View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Divisional Round Week practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The Buccaneers got their first playoff win since Super Bowl XXXVII last Saturday night over the Washington Football Team and are now getting set for a divisional matchup with a… division opponent in New Orleans.
Yep. To continue on their Super Bowl quest, they'll have to go through the Saints on Sunday night in the Superdome. Though for as many times as these teams have met in the regular season, this will be the first time they'll meet in the postseason, which is interesting.
Unfortunately, history is on New Orleans' side, edging out the Bucs 21-37 in the all-time series. Even more recently, they swept the season series, capturing victories in both Week One and Week Nine over the Buccaneers.
What's interesting is that especially in Week One, the Saints didn't do all that much offensively. In Week One, New Orleans escaped with a win when quarterback Drew Brees had just 160 passing yards, wide receiver Michael Thomas had just 17 yards on three catches and running back Alvin Kamara had just 16 yards on 12 carries.
In fact, the Saints haven't had a ton of offensive production this year, period. Overall, they rank 12th in offense, averaging 376.4 yards per game. Their passing offense ranks as low as 20th, with New Orleans quarterbacks averaging 246.6 yards per game through the air. For reference, the Bucs' offense, which ranks fourth in the same category, averages 298.5 passing yards per game. But here's where some disparity comes into play for the Saints: they are still the fifth-ranked scoring offense. New Orleans averages 30.1 points per game.
How, you ask? Well a lot of their offensive efficiency must come courtesy of the run game, which ranks sixth in the league – the highest in any offensive category. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray have helped New Orleans to 141.6 yards per game on the ground. Kamara has 16 rushing touchdowns this season and another five through the air. Murray has four rushing and one receiving. It's worth noting that Kamara had six touchdowns in one game on Christmas Day against the Vikings, so do with that what you will.
Yet only two of those rushing touchdowns came against the Bucs – three total. That's because what the Saints' offense does well – the Bucs' defense defends well. For the second-straight year, the Buccaneers lead the league in rushing defense.
As we mentioned last week when talking about the matchup with Washington, the Bucs' excellent ground defense is thanks largely to one of the best front sevens in the league. It has stout run defenders like defensive lineman Will Gholston and tackle-for-loss king Lavonte David. Plus, Tampa Bay will be getting inside linebacker Devin White back after he was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list early this week, which is 'huge' as his coaches put it.
But since the start of the 2019 season, the Bucs have allowed the fewest yards per game on the ground with an average of 77.2 and the fewest yards per rush with opponents averaging just 3.43 yards per carry in the same span.
That could very well be the difference for the Bucs in this game.
They'll of course still need to contain Brees and not allow him to take over the game in other ways… like time of possession. Last week against the Bears, the Saints had just three possessions in the second half but they were drives that took 7:29, 8:51 and 5:19. A nearly nine minute drive! They won the time of possession battle by a mile, nearly doubling the Bears' 21:02 with 38:58. The Saints offense played 84 snaps. Quite simply, Chicago just didn't even have a chance. That's exactly what they did against the Bucs in Week Nine, when they had the ball for over 40 minutes.
The Buccaneer defense can't allow that to happen again. There will be an even bigger emphasis on third down for Tampa Bay because the defense will not be able to withstand a nine-minute drive. No defense can. The objective has to be to get the Saints off the field by any means necessary.
The pass rush will be crucial to that. Brees may get the ball out of his hands quicker than most – no one has gotten more than two sacks on him in a game this season – but if you can disrupt him, you give yourself a shot. Even the Bears were able to do that last week and keep the game close for a majority of it. Chicago's offense just couldn't do anything with the opportunities that their defense gave them.
The Bucs will have all of their defensive pieces available to them when it comes to the pass rush this weekend. White, who had 9.0 sacks in the regular season, is back and rearing to go (horse pun intended) while interior defensive lineman Steve McLendon has also been removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list, giving the Bucs more opportunity for interior pressure. McLendon doesn't yet have a sack as a Buccaneer but he's helped clear the way (and the blockers) for Ndamukong Suh, who had the most sacks he's had in the regular season since 2015 with 6.0. Collapse the pocket on Brees and he's going to have some difficulties.
It will also take some pressure off the secondary, though cornerback Carlton Davis has had some of his best games against New Orleans and specifically, Michael Thomas, this season. Davis was basically tasked both games with guarding Thomas and shut him down completely in Week One, as we mentioned. Even in Week Nine, which was the game Thomas returned from injury that kept him out of weeks two through eight, Davis held Thomas to just 51 receiving yards. Thomas didn't get in the end zone either time. That seems to work for the Bucs so hopefully he can do it again.
As for Kamara, who is the Saints' other main playmaker, as a collective, the Bucs were able to shut him down for the most part this season. His impact is directly mitigate by guys like David and White, who will both be at full-go now for the first time in three weeks. That has to bode well for the Bucs.
The Bucs' defense needs to just play their game. They're going to need to give the Bucs' offense a chance to see the field and if they can force the Saints into some mistakes – that's all the better. It'll be up to the Tampa Bay offense to capitalize.