New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
By: Mitch Light | 10/15/10, 6:00 AM EDT
No division turns over faster than the NFC South, which has never had a repeat winner. Futhermore, no team has lived off turnovers this season more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are second in the league with nine interceptions.
That’s the primary reason why the Bucs (3–1) enter Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium a half game ahead of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (3–2).
Tampa Bay has won five of its past seven games, including four straight on the road. That streak actually began last December when the Bucs rallied from a 17–0 deficit to beat the Saints 20–17 in overtime at the Superdome.
“I think it gives you confidence that when you beat the best team in football, you can beat anybody,’’ linebacker Barrett Ruud said. “I definitely think we got some confidence from that.’’
The biggest reason for the Bucs optimism is quarterback Josh Freeman, who was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 280 yards and a touchdown in rallying his team to 10 points in the final 1:34 to upset the Bengals 24–21.
Maybe his success is in part because he spent a week working out with Saints quarterback Drew Brees in San Diego last summer.
“The fact that he’s in the division and I have to face him twice a year, that makes it kind of interesting,’’ Brees said. “It’s not like we’re trading secrets.’’
Keys for the Bucs
• The Bucs 3–1 start goes against all statistical evidence. They are last in sacks with four, 30th against the run, giving up 143 yards per game and can’t run the football. Starting tailback Cadillac Williams is averaging 2.6 yards per carry. But because the team has faced so many blitz oriented teams — Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and now New Orleans — the Bucs don’t trust any other running backs to provide protection for Freeman. Still, Tampa Bay has to try to be balanced. The last time these teams met, the Bucs rushed for a season-high 176 yards. It’s unlikely they will duplicate that effort, especially with the loss of center Jeff Faine, who is out for 4-6 weeks with a quad injury. That means guard Jeremy Zuttah will start at center.
• The Bucs need to keep rookie Mike Williams involved in the offense. The Syracuse product has caught five passes or more in three of his four games and caught seven for a season-high 99 yards against Cincinnati last week. He is a big weapon and must be utilized.
Keys for the Saints
• The Saints have been victimized by turnovers — nine in their past three games. Quarterback Drew Brees threw three picks in a surprising loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Part of the problem is a lack of balance on offense. New Orleans has been decimated by injuries at the running back position. Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are both out and they have to turn to Ledell Betts and Chris Ivory.
• Force more turnovers. Greg Williams’ defense has always made a living by creating turnovers, but this season they have created only one in five games. The special teams also have been a mess, having given up two long returns and missing field goals.
Look for the Saints to do a better job of protecting the football and being committed to the run against the league’s 30th rushing defense. Tampa has been a nice surprise, but the defending Super Bowl champs should pick up a key road win. Saints 24–20.