-The Saints had a little bit of a slow start by their standards after beating the Buccaneers in Week One of this season. It's played into why statistically, they don't look exactly the same as the team that won the NFC South last year. But make no mistake: this is a dangerous team coming into Tampa By with the third-best rushing defense and top-10 offense with a veteran quarterback in Drew Brees still at the helm.
Perhaps his most potent weapon, especially with wide receiver Michael Thomas potentially playing his first game since Week One this Sunday, is running back Alvin Kamara. The Buccaneers have talked all week about what a dynamic playmaker he is – a game-wrecker in every sense of the word. And this Bucs' defense knows that.
"He presents a huge challenge and he's playing a lot faster than he was the first time we played them," said Defensive Coodinator Todd Bowles. "He's doing everything for them and he's probably one of the best in the league – probably in the top two or three that you talk about here. It doesn't matter how much speed you have on defense – he's so elusive, yet he's strong, he can use power when need be, speed when need be, he can catch the ball, he can run the ball [and] he does all the little things right. He has great body control and that's a tough task for anybody. We're just going to have to rally to the ball and get as many hats as we can to try and stop him."
What's interesting is that the Bucs' defense has been one of the best units at containing Kamara. Since Bowles took over as coordinator, Kamara has never eclipsed 75 yards rushing. Their last meeting in Week One, he had just 16 yards on the ground. He was held to 67 total yards of offense and for a pass-catching back like him, that's not what he's used to at all. This season, he's averaging 62 rushing yards and nearly 80 passing yards per game. Whatever the Bucs do against him, it seems to work.
"Kamara's a great back," said defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh. "He's one that's very, very difficult to track because he's [the] dot back, offset back [and] split out wide. It's somebody that you have to always be looking for to see where he's going to be aligning and account for him. Whether it's one guy or two guys, we're fortunate enough that we have great linebackers that we can match up one-on-one with. Obviously, a guy with that, you're probably going to have some double teams and just figuring out what scheme you want to run against him. He's definitely an elite back and a guy that's a game-changer that we want to shut down because they've been running a lot of their offense [through him], especially with No. 13 (Michael Thomas) being out."
The last time Thomas played was in fact, Week One against the Bucs. He's expected to make his return this week and when he does, he'll be facing a Tampa Bay team that looks quite a bit different than the last time around – especially on offense.
"I just think from a communication standpoint we're better," said Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich on Thursday. "You've got to think – that was me and Tom [Brady's] first game together. It's your first game together and you're playing an opponent that's a really good football team [and] an opponent that has played a lot of football together from a coaches [and] players' standpoint. [Those] guys have been together a very long time, so we knew it would be a tough task for us to go into their building and go in there and try to find a way to win a football game. That was the toughest thing. With this summer being the way that it is, we had to figure a lot of things out. That's a tough team to try to figure a lot of things out with a team that's as well coached as they are, have the players that they have on their team and has been together [and] been in big games. That team has been in a lot of big football games together and we just have to do what we've got to do to try to come out and play well Sunday night."
Halfway through the season and the Buccaneers have been in some big games together, too. They've been able to rally themselves back for some dramatic come-from-behind victories, led by the one and only Tom Brady.
"Every year is a little different, I'll say that," Brady said about facing the Saints for the second time this season. "Football is always changing – guys come and go, coaches come and go, the teams change and the venues change. That's football. Week One, we had no preseason games, so we were trying to just learn each other [and] learn what to do. We played a really good opponent, who plays well at home [and] who doesn't make mistakes. Any time you play a good team, it's got to be great complementary football. We turned the ball over two times, [had] a pick-six – this is a team you can't make mistakes against. When you make them, it just magnifies. We're trying to be that team. We're playing a team that has been great in this division for a long time. They've got a great quarterback, [they are] really well-coached, they've got a great defense, some really talented defensive players [and] they score points offensively, so it's going to be a huge challenge. We're going to have to step up and really meet the challenge."
The Bucs may look different but facing off against quarterback Drew Brees is something Brady himself has been doing for a while. As in, over two decades a while. In college the two were both Big Ten quarterbacks and played each other while Brady was a Michigan Wolverine and Brees was a Purdue Boilermaker. Brady got the best of Brees, 35-12, in that game.
"I think we've both been around for quite a while," Brady smiled. "He's a great quarterback and he's been so productive over a lot of years, especially at the Saints. I was competing against him when he was at Purdue – the two of us were playing each other. I played him at Michigan. He's been a hell of a player. I've known a lot of guys that know him. I've played with a lot of guys who have been to the Saints. Then, my roommate when I first got to the pros went to Purdue, Dave Nugent. I've just heard a lot of great stories about him over the years and I've just kind of watched how he's handled himself on and off the field. He's just an impressive guy. I have a lot of respect for him as a player [and] as a person. We're both closer to the end then we are the beginning. I think we both still enjoy being out there on the field with our teammates playing and competing, and it's going to be a very competitive game Sunday night."
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