The Buccaneers hit the road today for their first road division matchup against the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints have won the division the last four years. One of the goals of this team at the beginning of the season was to wrestle the division title from the Saints.
The Bucs suffered two of their regular-season losses to the Saints last season. Tampa lost the home opener in New Orleans, and they were blown at home in embarrassing fashion 38-3 on Sunday night football.
This is an important game for the Bucs.
The Saints have been a thorn in the side of the Bucs the last few seasons, and now Jameis Winston is the starting quarterback for the Saints.
Playing a more controlled style of football than he did with Bucs, Winston has the Saints off to a 4-2 start. Winston is averaging 186 passing yards a game with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians talked about the difference in Winston this season versus his last season with the Bucs:
“He’s probably throwing it 15 times less a game. They’re playing with a lead, and we didn’t have that many leads that season, so we had to throw it. So, yeah, he’s playing very, very well at the position.”
Winston talked about his time with the Bucs and the upcoming matchup this weekend:
“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m very grateful for that organization and the Glazer family for giving me the opportunity to be drafted No. 1 overall to that city. That city has done a lot for me, and I know I’ve done a lot for that city, so that’s why I stay there. I definitely love that city, and now we get to play them. So this week, it’s time to play. All the lovey-dovey stuff is behind.”
Like the Bucs defense, the Saints defense has also shown steady improvement through the season and is currently ranked third against the run and eighth overall.
Arians talked about the Saints’ defense:
“The entire defense is by far the best 11 that we’ve faced this year. The front seven – Demario Davis is one of the best, the same with Cam Jordan. So, this is a big physical defense with a great secondary. Yeah, the defense stands out.”
The Bucs offensive line will again have a considerable challenge ahead of them as they will try to keep Tom Brady’s jersey clean. The O-line has done a much better job the past two games protecting Brady allowing zero sacks.
They will need another great effort in New Orleans today.
The running game has been steadily improving. The Bucs had their best game on the ground against Chicago last weekend, running for 182 yards. This game will pose another challenge for the run game against the Saint’s third-best run defense.
The Bucs will enter the game boasting the NFL’s number one run defense, giving up just 67 yards a game.
Alvin Kamara is still one of the better backs in the league. He is a threat running and catching the ball, and the Bucs will need to pay attention to where he is on every snap. Kamara leads the Saints with 417 yards rushing, and is second in receiving with 241 yards.
Arians talked about how good Kamara is this week:
“It all starts with 41 (Alvin Kamara). You’ve got to stop 41. If Alvin’s running around, we’ve got problems.”
The Bucs did get some better news on the injury front. Jason Pierre-Paul and Lavonte David will all play against the Saints. It will be a game-time decision for Rob Gronkowski and Richard Sherman. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is out for this game.
Before the season began, I had this penciled in as one of the Buc’s four losses this season. Jameis Winston has played better than anyone has anticipated, and Michael Thomas has yet to catch a pass.
The Bucs have a one-and-a-half-game lead in the division and can take control of the division with a win in New Orleans today.
Mike Evans has struggled at times against the Saint’s defense. Look for Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski (if he is cleared to play) to have big games today against the Saint’s defense. Leonard Fournette will need to have a good game running the ball to keep the Saint’s defense honest.
The Bucs defense will be ready to play. Jason Pierre-Paul talked about the matchup with Winston this weekend.
“I can’t wait, I can’t wait. I’m actually going to text him and tell him to get ready. I can’t wait to play Jameis. It’s going to be fun. He’s like a brother to me. I remember we were hiking in the offseason in Colorado, but I can’t wait to hunt him down. It’s crazy. Jameis is a different type of breed.”
There will be a lot of emotions in this game for both Jameis Winston and the entire Buccaneers team.
In a close game, I like the Bucs to win 26-23, go to 7-1 on the season, and take firm control of first place in the division.