Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
The Bucs are coming off a close win against the Arizona Cardinals which ended their 4-game losing streak. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but the team was able to overcome an opening drive interception by Jameis Winston and not let it affect the outcome of the matchup. After the game, Tampa decided to release former 1st round pick, Vernon Hargreaves. Bruce Arians cited that it was for the lack of effort, which should send a sign to the rest of the roster that no spot is guaranteed, even when it is a position of need. The Bucs are facing a tough test in an angry New Orleans Saints team who just got upset by the 2-7 Atlanta Falcons. After falling to the Saints 31-24 earlier in the year, I am sure the team will want to avoid the season sweep, so here are my Top 5 things I want to see from the Bucs against the Saints:
1. How will the banged-up young secondary hold up against Drew Brees and Michael Thomas?
As I mentioned, the team moved on from Hargreaves, so they will be leaning on their rookies and 2nd-year players to hold down the secondary for the rest of the season. The Bucs will be without MJ Stewart due to a knee injury and Carlton Davis is entering the contest with a questionable tag due to a hip injury, but he is expected to play on Sunday. After getting picked apart by Kyler Murray, they now face Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, and Michael Thomas, who is on pace to break Marvin Harrison’s single-season reception record. If Tampa wants a chance to pull off the upset, then it comes down to them limiting Thomas and not letting Brees pick them apart in different areas of the field.
2. Does Jameis Winston protect the ball?
I am not sure why I still am listing this as one of the top things I want to see when every week it is expected that Winston will turn the ball over at some point. He can be one of the most difficult quarterbacks to watch because he can look like a legit NFL quarterback throughout points of the game, but then he will make boneheaded mistakes that you can’t forget. If he wants to lead his team to victory against the Saints, then he will have to play mistake-free football. He has only 1 game on the season where he didn’t throw an interception or fumbled the ball away. History says he can’t get it done, will it FINALLY change come Sunday?
3. Can the defensive front take advantage of an Andrus Peat-less Saints offensive line?
New Orleans lost one of their best offensive lineman, Andrus Peat, to a broken arm which will sideline him for the next 6 weeks. The Bucs defensive front has to love their chances of getting after Brees to force sacks and potential turnovers if they can take advantage of his absence. Tampa’s defense is already stout against the run, so this should even help them out more in bottling up Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. While the backend of the defense is one of the weakest points of the Bucs, their defensive front can be the biggest reason why the unit finds success against the New Orleans offense. Vita Vea, JPP, and Shaw Barrett need to be the difference in this matchup to give their team a great chance to walk away with the victory.
4. Is it still Ronald Jones’ backfield?
After getting named the starter heading into their matchup with the Cardinals, Jones saw 11 rushing attempts for 29 yards for a touchdown, while grabbing 8 receptions for 77 yards. Even though he was the starter, he only saw 46% of the snaps, which was the 3rd highest on the season. A part of that was his fumble in the 2nd half, which ended up sidelining him for the rest of the game and Peyton Barber ended up taking over to finish off the game. It will be interesting to see if BA turns back to the more explosive back or tries to play it safe with the veteran. I hope to see him give the young fella another shot at the lead role and let him grow within the offense.
5. Can the Bucs avoid the season sweep from the Saints?
New Orleans does own the series against Tampa Bay, 34-21. But, the Saints haven’t swept the Bucs since the 2014 season. Since then, the teams have split the season series, so based on the recent history, Tampa won’t be an easy out for New Orleans on Sunday. While it is unlikely that the Bucs can make the playoffs, if they want to keep their chances alive then they will need to continue to pile up wins to climb back into the race. A win over the Saints can show they aren’t ready to pack it in and look forward to the 2020 season. Arians always has this team ready to compete, so I expect a close NFC South divisional matchup in Raymond James Stadium.