The New Orleans Saints’ secondary has a pretty good idea of what’s on the horizon, because Tampa Bay hasn’t appeared all that interested in deception.
The Buccaneers are one of the top passing teams in the league, fifth overall in yards per game (284.2), with a pair of receivers in the top four in receiving yards (Mike Evans, with 924 yards and seven touchdowns on 54 catches and Chris Godwin, who checks in at 840 yards and six touchdowns on 60 receptions).
So when the Saints (7-2), holding a two-game lead in the NFC South Division, play the Buccaneers (3-6) on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., the feeling is close to the same as it was before New Orleans played the Bucs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Oct. 6, a 31-24 victory by the Saints.
Tampa Bay probably won’t be bashful about throwing the ball down the field.
“It’s a great challenge,” Saints cornerback Eli Apple said. “They’ve got one of the best passing offenses, a great duo at receiver in Godwin and Evans, other weapons as well. We’ve got to get in this film and watch everything and be on top of all the assignments that we need to be.
“They’re a vertical concept type of team. They want to push the ball vertically and test a secondary’s speed with their concept. That’s something we’ve been watching and want to limit.”
The Saints had significant success against Tampa Bay in the first game. The Saints sacked Jameis Winston six times (for minus-46 yards), posted eight quarterback hits and six passes defensed, and limited the Bucs to 158 net yards passing.
And New Orleans did what few teams have done to Evans – the Saints held him without a catch on three targets. Godwin had seven catches for 125 yards.
“They obviously found ways and weaknesses that they found in our (first) game, so they’ll probably be attacking what we think we missed,” rookie defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson said. “But we should go in with a new mind-set, like we never beat them, continue the high road and keep playing our best and keep doing what we can on defense to get the team a ‘W.’ ”
They’ll have to, knowing that Evans and Godwin will figure prominently in what the Bucs hope to achieve offensively.
“They’re top five in receiving yards for a reason,” Apple said. “They’ve got a great quarterback who knows how to get them the ball, and they get open. Their fast, big receivers and physical as well.”
“Big, physical receivers who like to run in open space,” Gardner-Johnson said. “They’re good receivers, good hands. We’ve got to go out there, challenge them, play good football and play within ourselves in the defense.”
The Saints may have to do so without cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday’s loss against Atlanta, and he didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday. He was instrumental in holding Evans without a catch and is in the middle of having, arguably, his best NFL season.
“Any time you might not have a player like Marshon, of course (it’s a blow),” Apple said. “But we’re going to always keep our same mentality out there. We want to attack the offense and take away their play-makers and limit their explosives.”
“It’s good to know you’ve got guys to come in ready to play,” Gardner-Johnson said. “With us, we just focus on our job, know what we can do. Everybody in the room has to prepare as a starter so when go out there and play, you want to see that there’s no drop off. So we’re just looking to go in this week and do our job.”