Are the Bucs good enough to face the Saints?

by Gary Shelton on November 6, 2020

in general

Leftwich must meld Brown into the mix./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

To be the best, you have to beat the best.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, it comes down to this. No matter what the Power Rankings say, no matter how many recognizable names they have added to the roster, the Bucs will have to prove they can compete with the New Orleans Saints on the field.

The Saints, after all, have won the NFC South three years in a row and six times over the last 15 years. They still have Sean Payton and Drew Brees and Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara and Cam Jordan and others. They still assume ownership of the division.

Are the Bucs improved enough to take on all of that?

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In Week One, they were not. The big names of the Bucs had just been thrown into a huddle without a preseason.

Now, in Week Nine, will it be different?

“I just think from a communication standpoint we’re better," said offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. "You’ve got to think – that was me and Tom (Brady’s) first game together. It’s your first game together and you’re playing an opponent that’s a really good football team, an opponent that has played a lot of football together from a coaches' (and) players’ standpoint.

"(Those) guys have been together a very long time, so we knew it would be a tough task for us to go into their building and go in there and try to find a way to win a football game. That was the toughest thing. With this summer being the way that it is, we had to figure a lot of things out. That’s a tough team to try to figure a lot of things out with a team that’s as well coached as they are, have the players that they have on their team and has been together [and] been in big games. That team has been in a lot of big football games together and we just have to do what we’ve got to do to try to come out and play well Sunday night.”

Added quarterback Tom Brady: "We turned the ball over two times, (had) a pick-six – this is a team you can’t make mistakes against. When you make them, it just magnifies. We’re trying to be that team. We’re playing a team that has been great in this division for a long time. They’ve got a great quarterback, [they are] really well-coached, they’ve got a great defense, some really talented defensive players [and] they score points offensively, so it’s going to be a huge challenge. We’re going to have to step up and really meet the challenge.”

The Saints have beaten the Bucs four straight times.

This time, the Bucs will add wide receiver Antonio Brown to their huddle, although it is unclear how many snaps he will play.

“I think I’ve got a good idea of what he’d be able to do Sunday night," Leftwich said. "He’s always in the best shape, so you’re never really worried about that. Obviously, he has to do some things to get in football shape – ball-security-type things – those are the type of things you’re always worried about. But, he’s in shape (and) he’s conditioned. I can talk to him in a way to get him to understand, to make sure that he’s ready to roll and to understand what he needs to do so he can play fast. I feel good about where he’s at. I don’t really know how much he’ll play, but I feel good where he’s at.

“We’re doing all the things that we do, really, every day. Most of the guys are over here early, most of the guys are always doing extra [and] most of the guys are meeting with guys. It’s no different with him. Obviously, we’re trying to get him sped up because it is his first week [and] it is his first real practice. But, I think from a communication standpoint of him understanding what to do – obviously, he won’t go out there and play 75-80 plays, so he doesn’t have to know everything. We’ll put him in positions to have success and that’s how you’ve got to kind of do it this early on. Today was really his official first practice. It was good to see him out there. We just have to put him in positions to have some sort of success for the plays that he is in.”

Brady said it could take some time with him and Brown. “It’s been only one game and two weeks practice (all time)," Brady said. "Football is a tough sport. It demands a lot out of you physically, mentally [and] emotionally. There is no shortcut to getting on the same page. You’ve just got to put the work in. Today was a good start to practice, but it’s a long process and we’re just going to have to work at it.”

Even if Brown plays well, however, the Bucs face a challenge in stopping Alvin Kamara, who ran for just 16 yards in the first meeting between the teams.

“He presents a huge challenge and he’s playing a lot faster than he was the first time we played them," said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. "He’s doing everything for them and he’s probably one of the best in the league – probably in the top two or three that you talk about here. It doesn’t matter how much speed you have on defense – he’s so elusive, yet he’s strong, he can use power when need be, speed when need be, he can catch the ball, he can run the ball (and) he does all the little things right. He has great body control and that’s a tough task for anybody. We’re just going to have to rally to the ball and get as many hats as we can to try and stop him.”

Bowles pointed out that Thomas was a headache, too.

“He impacts the game plan a lot," Bowles said. "Kamara was enough, but they get all their weapons back in Thomas and [Emmanuel] Sanders – they’ll be fully loaded, obviously – and you have [Jared] Cook as well. They’ve got a bunch of guys making plays [and] it gives Drew Brees more options to go to. It makes us play more disciplined football. We can’t favor one guy or the other. We’ve got to be sound in our technique, sound in everything we do and just try to slow him down. He’s dangerous and he’s probably one of the best in the league.”

Of course, Brees is the pivotal player for New Orleans.

“I think we’ve both been around for quite a while," Brady said. "He’s a great quarterback and he’s been so productive over a lot of years, especially at the Saints. I was competing against him when he was at Purdue – the two of us were playing each other. I played him at Michigan. He’s been a hell of a player. I’ve known a lot of guys that know him. I’ve played with a lot of guys who have been to the Saints.

"Then, my roommate when I first got to the pros went to Purdue, Dave Nugent. I’ve just heard a lot of great stories about him over the years and I’ve just kind of watched how he’s handled himself on and off the field. He’s just an impressive guy. I have a lot of respect for him as a player [and] as a person. We’re both closer to the end then we are the beginning. I think we both still enjoy being out there on the field with our teammates playing and competing, and it’s going to be a very competitive game Sunday night.”

The Bucs and Saints start their game at 8:20 p.m. Sunday night.

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