No team better implemented and executed a gameplan last season to beat Tampa Bay than the New Orleans Saints. In both regular-season games against the Buccaneers in 2020, the Saints won by double digits – 34-23 in the season opener, and 38-3 seven games later.
The Buccaneers got the ultimate revenge with a 30-20 win over the Saints in the divisional playoff round, but New Orleans had the right formula in the two regular-season games.
The Saints (4-2) will attempt to duplicate that potion against Tampa Bay (6-1) on Sunday in the Caesars Superdome. Here are a few elements that will need to be replicated:
1. PRESSURE POINT: The Saints made Tampa Bay's offense uncomfortable last season, especially quarterback Tom Brady. New Orleans sacked Brady six times, and intercepted him five times, in the regular-season victories. And the constant pressure and sticky coverage limited him to 61 percent on his completions (45 of 74), with just two touchdowns. New Orleans will need as much of that as it can create Sunday, because Brady (league-leading totals of 2,275 passing yards and 21 touchdowns, with just three interceptions and nine sacks) has been on a roll this season. Defensive tackle David Onyemata returns from his six-game suspension, and he'll help the Saints' pass rush, which is coming off a five-sack game (two by linebacker Demario Davis) against Seattle. Brady will want to get off passes quickly, but if the secondary can force him to hold the ball a little longer, the rush can affect him because he's not a mobile quarterback.
2. STAY COMPOSED I: Always worth watching: Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore vs. Bucs receiver Mike Evans. Lattimore has had some of the best games of his career against Evans, and New Orleans will be counting on him to hold his ground. What the Saints don't need is for Lattimore to lose ground by losing his composure. He picked up two personal foul penalties against Seattle receiver DK Metcalf. It'll be a fever-pitch game, and Lattimore has to keep his in check and not provide any yards that aren't earned.
3. STAY COMPOSED II: Saints quarterback Jameis Winston will be starting against his former team for the first time. Of course, he badly wants to win this one against the team that allowed him to leave. One of the things Winston has done best this season is not play hero ball, not force passes into windows that haven't been there. His passing yardage total is modest (1,114 yards), but his touchdown-to-interception ratio (13 to 3) is exactly what the Saints have needed. Like Lattimore, Winston doesn't need to be baited into doing something costly. Tampa Bay has 10 interceptions, tied for second most in the league this season, but opponents pass for 265 yards per game. The passing game is paramount to having offensive success against the Buccaneers, and Winston can't give the Bucs extra possessions with turnovers.
4. GRIND AWAY: Opponents essentially have to gain yards through the air against Tampa Bay, because the Bucs are even stingier than the Saints when it comes to defending the run. They allow 67.4 rushing yards per game – and that's after giving up 143 in their last game. Still, New Orleans will have to pound away and take three or four yards where it can get it, and call that success. And it will be, because that's the best way to keep the Bucs honest on defense. Running back Mark Ingram II's return can help, because having Ingram and Alvin Kamara on the field at the same time – with Kamara lined up in the slot or out wide – takes another defender out of the box and, possibly, creates some running space. The screen game could be important, too.
5. KEEPAWAY: The easiest way to keep the Bucs from scoring is to keep the offense off the field. Controlling the clock is something the Saints have done well in their victories, and not-so-well in defeat. Eating up time – and scoring touchdowns while doing so – will be big.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
SHRIMP FOIL PACKETS
Grab the tin foil and fire up the grill for an easy twist on the traditional shrimp boil! Zatarain's® Crab Boil adds zesty flavor to this rich, buttery dish loaded with sausage, sweet potatoes, corn and more. Best part: easy cleanup!