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New Orleans Saints vs. Bucs: Five things to watch

Posted Sep 14, 2013

Some top storylines to pay attention to Sunday

1. ROAD TO SUCCESS – As the New Orleans Saints well know, division winning-caliber NFL teams are the ones who successfully are able to transfer their success from home to the road. New Orleans won a huge home opener against the Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, 23-17. Now, the trick is to show the same resolve in Tampa, Fla. The Saints were 3-5 on the road last season, but one of those wins was against the Buccaneers. Getting off to a quick start on the road will help New Orleans get off to the quick start it wants this season. It’ll be sweltering, but it’s not as if Saints players aren’t used to a little heat and humidity.

2. RINSE, REPEAT – As phenomenal as the Saints’ defense was in the season opener against Atlanta’s high-powered offense (17 points and 367 yards allowed, two turnovers forced, three sacks and a game-sealing stop in the red zone), that doesn’t mean anything this week. So hopefully, there hasn’t been any problem with resting on laurels for the unit. It has to flush that game out of the system and repeat the performance in order to establish consistency. Tampa Bay’s offense may appear to be a little shaky (12 first downs, 250 yards and 17 points in a season-opening, 18-17 loss to the Jets), but New Orleans isn’t in a position to underestimate an opponent.

3. ON THE RUN – All the offseason talk about balancing the offense turned into action against Atlanta, when the Saints finished with 29 rushing attempts (including a couple of kneel-downs by quarterback Drew Brees at the end). It’s a lot easier to maintain balance when you’re leading, or the game is close. Tampa Bay may not be easy to run against (the Jets had 91 yards on 29 carries) but it’s important that the Saints keep the Bucs honest on defense, and the way to do that is to remain dedicated to the running game. Pierre Thomas (nine carries, 43 yards) was the most effective runner against Atlanta and he may warrant a few more touches against the Bucs.

4. BIONIC LEG – Punter Thomas Morstead is becoming so effective at what he does that we’re beginning to take it for granted. Don’t, because the Saints will need his booming kickoffs and hang-time punts against Tampa Bay. Bucs punt returner Eric Page averaged 17.5 yards on two punt returns against the Jets, and Tampa Bay returned three kickoffs for an average of 30.7 yards in that game. Morstead reliably booms kickoffs out of the end zone, so that should help in that area. His punts and the coverage will have to be as effective in Tampa as they were against the Falcons, who returned two punts for 21 yards.

5. CASH IN – Brees and the offense loathe leaving points on the field, but that’s exactly what they did against Atlanta. The 23 points was enough to win, but Brees and Co. weren’t jumping for joy after scoring two touchdowns and setting up kicker Garrett Hartley for three field goals, including chips shots of 31 and 22 yards. They’ll hope to fare better against Tampa Bay, which played well enough to win defensively against the Jets (304 yards allowed and five sacks).

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