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Tough Road Test Looming

Posted Dec 26, 2013

Thursday Notes: The Bucs fought the Saints to the end in Tampa in Week Two, but New Orleans has been a far better team in the Superdome this season...Plus injury updates and more


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Buccaneers end the season on the road against a team that has not lost in its home stadium this year
  • LB Dekoda Watson did not practice on Thursday, and S Dashon Goldson was limited
  • Ted Larsen could get the start at left guard this week
At this point, it’s old news to say that the 2013 New Orleans Saints are a different team on the road than they are at home.  Saints Head Coach Sean Payton conceded the point– or, at least, conceded that it was valid to question his team’s effectiveness away from the Superdome – before the Week 16 trip to Charlotte that ended in a 17-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The numbers are unavoidable.  Drew Brees averages nearly nine yards per pass attempt and has a 23-3 TD-INT ratio at home; on the road, the average drops to under seven yards per attempt and the TD-INT ratio is a far more mortal 12-9.  The Saints have 29 touchdowns in seven home games, and 12 in eight road games. Brees is sacked more often on the road and his passer rating drops nearly 40 points from a stellar 122.5 at home.

That may be good news for any team that catches New Orleans on the road in the upcoming playoffs, if the Saints manage to secure a spot on Sunday.  It doesn’t matter much to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who get to finish their season in the Superdome on Sunday.  The Bucs battled the Saints to a low-scoring, 16-14 loss in Tampa in Week Two, but they know they face a more difficult challenge this weekend.

For instance, the Buccaneers sacked Brees four times in Week Two, which is often the key to beating the Saints, even if it didn’t quite work out in that game.  They will have a much tougher time matching that output in the Superdome.

“He has been sacked, [but] not very much at home,” said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano.  “It’s an interesting phenomenon. At home, the interceptions aren’t there, he’s played very well, and thus the points – 33 to 18 average [home versus away]. We’re walking into a tough situation as far as where we’re playing them and all that, and that’s been made clear to our defense. They’re 7-0 at home; there’s a reason. We’re trying to make them 7-1.”

In a relative sense, the Saints have struggled lately, losing three of their last five to let Carolina take control of the division, and to put their own playoff hopes in a bit of jeopardy.  However, all three of those losses have come on the road.  The Buccaneers held Brees and company to 16 points and 371 yards – a down day for the Saints – in Week Two, but they’ll be facing a motivated team on Sunday, and one that enjoys its home cooking.

- The Bucs sacked Drew Brees four times in Week Two but may find that tougher to accomplish in the Superdome

“I think it’s a gigantic challenge and our players definitely recognize that,” said Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan.  “They’re as talented offensively as anybody we face every year. Of course when we watch film, we’re just watching the scheme stuff and I couldn’t tell you exactly what their win/loss record is here in the last eight games, but they’re fighting for a playoff spot and they have the personnel to be in that position, that’s why they are. It’s a big challenge for us. I know they have a great home record and they score a bunch of points when they’re at home, but our guys have a lot of pride and our guys are going to play on Sunday.”

* The knee injury that forced Da’Quan Bowers to injured reserve this week is one he has been dealing with for more of the season, Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan said on Thursday.  Essentially, the move to I.R. was an indication that Bowers would not be able to work his way through the ailment this week; the injury would keep him out for the rest of the season, if it was just one week, so his spot was freed up for a healthier substitute.

Bowers has already had surgery to clean out the ailing knee, and Schiano said the rehab time will be relatively short.  Sheridan hopes the procedure and an offseason to get back into top shape will help Bowers show his true form in 2014.

“I’m hoping that actually the surgery will help him because I think he’s – and maybe people wouldn’t be aware of it – I know for a fact he was nursing that all year,” said Sheridan.  “He’s never been well. You’re trying to decide all season on whether or not to make that move. ‘Is he healthy enough to play? Can he at least play on third down? Or are we better off just getting him to have surgery and get him cleaned up and let him rehab for an offseason and come back?’ I think you’ll see a different guy next offseason.”

Bowers’ move to injured reserve means he’s no longer a concern on the injury report for Game 16.  Howeve,r the Bucs are still unsure about the availability on Sunday of safety Mark Barron and linebacker Dekoda Watson.  Barron practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday but Watson did not take the field at all.

Barron missed the Buccaneers’ Week 16 game in St. Louis and his status for the season finale will probably not be know until close to game time.

“We’ll see,” said Schiano.  “He’s day-to-day. He was limited today. It’s probably going to come right down to game time.”

The Saints have nine players on their injury report, and most of them were considered “limited” on Wednesday.  However, all nine practiced without limitations on Thursday.  The full injury reports for both teams are below:

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

Mark Barron

Hamstring

Limited Participation

Lavonte David

Elbow

Full Participation

Ka'Lial Glaud

Knee

Limited Participation

Davin Joseph

Knee

Full Participation

Carl Nicks

Foot

Out

Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation

Dekoda Watson

Groin

Did Not Participate


Saints:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

T Terron Armstead

Shoulder

Full Participation

QB Drew Brees

Knee

Full Participation

S Rafael Bush

Ankle

Full Participation

WR Marques Colston

Back

Full Participation

LB Keyunta Dawson

Calf

Full Participation

G Jahri Evans

Knee

Full Participation

TE Josh Hill

Hamstring

Full Participation

LB Kevin Reddick

Shoulder

Full Participation

RB Pierre Thomas

Eye

Full Participation


* The Buccaneers have had five different plays start at left guard this season, an ongoing effort to find the best O-Line mix in the absence of Carl Nicks (who did start two games in the season’s first month).  That number will remain at five, but Tampa Bay could have one more switch at the position before the season ends.

Jamon Meredith has started the last eight games, and his insertion into the lineup coincided with a temporary surge in Tampa Bay’s rushing attack.  However, Meredith was replaced midway through last week’s game in St. Louis in favor of Ted Larsen, and it’s possible that Larsen will hold onto that starting spot for the final game.  Larsen previously started Games Five and Six of this season at left guard.

“I wouldn’t say that for sure yet, but [there’s a] good chance Ted will get the start,” said Schiano on Thursday.  “I’m not sure we’re going to make [that decision]. That’s more on speculation than anything. We’ll see. I’m not sure who will get the nod. Obviously no one seized the position, otherwise it would be locked in, it’d be done, right? In Week 17, the fact that we’re still fiddling around kind of speaks to that.”

Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers