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Countdown to Kickoff: Buccaneers-Saints, Week 4 2023

The Buccaneers and Saints will meet in Week Four in an NFC South clash…Key stats, lineup notes and more

C2K Saints

The classic NFC South rivalry continues on Sunday, October 1, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints battle for first place in the division at Caesars Superdome. Both teams are 2-1 and the interdivision clash will carry weight in each club's respective standing. After a 25-11 loss to the Eagles on Monday night in which the Buccaneers struggled in the trenches, the visiting team will vie for vindication in enemy territory. Baker Mayfield is one-of-six quarterbacks in 2023 with four-plus passing touchdowns and one-or-fewer interceptions. He will seek to connect with his go-to target Mike Evans, who has a touchdown in every game of the 2023 slate. Defensively, Todd Bowles' crew has accumulated seven takeaways and nine sacks in three games. After a week of preparation, here is what the Week Four contest comes down to:

4 Stats That Matter

  • The Saints are one of two teams in the NFL to have three receivers each with 150-plus receiving yards. Michael Thomas has 18 receptions for 166 yards in 2023 and Rashid Shaheed has nine receptions for 152 yards. Shaheed has averaged 17.3 yards per reception since 2022 (third in the NFL).
  • The Buccaneers have held Alvin Kamara under 80 scrimmage yards in five-straight games. He averaged 52.0 scrimmage yards per game from 2020-22 (122.3 yards per game from 2017-19).
  • Baker Mayfield leads the NFL in completion percentage (78.1) and passer rating (129.4) on third down in 2023. The Saints have allowed the third-lowest passer rating on third down in 2023 (34.5).
  • The Saints' defense has allowed 20 or fewer points in 11-consecutive games (longest active streak). In addition, New Orleans has the longest active streak of sub-400 total yards allowed (19 games). The Saints' defense has not allowed a quarterback to eclipse 300 passing yards in a game since Matt Ryan in Week Nine, 2021 (343).

3 Lineup Notes

  • On Sunday, the Buccaneers will be facing the trio of Thomas, Olave and Shaheed without at least one starting cornerback, and potentially two. Jamel Dean, who sustained an injury to his neck and shoulder area on Monday night against the Eagles, has been ruled out. The Buccaneers hope to get their other starting corner, Carlton Davis III, back in the lineup after he missed the previous two games due to a toe injury. Davis was a full participant in practice on Thursday and practiced in a limited fashion on Friday, but Todd Bowles said he would be a "game-time" decision. If Davis is able to suit up on Sunday, he will be joined by second-year corner Zyon McCollum.
  • In addition, the Bucs' first-round pick Calijah Kancey, who missed the past two games with a calf injury that he re-aggravated in Week One, has been ruled out for Sunday's matchup. His former teammate at Pittsburgh and Bucs' rookie linebacker SirVocea Dennis, was also ruled out, along with cornerback Derrek Pitts (hamstring).
  • In Week Four, the Saints will take the field without their starting right guard and two cornerstone pieces in their secondary. New Orleans ruled out guard Cesar Ruiz (concussion), cornerback Paulson Adebo (hamstring) and safety Jordan Howden (finger) against the Bucs. Quarterback Derek Carr (shoulder) and Foster Moreau (ankle) are both questionable. Ruiz left the Week Three loss to Green Bay early with a concussion and did not return. On Friday, Dennis Allen noted the team will likely continue to play Andrus Peat at left guard, which will shuffle James Hurst over to Ruiz's spot. This is the second consecutive game Adebo has missed due to a hamstring injury, which he sustained during the Saints' final practice in preparation for the matchup with Green Bay.

2 Challenges Presented by the Saints

The Saints' offense has scored only 17.7 points per game through three weeks and the defense has kept the team in games. Starting quarterback Derek Carr is listed as questionable o Friday's injury report with a shoulder injury, meaning Jameis Winston could face his former team. If he does, Winston will have an all-star cast surrounding him with five-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara (returning from three-game suspension), star receivers Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, Rashid Shaheed and versatile threat Taysom Hill.

"Getting an All-Pro player like him [Alvin Kamara] back definitely adds to what they do on offense," said Run Game Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers. "It just creates more added pressure because they have two receivers that can go vertical. They have an excellent possession receiver, then they get Kamara who's good from the dot position and excellent in the screen game. It creates a lot of problems all the way around."

The Saints, who currently rank 21st in rushing yards per game, are hopeful that Kamara can rejuvenate the ground attack. Even though his efficiency per carry has dipped over the past two years, Kamara poses a threat with the ball in his hands. He is adept at running between the tackles with power, along the perimeter with a slash-style to bounce outside and Kamara is a one of the best pure pass-catching backs in the NFL. He can run an enhanced route tree and consistently opens seams by varying his run tempo. With superior balance, Kamara can absorb contact and elude defenders. When opponents are forced to respect the run by allocating resources to the line of scrimmage, it creates advantageous matchups for Thomas, Olave and Shaheed. Shaheed is the go-to on jet sweeps and reverses with his ability to create after the catch and Olave can stretch the field vertically with top end speed and burst on all three levels. Thomas is a craftsman, able to play in any style to gain an edge whether physical or finesse. He sells his routes, baiting defensive backs into submission.

Defensively, stalwarts Cam Jordan and Demario Davis spearhead the unit. The Saints' defense is ranked 10th against the run and eighth against the pass. Jordan, who is one of the most dominant defenders of the last decade, is relentless of the edge. He consistently demands double teams and is as disruptive against the run as he is at dropping quarterbacks. Jordan has a vast array of moves in his arsenal and Davis is the quarterback of the Saints' defense. Davis, the middle linebacker, is explosive downhill, instinctive and relentless in pursuit. He is proficient at covering both backs/tight ends and is physical in the run game, stonewalling rushers at the point with earth-shattering hits. Davis finds his way into the backfield on blitzes and is a voracious student of the game. For some veterans, regression occurs but for the aforementioned Saints' duo, maturation has led to their continued reign of terror.

"They haven't lost a step," Dave Canales stated on Cam Jordan and Demario Davis. "They look fantastic. Cam still has all of his power – he has great hands. Demario, he's big on just kind of evaluating the formations, taking his shots when he feels like he can. That's something that we have to be aware of – he's going to take his shots, so have your eyes up [on] on 56. Runs are a lot more successful when we put a hat on 56. They look great, they look fantastic."

In the secondary, both Alontae Taylor and Marshon Lattimore lead the NFL in passes defensed and forced incompletions. The Saints play a heavy dose of man coverage, which is a testament to the faith the coaching staff has in their lockdown abilities. Sunday will be a hard-fought battle between receivers and defensive backs.

1 Key Thought from Dave Canales

On run game mentality:

"Not that every run has been blocked perfectly, but I'm excited about the guys getting guys covered up. At this point now, it's just about building the right mentality in the run game and for [the players] it's reps – seeing the mid-zone, seeing the down-hill stuff, seeing the gun runs [and] kind of feeling where those voids are going to be. I think that'll help to really boost Rachaad [White's] confidence in being decisive in some of the runs. I think, again, that's just a rep thing at this point in three games. We have to continue to stay with it and I think one thing you'll learn is I'm going to be a little bit stubborn about running that ball and having that balance. It's not going to be that we're just going to run it every time, but in our self-scout up to this point, it's been a good balance. I think we'll continue to improve as they get more reps and more rhythm with the runs."

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