New Orleans Saints: Previewing team’s divisional round matchup vs Bucs

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Saints Offense vs Bucs Defense

The Saints, on the other hand, don’t have the offense to match with the Bucs.

It’s not as like they have a poor offense, but they are generating nearly half the amount of EPA/play as Tampa, and a large part of their offense is predicated on their rushing ability. They have the fifth-most efficient rushing offense in the NFL, yet against the top run defense in the NFL, that success likely won’t persist.

Thus, the pressure ultimately lies on Drew Brees. In three of the four games since here turned from injury, he has averaged less than 7 yards per attempt and has also thrown three interceptions.

He’ll need to turn things around against the Bucs, who won’t be an easy test. They have the fifth-best defense in terms of EPA/play allowed and have talent at all levels of the field.

According to Pro Football Focus, they are the only team with their two outside cornerbacks (Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis) ranked in the top-25 in terms of PFF grade. Meanwhile, linebacker Lavonte David remains one of the top coverage players at his position, while their pass rush is also strong.

However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t without flaws.

According to PFF, they blitz the third-highest amount, which means that they rely a lot on individual players on one-on-one matchups. Hence, why they have struggled to defend tight ends and running backs, ranking in the top-half in the league in yards allowed versus both.

In Week 9, tight ends Jared Cook and Adam Trautman combined for 60 receiving yards, while Cook and Alvin Kamara combined for 131 receiving yards in Week 1. Picking apart Tampa’s safeties and linebacker Devin White has to be the priority.

Also, with how strong the Bucs are defending outside receivers, leveraging matchups in the slot against nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting has to be a priority.

Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each have spent some time working in the slot, while Deonte Harris saw a lot of snaps against the Bears.

Personally, I’d challenge Tampa Bay to decide whether to have Murphy-Bunting defend Thomas in the slot or have Davis travel with Thomas. Either way, you’re creating some sort of mismatch or chaos for the defense, which is exactly what you need to do against a stout unit.

Most of all, New Orleans cannot run the ball on early downs. They were very reliant on third-down success rate against Chicago, and against a strong run defense and pass rush, that likely won’t translate against the Bucs.

Payton had a pass-heavy mindset in Week 9, so hopefully, that gameplan remains in tact here. With this being such a critical game, I would be shocked if he didn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve.