Bucs are underdogs to Saints in must-win game

by Gary Shelton on December 6, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

McCoy has 2.5 sacks against Brees in 14 games./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Excuse me, but isn't this where we started?

Then, there were high expectations for the Saints. There were none for the Bucs.

Then, Drew Brees was one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Jameis Winston was suspended.

Then, the Bucs shocked the league with an upset victory. Now, they have a chance to do it again.

Three months later, and once again, Tampa Bay is a massive underdog against the Saints, and no one can figure out how these defensive backs can cover those cornerbacks. And once again, the Bucs hope to have a puncher's chance as they face New Orleans.

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Don't be mistaken. It is a bigger game for Tampa Bay than it is for New Orleans, despite the Saints loss to Dallas. If the Bucs lose this one, any chance of a winning season is gone. Probably, any chance at the playoffs is, too.

Still, the Bucs have won two in a row, and they're at home, and the defense is playing better, and the Bucs have won the last two meeting between the teams.

"We know that our playoff game has started already — lose one, we’re out," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We know that – I know that. That’s basically it.”

Hanging with Brees is always a chore. Brees has won 16 of his 26 games agains the Bucs, although he has only three wins in his last seven.

"He's very impressive," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "At one point I think it was 27 touchdowns against one interception (it's now 30-3). He has a 77 percent completion percentage, which is going to be an NFL record if he keeps it there. It’s very impressive what he’s doing. The quarterback play in our division has always been good and you’ve got two recent MVPs in Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Cam (Newton), but it’s hard to imagine Brees not being in the mix.”

Over his career, Brees has a 97.6 quarterback rating. He's thrown for almost 7500 yards and 51 touchdowns.

"Brees is so accurate throwing, number one," said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "Number two, he’s quick with getting rid of the ball and they’ve done a great job of protecting him. It’s all together a different challenge each and every week. We will all have our hands full, that’s for sure.”

The Bucs hope that an improved pass rush will help them. They have had four sacks in each of their last three games.

"I think our players so far have continued to work hard in the practice plan and execute the scheme and the plan that we’ve got," Duffner said. "I think our execution was better. I think our eyes were better — things that we felt like we had to improve on, we did I think in some measure. We still have to tackle better than we did and we had a couple missed fits in the run game, but overall I think the push has been about us as much as anything getting better at the techniques that we’re employing by scheme and executing better and tackling better.”

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy credits the takeaways of the last two weeks.

“Taking the ball away," McCoy said. "Take the ball away, man, it helps. It’s a collective effort. I’m not just saying we take the ball away like all the DBs are finally getting picks – no. Taking the ball away is a group effort. You can take the ball away from a D-lineman on a sack-fumble or it can be a run play — somebody poked the ball out. Collectively, the defense just taking the ball away. It changes everything. When we beat them, I think we won the turnover margin. They do a great job of not losing the turnover margin, that’s why they win so many games. That’s an indicator right there of what we’ve got to do on Sunday.”

Said Koetter: “I think the defensive staff has done an excellent job of working together. They spend a lot of time in that meeting room. I know even on game day Duff’s (Mark Duffner) calling it from the field, but he’s also going back and forth between the other defensive coaches, getting input. When you say getting input on game day, that window of time that you have to get input is seconds because the next call has to go in. Then you have a little bit more time in between series. I think they’ve done a good job of utilizing players and putting guys in different roles. Then I think they’ve done a good job of collaborating, on getting guys in the right spots and then giving more varied looks. I think they’ve done a really nice job in that area.

The Saints are third in the NFL in scoring at 34.9 points per game. The Bucs have given up 29.6 points per game, 30th in the league.

The teams play at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.





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