The New Orleans Saints are coming off their worst offensive performance of the season, getting blanked by the San Francisco 49ers 13-0 last Sunday. The shutout snapped a nearly 21-year streak of not being shutout: The last time the Saints put up a goose egg in the regular season came in the 2001 season, also against the 49ers. However, it's not about how hard you get hit, it's about how you get back up.
Believe it or not, New Orleans still has a shot at the NFC South crown, trailing Monday's opponent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 2.5 games with five games to go. A win under the lights would go a long way toward the Saints turning their season around.
Now, the Saints travel to Tampa for a do-or-die game. Here are five ways the Saints can get back up and kick-start a late playoff push Monday night:
1. Create chaos defensively: The Tampa Bay offense has struggled to produce points, ranking 27th in the NFL with just 18.2 points per game. That being said, the Saints defense ranks dead last in takeaways (seven) and are 14th in points allowed (23.3). Quarterback Tom Brady has done a good job protecting the ball, throwing just two interceptions. Meanwhile, the Saints have secured just two interceptions. New Orleans has to find a way to make Brady uncomfortable. The Saints defensive line should be able to wreak havoc in the backfield against a shaky offensive line that just allowed three sacks in a loss to Cleveland. The defensive stars along the front seven like Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis will need to bring their A-game under the lights.
2. Protect the football: Going off the first point, the Saints need to keep the ball when they have it. New Orleans has had 15 percent of its drives end in turnovers this season, the third-highest percentage in the NFL behind the Indianapolis Colts and the Buffalo Bills. Its nine fumbles and 12 interceptions both rank second in the league as well. The -14 turnover differential leads all teams by four turnovers. Meanwhile, Tampa has a +2 turnover differential. A lot of numbers that all say the same thing: If the Saints are going to win in Tampa, they need to be smarter with the football. Brady and the Bucs are not going to beat themselves.
3. Keep Chris cooking: Rookie wide receiver Chris Olave has been everything New Orleans could have dreamed of and more when it selected him 11th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft this past April. The Ohio State product has tallied 822 yards and three touchdowns on 56 receptions. He has gone for more than 40 yards receiving in every game, and he has 10 straight games with at least five targets. With the injuries to the receiver room, Olave has been quarterback Andy Dalton's most consistent target. No need to change that, especially against a Buccaneers defense that allows the sixth-fewest passing yards per game (192). Tampa could be without its top two safeties, however, as neither Antoine Winfield Jr. nor Mike Edwards practiced Thursday after suffering injuries in their loss to Cleveland Sunday. Olave should be Dalton's top priority and first look throughout the contest Monday night. His ability to stretch the field could prove critical if Tampa is indeed without its roaming defensive backs.
4. Lean on the linebackers: Pete Werner began the 2022 season on a tear, leading the NFL in solo tackles through October. However, he suffered an ankle injury in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 7 and hasn't played since. Enter Kaden Elliss. The former Idaho Vandal has compiled 38 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble over the last four games since stepping into a full-time role. Regardless of Werner's availability, Elliss has played his way into more snaps over the last month and should see the field either way. Tampa averages the fourth-most plays per game this season, so the Saints should plan for a heavy dosage of Elliss as the defense tries to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense. Meanwhile, Davis has continued to produce in his 11th season. He is tied with Werner for the most combined tackles on the team at 74 and leads the team with 6.5 sacks. Going up against a rushing offense that averages just 73 yards per game on the ground, the linebacker corps need to have a productive outing, whether Werner is on the field or not.
5. Taysom time: When Taysom Hill touches the ball, good things happen. It's really as simple as that. The Saints have four wins this season: In each win, Hill has gone over 50 rushing yards. In games where Hill does not exceed 50 rushing yards, New Orleans is 0-7. It's less about the actual yards and more about Hill's involvement in the offense. He brings an unpredictable level to the unit that will be needed to provide a spark in what could be a defensive slugfest.