The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into their bye week with a 2-4 record and a third-place spot in the NFC South. There are 12 teams ahead of the Buccaneers in the overall conference standings, but the majority of the season still lies ahead. Despite taking a two-game losing skid into the bye, the Buccaneers are still eyeing a playoff run.
When the Buccaneers come out of their midseason break they will have 10 games remaining, against nine different opponents. They will likely need to win at least seven of those games to have a shot at the playoffs. Now that a third of the season has been played and teams around the league have revealed some of their strengths and weaknesses, let's take a look at how Tampa Bay matches up with each of its upcoming opponents, continuing with the New Orleans Saints in Week 11.
Opponent: New Orleans Saints
Date, Location: Week 11, November 17, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Top Offensive Performer: WR Michael Thomas…632 receiving yards (2nd in the NFL behind Chris Godwin), 3 receiving touchdowns
Top Defensive Performer: DE Cam Jordan…24 tackles, 5.0 sacks (t-8th in the NFL), 4 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits
Notable Strength: This gets a bit tricky. Currently, veteran quarterback Drew Brees is sidelined with a thumb injury but he could return by the time the Saints come to town. The New Orleans offense is nothing to snuff at without him, to be sure. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is second to only the Bucs' Chris Godwin in receiving yards currently, meaning backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has had no problem slinging it. Plus, running back Alvin Kamara is as dangerous as ever, with the fourth-most receiving yards among qualified rushers in the league (276) in addition to his 373 yards on the ground.
What's different this year though is the Saints' defense. They're tied for the sixth-most sacks in the league with 18.0 through Week Six. Additionally, they're tied for fourth in quarterback hits with 40. Their front seven is bringing the pressure and are making noise. Should the 5-1 Saints get their leader back in Brees, an offense that's really firing on all cylinders on top of the improved defensive effort we've seen this season would be lethal.
Notable Weakness: While the front seven of the Saints' defense is stout and tough to contend with, their secondary could use some work in taking the ball away. The defense in total has just seven takeaways, which ranks 20th in the league. Talking interceptions, specifically, and New Orleans has only three, which is tied for the eighth-worst mark. When the Bucs played the Saints in the Superdome during Week Five, though they lost the game, they actually won the turnover battle. Rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints weren't able to take the ball away themselves, with the Bucs committing zero turnovers. Usually, winning the turnover battle bodes well for the outcome of the game, and Tampa Bay will want to have another clean game at home against the NFC South leaders.
How the Bucs Match Up:
Currently, the Saints have the best record (tied with the Seahawks) of any of the Bucs' remaining opponents at 5-1. The first matchup between the two NFC South rivals fell in the Saints' favor behind a six-sack effort by the New Orleans defense. Despite the pressure, quarterback Jameis Winston managed a 104.6 passer rating, throwing for 204 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Defensively, after cornerback Carlton Davis was disqualified from the game for a targeting penalty, the secondary struggled with wide receiver Michael Thomas, who put up 182 yards and caught two touchdown passes. Rest assured, the Bucs will do everything they can to not let that happen again. The defense managed to limit running back/receiver Alvin Kamara, just as they've been able to do against running backs all season, though. Kamara had a 3.9 yard-per-carry average and was held without a touchdown. That top-ranked rushing defense the Bucs hold, at present, will come in handy once again the second time around as they try to keep to their 2.89 yards allowed per carry average.
Individually, the last time around cornerback Marshon Lattimore and the Saints' defensive backs were able to hold wide receiver Mike Evans without a catch in Week Five. Lattimore is currently tied for the seventh-most tackles among cornerbacks with Kansas City's Kendall Fuller at 31. He also has the third-most passes defensed in the league with eight. His effort against the Bucs snapped a longer than I care to mention streak of games with a reception for Evans and therefore, you have to think the Bucs won't let the New Orleans secondary get the best of Evans this time around.
The Saints are tied for the sixth-most sacks this season so far with 18.0 and the Bucs' offensive line is going to have to slow their pass rush to allow Winston and company to get anything going offensively. Tampa Bay should get injured right tackle Demar Dotson back by then. Right guard Alex Cappa, who broke his arm in the last contest against the Saints in the second quarter (yet still finished the game), could feasibly be back by that point, too. That would solidify the line a little bit more and help them stand up against the Saints' front seven.