Most NFL pundits see this one as a shoot-out. Da Queen calls most NFL pundits “idiots” who don’t understand NFCS football! The NFCS is the SEC of the NFL. No other Division has the concentration of large-n-in-charge QB talent or the level of intra-divisional LOATHING as the NFCS (ok, the NFCN also hates each other likepoison, I stand corrected.) The Saints have ruled Raymond James the last few years with the Bucs taking the Dome late in the season in contests where the Saints phoned it in anticipating REAL opponents in the post-season.
This is not last season.
Like the Lions, the Bucs are a sleeper team that had a lot of the pieces in place last season whose off-season moves prove their ready to step out of the long shadow of their Superbowl-winning Divisional rivals. Head Coach Raheem Morris got JACKED out of Coach of the Year honors for turning a 3-13 squad into a 10-6 contender who barely lost a Wild Card berth by a .098 Strength of Victory tie-breaker to Green Bay. Last season, Josh Freeman improved his ’09 QB rating from 3rd worst in the NFL to 6th best (in part due to the hands-on mentoring of Drew Brees in the off-season.) The Bucs had the #1 Rookie WR & RB in Mike Williams & LaGaratte Blount. In the offseason, the Bucs acquired D’Aquin Bowers after his Draft stock plummeted in what could be one of the all-time steals if he stays healthy. Though they haven’t had the Lions’ success so far this season, the Bucs are every bit as good as their 3-2 record despite a legendary beatdown last week at the hands of San Francisco.
Therefore, the Saints have a moral imperative to SQUASH this upstart like an ant under their jack-booted heels lest the Bucs actually amount to something & hasten the end of civilization in 2012 as prophecized in the Mayan Calendar.
Defense. Where oh where has our opportunistic Defense gone? Why am I looking at a -3 TO ratio?! D.C. Gregg Williams has had more success with less talent in the backfield in the past. The factory-defect is in the schematics; Williams’ is blitz-happy which leaves receivers wide open on the backfield in critical 3rd Downs when situations scream “Pass.” You’d think in arguably the most talented Division of QB’s Williams wouldn’t take the cookie-cutter approach for “fill-in-the-blank” passer, but he doesn’t. Instead the D plays every down like Jay Cutler’s in the pocket. Cam Newton got what Matt Schaub got which is what Jay Cutler. Unfortunately, Josh Freeman isn’t Jay Cutler & he will EAT US ALIVE if someone hasn’t smacked Coach Williams with his own clipboard since last week. New Orleans, we have a problem.
But not as big a problem as the Bucs have, luckily. The Bucs gave up 378 YPG in their first 5 games against, let’s be honest, lesser opponents than the Saints have met.
Scoring. So far this season, the Saints have outscored the Bucs this season 157 to 87 points. The Saints average 31.4 points per game (5th best in the NFL). By contrast the Bucs average 17.4 points per game ranks 25th in the League. The Bucs’ Offense is off-kilter this season posing little threat in the air via a passing game that’s only scored 3 TDs to the Saints’ 12 TDs. Most of the Bucs’ points came on the ground where the Saints’ D launches a sturdy Defense that yields only 107.6 YPG ranked 15th. Meanwhile, the Bucs weaker passing game meets a Saint pass D that’s allowed 247 YPG (16th.) Tampa’s Pass D gives up 254.6 YPG (20th) heading into acontest with the Saints’ Passing attack ranked 2nd in the NFL. Stats are only as good as the question they answer; Ex: “How will the Saints are going to beat the crap out of the Bucs?”
QB. Which Josh Freeman will show up? Will it be the big-armed field general who masterminds breathtaking 2nd Half comebacks or the confused & rattled playcaller from last week? Looking big picture, the 3rd-yr. starter has struggled to maintain consistency this season. His QBR’s fallen to a Jay Cutler-esque 74.1 (29th) & he’s only thrown for 3 TDs this season. Despite getting hit with some of the NFL’s most vicious pass-rushers this season, Drew Brees remains….Drew Brees. Proving once again there’s world of difference between being good & being consistently good, Drew Brees is both. Young Grasshopper isn’t ready to snatch the playbook from the Master’s hand.
Mischief On & Off the Field. The Bucs’ Offense is the 2nd most penalized in the NFL with a whopping 44 that cost them 360 yards so far this season. Last week’s Fiasco in Frisco culminated in Raheem Morris being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct with 9:05 left in the 3rd. Granted officiating has reached never-before-seen depths of sheer LUNACY this season, however the flag flown on Morris shows a lack of discilpline from the top down at best. At worst, it's indicative of a greater team problem throughout the organization: outlaw mentality. Consider the $250K fine the NFL levied against the Bucs for illegally contacting players during the lockout for which Raheem Morris refused to apologize in ADDITION to a number of offseason arrests & T-Jack’s suspension. After turning down HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the Bucs are a Tweet or two away from starring in 2011’s “NFL Teams Gone Wild” video. Do distractions breed dissent that catch up to the team eventually? Go ask Rex Ryan. Or better yet, Coach Sean Payton who guards the Saints’ culture like a temple dog & roots out miscreants like Reggie Bust, Jeremy Shockey & Joe Horn who try to buck it. (And yes, we learned the HARD WAY after the Lazy-Boys-in-the-locker-room era of Jim Haslost.)
Injuries & the Return of T-Jack. The Saints escaped injury last week in Carolina, whereas the Bucs are down 2 key players for this week’s contest. LeGarrette Blount left San Francisco with a knee injury; last season’s leading Rookie RB will sit out. DT Gerald McCoy who leads the Bucs in tackles is out with an ankle injury, forcing the Bucs to move Rookie LDE D’Aquan Bowers to the position this week.
As of one “T-Jack” in the NFL wasn’t enough, Safety Tanard Jackson returns after a 56-week suspension for an unspecified NFL substance abuse violation. The Bucs announced Tuesday Jackson will be Active & is expected to play tomorrow. Jackson led the Bucs in tackles prior to his suspension & how his return impacts the Defense will be interesting (for at least 60 minutes of regulation time.)
Bottom Line. If the Fiasco in Frisco wasn’t part of a bigger problem of an Offense struggling to find it, the Bucs could (theoretically) shake off last week’s beatdown & tie the NFCS. They won’t (as long as our D.C. doesn’t think it’s still Week 2.)
Prediction. The Saints bring SHAME to Raymond James/take Bucs to woodshed for a televised 30-10 spanking.