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New Orleans Saints defense hopes to cool Tampa Bay's hot offense one last time this season

'Our front's played phenomenal all season, and we definitely need that to continue'

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2020 REGULAR SEASON Saints 24 - Falcons 9 (W) All Images Copyright Michael C. Hebert

There's no denying the potency of Tampa Bay's offense.

The Buccaneers averaged 30.8 points per game during the regular season, third most in the league (including an NFL-best 40.7 in their final three), and 293.6 passing yards, second most (including a league-best 411 in their last three).

There also is no debate that no defense stymied Tampa Bay better than that of the New Orleans Saints (13-4), who'll face the Buccaneers (12-5) for the third time this season Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in their NFC Divisional Playoff game.

The Saints held Tampa Bay to 504 yards and 26 points in the two regular-season games. The Bucs scored at least 26 points in 11 games this season, including their 31-23 Wild Card Game victory over Washington, so New Orleans fully understands how easily Tampa Bay can go on a run.

"Watch all the other games outside of the breakdown (against the Saints), you take our games out of it, they're putting up close to 400 yards of passing, almost every week," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "You know, Gronk (tight end Rob Gronkowski) has gotten more involved, A.B. (receiver Antonio Brown) has gotten more involved. (Receivers) Mike Evans has been steady and (Chris) Godwin is just somebody who I think can always win (a battle) and get them a good conversion and make plays.

"They've done a good job of mixing in the run, but they beat you with that pass game. And (quarterback) Tom's (Brady) been clean – you keep him upright, you keep him in the pocket, he's the greatest to ever do it. But if you can disrupt him and get some hits on him…"

New Orleans' defense disrupted him, hit him and took advantage of the wreaked havoc.

In two games, the Saints sacked Brady six times (four by defensive end Trey Hendrickson), hit him 15 times, intercepted him five times and defended 13 passes. Brady completed 45 of 74 passes (61 percent) for 448 yards and two touchdowns in the games.

But Brady and the Buccaneer offense earned their rankings for a reason.

On its current five-game winning streak, including the Wild Card game, Tampa Bay has averaged 35.8 points and Brady has passed for 342.8 yards per game, with 14 touchdowns and one interception, and been sacked eight times.

"I think they just have a good offense, they have a lot of different personnel," linebacker Demario Davis said. "A lot of explosive players that can do a lot of things. The offensive line has played really good. They've got quite a few backs, they can hit you in a lot of different ways, whether it's running the ball out of the backfield, in the pass they got multiple dynamic tight ends, and a lot of explosive receivers.

"And if not the greatest, one of the greatest quarterbacks that will play the game, you know, running the show. And they've done a great job as far as play-calling and getting all those guys the ball, which can be hard to do when you have that much talent. So, they do a lot of things well. And they have a lot of talent on that side of the ball."

With the riches, Saints Coach Sean Payton said it's no surprise that Tampa Bay was able to evolve into a productive offense.

"I think every year you see that," Payton said. "But I even think more so this year with, you've got to remember, relatively no offseason. So someone like Tom (Brady) that comes to a new club, you're not provided those normal OTAs, call it minicamps where you're having opportunities to begin to put in a system. And I think that, without speaking for them, I think we saw that progression, that has probably still evolved throughout the course of the season.

"And quite honestly, with us the same way. I think you're constantly evaluating your scheme and the progress you're making and the changes you need to make and then what suits the personnel, especially if the personnel is fairly new. And so I think you've seen that. I believe I've seen that when I'm watching their offense, and this last half of the season or last third of the season, I think they're playing at a very high level."

What the Saints have been able to do is win up front, and pressure and disrupt Brady with the front four. One of the interceptions was a pass batted by defensive end Marcus Davenport and intercepted by defensive tackle David Onyemata in New Orleans' 38-3 road victory.

"Our front's played phenomenal all season," Davis said. "They are a big part of why we have had the success that we've had this year defensively. And we definitely need that, to continue down the stretch to get to where we want to go.

"And so, they played great last week (in the Saints' Wild Card win over Chicago). We're going to need them to continue to play great heading into this game. That's D-line, linebackers, safeties in the box. You've got to be able to make it harder up front."

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