Bucs have to tame the Saints’ biggest weapons

by Gary Shelton on January 15, 2021

in general

Brady says the Bucs have improved./TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Friday, 4 a.m.

To upset the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs have to blunt their sharpest weapons. It will not be easy as the Bucs play the Saints in a divisional playoff game on Sunday.

The Saints had their way with the Bucs this season, sweeping a pair of games by a combined score of 72-26. Along the way, Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Taysom Hill, Trey Hendrickson and others starred against the Bucs.

Tampa Bay struggled in both games, played in Week One and Week Nine. Tom Brady threw five interceptions in the two games and was sacked six times. The Bucs ran for just eight yards in the second meeting. And New Orleans won both games easily.

Now, the Bucs are hoping that their improvement can help close the gap.

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Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles thinks his team is better now.

"Just maturity," Bowles said. "You learn something from every game as it goes along. We’ve got a lot of young guys back there from a maturity lesson and learning standpoint – and hopefully a patience standpoint. You learn a lot more going forward and it builds more character. You don’t want it to take getting your butt kicked to build character, but some of these games are important that you build things like that and you learn from them.”

Still, slowing the Saints will be a chore.

In two games, Brees hit 44 of 62 passes for 382 yards and six touchdowns. Versatile running back Hill hit three of three passes for 86 yards. Kamara scored five touchdowns and caught 10 passes. Hendrickson had three sacks.

And so it has gone.

The Bucs have to hope that Brady has a little more time to work in the pocket.

“I think any quarterback that has four seconds [to throw] – it’s beneficial to them," said Bucs' offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. "I think these guys have been playing at a high level all year, really. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us Sunday, but with that being said, these guys come to work every day, they play their tails off week in and week out. Sometimes we won [and] sometimes we lost, but nothing has changed with them. The way we’re approaching the game is going to be the same week in and week out. We’re here to get better and win football games, and they take that approach. They work their tails off a lot. Throughout practice you always see them doing drills [and] doing things together, collectively, to allow them to play well on Sunday. As a coach, you’ve got that appreciation for a group of players to be able to go out day in and day out [and] put the work in that’s needed to be done so that we can play well week in and week out.”

Brady said that limiting turnovers would be crucial.

“It’s big for both teams," Brady said. "Turnover margin – out of all of the stats – I think that one always speaks to wins and losses just about more than any other stat. Taking care of the football maximizes your ability to score. Taking the football away minimizes their ability to score. It’s very difficult to score if you don’t have the ball. If you give the ball away, it gives them more chances to score. When you play good teams it always comes down to that. That’s a big point of emphasis – we’ve got to protect it in the passing game.

"That responsibility obviously falls on the quarterback, but it falls on a lot of other people too. It falls on all of us making a concerted effort to be on the same page in the passing game, so that we can play with anticipation [and] play with confidence. There [are] a lot of things that go into that. Obviously in the running game, same thing – [running] backs taking care of the ball, making sure there is no free runners at the back, so he has the ability to protect himself and the football. Hustling to the ball, which means if there’s a ball knocked out, we’ve got to be there to recover it. It’s more than just an individual thing, it’s really a team thing. That goes both ways on defense too. You need a lot of guys hustling to the ball in case the ball does get knocked out, [so] you have guys there to recover. The pass rush and the coverage all work together. The faster you can get to the quarterback, the quicker the quarterback has to make a decision, the less sure the quarterback is [and] the better opportunity that is for the defenders to get hands on the ball. Those are both team stats and they’re critically important to the success of the team. The turnover margin will obviously play a big role in the outcome of the game.”

Brady thinks the Bucs have come a long way since the earlier games against the Saints.

“I think we’ve certainly come a long way," Brady said. "I think we’re just going to keep improving. The more we’re together, the more we’re talking about football, the more we’re trying to be on the same page, the better it is. It’s a complex game – there’s a lot of moving parts [and] there’s a lot of coordination involved between a lot of different positions. I think the quarterback-receiver relationship is really important. The more that I’ve been around Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], Antonio [Brown], ‘Scooter’ (Scotty Miller), Tyler [Johnson], ‘Mick’ (Jaydon Mickens) – the better it gets. The tight end position, I’ve been around Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) for a long time – I know exactly what he’s thinking [and] how he looks. Cam [Brate] is a pretty easy guy to get up to speed with, too. We’re just going to keep trying to make improvements. We’ve got a big test this weekend [against] one of the great teams in the NFL [who has] consistently been one of the great teams for a long time. We’re going to have to go play a great football game.”

Brady speaks highly of Brees.

“He’s a lot younger than me – he’s 18 months younger than me," Brady said. "18 months ago, I felt pretty good, so I’ve got a little advanced age on him – and experience. I’m hanging in there. He’s had a terrific year. He’s a great player – I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve always had a great amount of respect for him going all the way back to his Purdue days. My roommate when I first got to the Patriots was from Purdue and was really good friends with Drew. I always just kept up with him and have gotten to know him somewhat well over the years. I just think so much of him as a person and as a player. I know what it takes to do what he’s doing [and] he knows what it takes to do what I’m doing. I think there’s just a lot of mutual respect.”

The Bucs play the Saints at 6:40 p.m. Sunday.

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