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New Orleans Saints defense looks to extend streak of success against Tampa Bay and quarterback Tom Brady

'The game is about the players, and we've got some pretty doggone good ones'


The New Orleans Saints defense doesn't entertain a notion that it cracked the code.

But results don't lie, and what they say is that in the last two regular seasons, no NFL defense has been more effective against Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, regarded as the best ever to play his position.

In the four regular-season matchups since Brady joined the Buccaneers in 2020, New Orleans is 4-0 against Tampa Bay and Brady and his offense have been held in check. In total, he has completed 99 of 162 passes for 1,037 yards and six touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Two interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, and the Saints have 13 sacks.

New Orleans (1-0) will attempt to continue its trend of success Sunday in its home opener against Tampa Bay in the Caesars Superdome.

"You need a lot," linebacker Demario Davis said. "You need your D-line to have a good day, you need your DBs to have a good day, you need your 'backers to have a good day and you need a little luck. He's the best. He's been doing it a long time for a reason.

"We trust our coaches' gameplan. Whatever they give us, whatever they come in with, we know that that's what they feel like is going to give us the best shot. So every week they come in, whether we're doing some of the same things, whether we're changing it up, whatever it is that they call that's what we go out and execute."

"He's seen every defense," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "You can't really disguise anything against him. He knows exactly where you're going to be. He's watched enough film where at this point, we're just playing real ball."

Personnel-wise, the real-ball element is that New Orleans has had the counter to Tampa Bay and that has played a significant role in the success.

The secondary has been able to disrupt Brady's timing with receivers, allowing the defensive line to apply the pressure that has helped result in sacks and turnovers.

"This game is about – you've heard, it's not about Xs and Os, it's about Jimmys and Joes," Saints co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Kris Richard said. "This game is about people, it's about the players.

"So we can draw up the best scheme in the world, if we don't have the guys to go out there and execute, then it doesn't really matter. The game is about the players, it absolutely starts there with them, and we've got some pretty doggone good ones."

But this year's personnel on defense is different, specifically in the secondary. Cornerback Bradley Roby was on the roster but didn't start against the Buccaneers last year, and safeties Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye and Justin Evans were on different rosters or out of the league last season. Of the Saints' top five defensive backs entering Sunday's game, only Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore has extensive game reps as a Saint against Tampa Bay.

"We play extremely hard against these guys, and we know that we've got a huge challenge every time we go up against them," Coach Dennis Allen said. "They're extremely talented offensively, the best quarterback to ever play the game. It's certainly a challenge. Our guys get excited about going up against these guys, but every opportunity is a different deal.

"When you look at it in the back end, there's a lot of new pieces. I don't think we can really look at anything that's happened in the past. We've got to focus on what we're dealing with this year."

And the Buccaneers, too, have changed offensively from what New Orleans has grown accustomed to seeing. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and All-Pro guard Ali Marpet retired, and receiver Chris Godwin likely will be inactive Sunday.

"Obviously, I think we're familiar with this scheme," Allen said. "There's a couple of new elements, they've got some new pieces up on the offensive line, losing Gronkowski, they've got a couple of new pieces at tight end position, and then bringing in (receivers Russell) Gage and Julio Jones, a couple of new pieces in terms offensively at the skill position.

"I think just from the standpoint of the scheme, I think we have a fairly good idea of how they try to attack us in terms of the scheme. It'll be interesting to see where they put people within the formation and how they try to utilize the new pieces that they have."

"It's going to be tough, just simply because they know who we are, we know who they are," Jordan said. "But we're focused on what we can do as a team and the cards will fall where they may on Sunday because we know we have to go for 60 minutes."

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