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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers-Saints: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week Four

There's quarterback uncertainty in New Orleans and a share of first place on the line this weekend in the Superdome as the Buccaneers visit the Saints for their first intradivision game of 2023


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints will put a share of first place in the NFC South on the line when they meet in the Superdome on Sunday, October 1. Both clubs are 2-1 after observing their first loss of the season in Week Three (the same is true of the Atlanta Falcons) and are keenly aware of how critical intradivision games will be in what is likely to remain a tight race throughout the season.

The Buccaneers struggled on offense and defense in a loss to the Eagles and their star-studded cast on Monday night but have generally been pleased with their results on both sides of the ball in the early going. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, the team's new starter, has thrown just one interception and taken only three sacks so far, and he's made a point of hooking up frequently with the ageless Mike Evans, who has scored in every game so far and is on pace for a career-best 1,683 yards. (Yes, it's true: It's a little early for "on-pace" numbers, but Evans doesn't appear to be slowing down.) Tampa Bay's defense has generated seven takeaways in three games and has dropped opposing quarterbacks nine times, with eight different players getting in on the act.

Even with their pricey offseason addition, Derek Carr, at the helm of the offense, the Saints have so far won more by defense. They have only scored 17.7 points per game through three weeks but have made that work by allowing only 16.7 points per game. There is some uncertainty as to whether it will be Carr or former Buc Jameis Winston starting on Sunday – see our first storyline below – but whoever does will have the privilege of throwing to budding star receiver Chris Olave. The Saints also get running back Alvin Kamara back from a suspension this week. Four different Saints defensive backs have already picked off a pass and the New Orleans defense, led by linebacker Demario Davis, is ranked 10th against the run and eighth against the pass and has made it hard for opposing offenses to get much down over the middle of the field.

Here are four major storylines and four head-to-head player battles to keep an eye on as the Bucs try to prove their mettle in prime time and remain unbeaten in 2023.

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 3 matchup vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.


New Carr or Former Ride?– The biggest storyline coming out of New Orleans this week will be the health of Derek Carr and how it will determine the Saints' starting quarterback choice in Week Four. Carr suffered a shoulder injury four minutes into the second half on Sunday in Green Bay and did not return to the game and the Saints held their breath as their $150 million man went in for evaluation. On Monday morning, Saints Head Coach said the team had "dodged a bullet," explaining that Carr's injury was an AC joint sprain and calling the quarterback "week to week." Allen did not rule out Carr getting cleared in time to play against the Buccaneers on Sunday, but if he can't go the Saints would turn to former Tampa Bay first-overall draft pick Jameis Winston, who finished out the game in Green Bay. Carr led the Saints to a 2-0 start to the season and had them up 17-0 over the Packers when he was injured. The Packers rallied for 18 unanswered points after Carr's injury, though Winston did throw for 101 yards and got his team into position for a potential go-ahead 46-yard field goal. Unfortunately for the Saints, rookie Blake Grupe missed the kick. Winston spent his first five NFL seasons in Tampa and is the franchise's career leader in passing yards and touchdown passes. He has been in New Orleans for the past four years and is 6-4 as a starter with his second team. Winston's outings against his former team have been a mixed bag of outcomes and playing time. He threw one pass in mop-up duty in the first reunion in 2020, a blowout win for New Orleans, then was the Saints starter the following year in Week Eight. In the playoffs that same season, he threw one 56-yard touchdown pass on a trick play but the Bucs won and advance to the NFC Championship Game. New Orleans got the win in that game, too, but he was injured after just 10 passes and didn't play again that season. Early in the 2020 season, which Winston began as the starter, the Bucs picked him off three times in the second half to fuel a 20-10 victory in New Orleans. Winston was back to being a reserve by the time the two teams met again in December.

Early Supremacy in the South– Sunday's game in the Superdome will feature the owners of the last six NFC South Division crowns. The Bucs have won it the last two years, ending the Saints' four-year run of divisional dominance. It's still quite early, but after three weeks of the 2023 season it appears like there are three realistic contenders for that title, and one of them will improve to 3-1 on Sunday in New Orleans, barring a tie. The Bucs, Saints and Atlanta Falcons are all 2-1, with all three coming off their first losses of the season. If that race stays tight for the balance of the season, these intradivision games are likely to be of massive importance. The Buccaneers will only play two of their six division games before December, as the schedule is heavily backlogged with Panthers, Falcons and Saints meetings. They would like to get an early leg up on one of those critical head-to-head series.

Ground Control – For a variety of reasons, the ground game has not yet gotten on track for either the Buccaneers or the Saints through the first three weeks of the season. New Orleans is ranked 21st with 93.3 rushing yards per game and 27 with 3.41 yards per carry. The Buccaneers are a little farther down that list, at 27th (78.0) and 32nd (2.79), respectively. For Tampa Bay, a new-look offensive line with different starters at four positions from a year ago is still trying to jell and at the same time make the new running scheme imported by Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales work. Running back Rachaad White is still trying to find a groove in his first season as a Week One starter and the Bucs' unquestioned lead back. The Saints had to play their first three games without their star back of the past six seasons, Alvin Kamara, who was serving a suspension for his involvement in a fight in Las Vegas. Jamaal Williams, signed away from the Lions in the offseason, had taken over as the leader in the Saints backfield in Kamara's absence but was hurt in Week Two and is currently on injured reserve. Williams won't play on Sunday but Kamara is expected to make his 2023 debut after returning to the team. Whether White finds another gear for the Buccaneers are Kamara breathes life into the Saints' offense, the team that can balance its offense with an effective rushing attack will have the upper hand Sunday.

Take It Away, Take the 'W' – As important as those respective ground games are, they fall somewhere below turnovers on the list of likely deciding factors between the Bucs and the Saints. These two teams were locked in a 3-3 slugfest into the fourth quarter last September in the Superdome until the Bucs' defense came up with a rash of five turnovers in the last 19 minutes of the game, leading to a 20-10 decision for the visitors. Prior to 2022, the Saints had won seven straight meetings in the head-to-head battle and in five of those they won the takeaway battle. The two teams also met in the postseason during that stretch, in 2020, and it was three critical second-half turnovers that helped the Bucs rally from down a touchdown to a 30-20 win. So far this season, the Buccaneers are second in the NFL with a plus-five turnover ratio. They took it away five times without turning it over once in season-opening wins over Chicago and Minnesota. They played Philadelphia to a 2-2 tie in the turnover battle but the Eagles' takeaways, both on the plus side of the 50-yard line, had more impact. The Bucs turned the ball right back over two plays after Devin White's interception in the second quarter. And Dee Delaney's interception at Tampa Bay's one-yard line led directly to a Saints safety on the next play. The Bucs hope to rack up a similar number of takeaways to their output in the Superdome last year, and ideally they will turn those turnovers into points this time.


1. Saints RB Alvin Kamara vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David

Buccaneers Head Coach Todd Bowles was asked on Monday morning about the possibility of playing against either Carr or Winston, and he quickly steered the conversation in a different direction regarding the Saints' offense. "We'll prepare for Jameis and [Carr]," said Bowles. "I don't think the offense will change that much that way. The bigger problem is going to be Kamara coming back and they'll have a bit more juice in the backfield to go with the speed they have outside at receiver." The Buccaneers know Kamara well and haven't always enjoyed his presence. In 11 games against Tampa Bay, the Saints' dual-threat back has averaged 90.4 yards per scrimmage per contest and scored a total of 10 touchdowns. Last season was the first time in Kamara's career that he was not selected for the Pro Bowl, and he has seen his per-carry efficiency drop over the past two years – he averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2021 and 4.0 last year after ranging between 4.7 and 6.1 over the previous four campaigns – but believes he pinpointed some issues in the offseason that will help him bring back his explosiveness. Linebacker Lavonte David will be one of the key defenders in trying to keep Kamara in check on Sunday. Not only is he second on the team with 23 tackles, including three for a loss, but he also remains one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL. At his peak, Kamara was arguably more dangerous as a pass-catcher than a runner between the tackles, and if the Saints are able to scheme him out into the open field as they used to, the Bucs will need a rangy and instinctive defender like David to find him before he breaks a big one.

2. Buccaneers T Luke Goedeke vs. Saints DE Carl Granderson

The Saints lost Marcus Davenport to the Vikings and Kaden Elliss to the Falcons during free agency and have seen the 34-year-old Cameron Jordan – annually one of the most productive edge rushers in the league – come out of the gates with just 0.5 sacks so far. Picking up the slack in the early going for the Saints' pass rush is Granderson, a former undrafted free agent in 2019 who has never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season. He has a team-leading 2.5 so far in 2023 and is taking well to a full-time role as a starter. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Granderson racked up seven QB pressures in a Week One win over Tennessee on just 27 pass-rush snaps, and one of those pressures caused a turnover. Granderson began to emerge as an impact rusher in 2022 when he got the most consistent playing time of his career, and the Saints were also pleased by the energy he brought to the defensive front. So far this season, he has come at the quarterback almost exclusively from the left edge of the Saints' front, which means he is going to be a key assignment for Goedeke, the Bucs' second-year right tackle. The Bucs initially tried to make Goedeke a guard after picking him in the second round in 2022, but after choosing to move Tristan Wirfs to left tackle they have let the former Central Michigan standout return to his natural position. The 6-5, 312-pound Goedeke plays with a fierce disposition and is particularly powerful in the run game. He and his linemates have allowed just three sacks of Baker Mayfield through three games and the Buccaneers are ranked sixth in the league in sacks per pass play, at 3.23%.

3. Saints WR/KR Rashid Shaheed vs. Buccaneers CB Zyon McCollum

This matchup could play out in a couple different ways. Given that both of the Bucs' starting cornerbacks are dealing with worrisome injuries – a toe ailment has kept Carlton Davis out the past two weeks and Jamel Dean suffered a shoulder injury on Monday night – there's a good chance McCollum could make his third start in a row. That would likely give him some reps against Shaheed when on defense, as the former undrafted free agent has developed into a strong complement to the starting wideout duo of Chris Olave and Michael Thomas. Shaheed has speed to burn, as evidenced in his per-catch average of 16.9 yards, which he has posted on nine grabs for 152 yards and a touchdown. McCollum can match that speed; he's one of the fastest players on the Bucs' roster and has great catch-up ability on deep balls. Shaheed and McCollum could also meet up on special teams because the former Weber State star is also a dangerous weapon in the return game. He had a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown last Sunday in Green Bay. McCollum is the Buccaneers' best gunner on the punt coverage team, though his role on special teams has been trimmed down a bit since he started playing every snap on defense the past two weeks. Still, McCollum did play on the coverage teams on Monday night against the Eagles and the Bucs may want him in the mix against Shaheed, as well.

4. Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield vs. Saints S Tyrann Mathieu

We don't often include the quarterback in these highlighted matchups because he is obviously the key figure for all opposing defenses and there isn't just one defender who will be trying to stop him. This battle seemed worth noting, however, because it could involve a battle of wits. Mayfield has played with poise and veteran savvy in the early part of his career with the Buccaneers, mostly making decisions that have kept the football out of harm's way. Mayfield has only thrown one interception through his first three Bucs starts while recording four touchdown passes and a 96.0 passer rating. He has done what Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales wants him to do – distributing the ball on time to the Bucs' playmakers on short and intermediate throws and choosing the right times to go for shot plays. Mathieu is in his 11th NFL season and has always been one of the NFL's most instinctive playmakers. Though he doesn't have an interception yet in 2023 he had 12 over the previous three seasons combined, two of which ended in Pro Bowl berths. Mathieu is the type of defender that a coordinator can move all over the field, so Mayfield will need to keep track of where he is and what he might be up to on every snap.

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