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John DeShazier's key ingredients to a Saints victory presented by Papa John's

Posted Nov 3, 2017

Pass defense needs to rise to Bucs challenge

The New Orleans Saints haven’t won six consecutive games since the 2011 team crafted an eight-game winning streak to finish off the regular season. But this one doesn’t figure to be easy; Tampa Bay is an NFC South Division opponent, and those games rarely are easy. True, the Buccaneers (2-5) are losers of four straight and have had a disappointing season so far. But the Saints’ last six games against Tampa Bay have been decided by seven points or less, and the Bucs’ four-game losing streak has included two five-point margins and a three-point loss. The Saints have a chance to do something that hasn’t often been done in franchise history – there only have been seven seasons in franchise history in which the team has won six or more consecutive regular-season games (1987, ’88, ’91, ’06, ’09, ’10 and ’11). Here are a few ways in which this team can join that select group:

1. Rightfully, we have lavished praise on the Saints’ pass defense during the five-game winning streak. New Orleans has allowed just three passing touchdowns, 13.2 points and 158.8 net passing yards per game, while recording 15 sacks and nine interceptions (as many interceptions as the ’16 and ’15 teams each had during their 16-game seasons). Tampa Bay may present the biggest challenge for defensive end Cam Jordan (team-leading 5.5 sacks), safety Kenny Vaccaro (team-leading three interceptions), rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (two interceptions and Velcro coverage) and the rest of the Saints’ defense. The Bucs average 295.4 passing yards per game, second-most in the league, and are led by quarterback Jameis Winston (1,853 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions), receiver Mike Evans (39 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns) and tight end Cameron Brate (31-405-4). The tight ends really have been problematic for defenses; rookie O.J. Howard has chipped in 13 catches for 221 yards and three scores. Winston can’t be allowed to get too comfortable in the pocket. The Saints have been outstanding at keeping teams out of the end zone, and it’ll take a huge effort to continue the pace.

2. When running back Mark Ingram had an issue with fumbling last season – he lost a fumble in consecutive games in 2016 – he was benched during a game, and came back the next week to run for 158 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. And he didn’t fumble the rest of the season in 116 carries. He has shown the ability to bounce back and the Saints need that from their leading rusher (107 carries for 464 yards and four touchdowns), who lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter on Sunday, against the Bucs. Rookie Alvin Kamara (42 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns, plus 31 catches for 257 yards and a touchdown) has been a beast, but the Saints have a good tag team working and Tampa Bay allows 111.7 rushing yards per game.

3. Take note of New Orleans’ third-down conversion rate against Tampa Bay. The Saints went 2 for 9 (22 percent) against Chicago and are at 38.1 percent this season. By comparison, the team was at 48.6 percent last season, 47.7 in ’15, 48.3 in ’14, 43.9 in ’13, 44 in ’12, 56.7 in ’11 … well, you get the point. The Saints last finished at less than 40 percent on third-down conversions in ’05, at 38.9 percent. Those conversions keep the defense off the field, keep the offense on the field and keep alive scoring opportunities. The lack of conversions hasn’t been a detriment during the winning streak but at some point, it will.

4. Possibly, the Saints are beyond the point of the offense needing to score 31 points and roll up 450 yards in order for the team to win. However, New Orleans never will be beyond the point of needing to take care of the football, and that simply hasn’t happened in the last three games. The Saints have won despite committing three turnovers against Detroit, two against Green Bay and two more against Chicago. Usually, that’s not a winning formula and definitely, it’s a trend that has to cease.

5. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy triggers the pass rush for Tampa Bay. He’s a load to deal with in the middle, so center Max Unger, left guard Andrus Peat and right guard Senio Kelemete are under the spotlight this week along the offensive line. They have to keep McCoy and Co. out of Drew Brees’ face and allow the Saints quarterback time to work on the Bucs’ secondary.

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