these teams get together. They combined for 11 of the 20 division titles since the inception of the NFC South (Saints have seven, Bucs four). The early division lead is up for grabs. Jameis Winston gets another crack at the team, who gave up on the former number one overall pick.
When the Saints have the ball:
The pass and run games alternated dominance last week. Part of that was due to the score. Some can be attributed to Alvin Kamara’s rib injury. Look for the Saints to establish the run game early again this week. If Kamara isn’t fully healthy, Mark Ingram and Dwayne Washington will be trusted with the bulk of the carries. Kamara may get light duty, primarily in the passing game, if he isn’t healthy but can play. Michael Thomas is healthy for the first time in two seasons. He now has other receivers to compliment him in Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave. The trio combined for 62.5% of the potential targets last week. I expect that number to stay around the 60-75% range against a Bucs defense that wasn’t challenged much last week.
When the Bucs have the ball:
The Saints have to be better at stopping the run. They won’t have to worry about Tom Brady threatening the edges on any read-option plays. However, the Bucs use a running back-by-committee formula. They’ll rotate guys in and out to keep them fresh and offer different skills. Mike Evans leads the receiving corp. Fortunately, Marshon Lattimore is Evans’ kryptonite. He’s been a thorn in Evans’ side since he arrived in New Orleans. Their offensive line is banged up. Two starters are out with injury. Donovan Smith is listed as doubtful, and Tristan Wirfs is questionable. Not ideal when both starting tackles are hurting. They were both whipped pretty good last week. Look for the Saints’ defensive line to give Brady fits.
Saints to watch:
The defensive line needs to have a bounce-back game. Two hundred one yards rushing last week starts with the guys up front. The Bucs’ offensive line is limping into this game. They’re being held together with tape and glue right now. Taking advantage of their vulnerability is definitely something to watch out for. Especially since Brady has been proven to be rattled by a defensive line that pressures him. The running backs for the Saints are another group to watch this week. Kamara’s injury can change the game plan depending on what he can do. Ingram and Washington are okay runners, but neither can match Kamara’s pass-catching ability. Also, keep an eye on the other defensive backs not named Lattimore.
The bottom line:
Bucs’ offensive line issues hurt them last week. They’ll struggle again this week. The Saints will take advantage of Tampa Bay’s injuries and frustrate Brady just like his off-the-field issues. Jameis will finally get a chance to play a full game against the team that drafted him. He tore his ACL early on in last year’s first matchup. The Saints won the game, but part of Jameis must want to win and be a big reason for a Saints victory.