Sunday the Saints will play their second NFC South game of the season, losing their previous on the road to the Panthers. This matchup is interesting because it pits the statistically most inept defense in NFL history through five games against a pretty poor offense. It's fair to assume they'll still move the football, but how effectively? The Bucs are struggling and just 2-4, so their season has been only slightly better than the Saints'. This despite a very active offseason in free agency attempting to revamp their roster. Tampa was a difficult site for the Saints a year ago, who had one of their three defeats there. The Saints lost that game 26-20 on the heels of four Saints turnovers. That obviously can't happen. The Bucs are looking to build off a 38-10 beatdown they gave the Chiefs last week, while the Saints are hoping a bye week recharged their batteries enough to turn their season around. Here's my take on the Bucs.
OFFENSE:As mentioned above, the Bucs are a poor offensive unit. Adding Vincent Jackson at receiver and Carl Nicks at guard were supposed to be the crowned jewels of their free agency class, but while they've both been good it hasn't helped the offense play well overall. Without those two you have to imagine they'd be even worse. Their primary runner is Doug Martin, a rookie, and he's struggled at times so far this season and I'd rate his campaign so far as merely passable. You'll remember his backup LaGarrette Blount as a dangerous player that's hurt the Saints in the past, though. At quarterback it's still Josh Freeman, and he's been up and down again this season, struggling a great deal with his completion percentage and accuracy. His primary targets are Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams with no one else really a threat in the passing game. If you can contain their two wideouts there's not much else that can hurt you when Freeman drops back. Their offensive line is above average anchored by the mammoth left side of Donald Penn and Carl Nicks who are both very good. At center they feature a solid veteran in Jeremy Zuttah, and I view the right side of their line with Dotson and Larsen as weaker. This offense is stopped dead in it's tracks if it can't run the football, so that's the key for the Saints. That means a heavy dose of Brodrick Bunkley, Cam Jordan and Will Smith. Yes, that also means the pass rush will be a liability, so it's important to mix a healthy dose of blitzing. This will be a tough game to call for Steve Spagnuolo but he's going to have to roll the dice and hope he catches the offense in the right play for his call. It should be an interesting chess match against two struggling units.DEFENSE:The Bucs are surprisingly ranked 25th overall defensively as well, though they shut down the Chiefs last week. Despite this horrid ranking they do rank 4th in the NFL against the run, so the big chunk of yardage is obviously coming through the air where they rank a woeful 31st. If it was up to Sean Payton he'd probably throw on every play. Having nice weather would help the Saints be more efficient in that area, but they should be able to move the ball throwing on the Bucs. Whether or not they can run is another question. The scariest players on this defense are on the interior line, with Gerald McCoy playing at an extremely high level, and Michael Bennett getting to the quarterback frequently. If the Saints abandon the run and throw incessantly, which I expect, controlling the pass rush of those two will be paramount. There's also Ronde Barber who just refuses to retire and seems to burn the Saints each and every single year. Starting corner Aqid Talib is suspended for taking Adderrall, hopefully not dealt to him by Garrett Hartley, but that won't help the Bucs' already weak pass defense. Brees should be able to expose them repeatedly, particularly in the slot. That said, Jimmy Graham hasn't practiced yet this week and having him is of course paramount to this offense. SPECIAL TEAMS: Connor Barth has only missed one kick all year and it was over 50. Punter Michael Koenen is respected as very good as well, however he is known to outkick his coverage and sometimes put his gunners in a bad position. Darren Sproles may get a shot at a return against this guy. The Bucs have also been atrocious all season returning kicks and they are virtually zero threat to the Saints in that department... given their struggles and the Saints having premiere coverage units. This is an advantage the Saints must exploit. [follow]