SCOUTING REPORT: This might not be a must-win for both teams, but it’s mighty close
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not gotten off to an impressive start. Like the Saints, they’re 1-3, and like the Saints, a case could be made that this team should have a better record than it does.
Widely projected before the season to go from worst in the NFC South to first place, the Bucs lost their first two games to the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams by a combined eight points. As the Saints like to say, Tampa Bay was theoretically one play away from winning both games.
Since those first two losses, starting quarterback Josh McCown has been knocked out of action with a thumb injury, replaced by last year’s starter, Mike Glennon. That might not be the worst thing for this team.
While McCown is likely in no danger of losing his job, he threw four interceptions in the first two games, and Glennon managed to lead Tampa Bay to its first victory by passing for 302 yards.
If the Bucs can keep that momentum going, it could cause some problems for the Saints on Sunday. The Bucs spent the offseason compiling big-bodied targets who can take advantage of smaller defensive backs. Rookie receiver Mike Evans will be sidelined this weekend with an injury, but Vincent Jackson is on the roster, and rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins appears to be on the other side of a foot injury that kept him sidelined for two games.
With multiple weapons to account for, the Saints’ defensive backs are going to have to answer the bell. The front seven also will have its hands full as it comes up against another talented running back in Doug Martin.
Much like last week against the Dallas Cowboys, this creates a scenario in which New Orleans will need to contain the run to slow the passing game.
The good news is that Martin is not currently running as well as Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, and Glennon is no Tony Romo.
It’s too early to declare any game a must-win situation, but the Saints can’t afford to lose this week against a division opponent.
Know your opponent
Based on reputation, Tampa Bay should have the ability to make things uncomfortable for Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
The Bucs have nine sacks this season, with defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy racking up two each.
But often the number of hurries a team records is more important than the number of sacks it posts. And in this case, it appears the Bucs are taking advantage of their opportunities and doing little else.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Tampa Bay has only hurried the quarterback 21 times this season. To put that number in perspective, the Saints, who have been widely lambasted for not getting after the quarterback enough this season, have recorded 47 hurries.
If Tampa Bay is to have a shot this week, it is going to need to a better job getting after Brees.
The Saints quarterback has competed 73.9 percent of his passes for 804 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception when provided a clean pocket.
If the offensive line is able to hold off the Bucs’ pass rush, this could be a good opportunity for the Saints to move up in the NFC South standings.
Three and out
1. Deep pass back?
After weeks of worry about Drew Brees’ ability to throw the deep ball and the Saints’ reluctance to ask him to do so, it returned last week against the Dallas Cowboys. Brees attempted six passes that traveled 20 or more yards through the air last week and connected on four of them for 99 yards. The Bucs have surrendered 14 plays of 20 or more yards, the eighth-most in the NFL.
2. Colston watch
It wasn’t the best game of his career, but receiver Marques Colston showed a pulse last week by catching five passes for 50 yards. Regardless of how much of a difference it makes this week, seeing him put together another solid performance would go a long way toward quelling doubts about his viability for the rest of the year.
3. Life without Byrd
The Saints’ splashy free-agent acquisition, Jairus Byrd, was placed on injured reserve Friday after suffering a knee injury. This is a big blow for a defense that has struggled to get off the field this season. With him out, Rafael Bush will move into the starting lineup. Can the team survive without its All-Pro safety?
OUT: RB Mark Ingram (hand), FB Erik Lorig (ankle), S Jairus Byrd (knee)
-- Byrd was placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering a knee injury. Rafael Bush is expected to start in his place.
PROBABLE: C Jonathan Goodwin (neck), DB Corey White (foot), OT Terron Armstead (concussion), S Marcus Ball (hamstring), DB Patrick Robinson (thigh), LB David Hawthorne (ankle), LB Curtis Lofton (shoulder), TE Ben Watson (groin)
-- Goodwin returned to practice Friday in a limited capacity after missing the previous two sessions. He followed a similar course of action last week while dealing with an ankle injury. White said Thursday that he expects to play this week. Hawthorne and Robinson were inactive last week against the Cowboys.
OUT: DE Larry English (hamstring), WR Mike Evans (groin), S Dashon Goldson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Josh McCown (right thumb), S Mark Barron (abdomen), DE Michael Johnson (ankle), TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle), LB Mason Foster (shoulder), DT Gerald McCoy (hand)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 24, Buccaneers 13
Few teams in the NFL play as well as the Saints do in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and the Bucs don’t have me convinced they can change that. But the true measure of the Saints won’t come until the next time New Orleans takes its show on the road.
Nick Underhill: Saints 30, Buccaneers 24
Things can’t remain the way they are, can they? This roster is too talented to remain in this slump. I still believe that. I also believe the issues are correctable — but change needs to come this week. The Saints need to make a statement, take their frustrations out on the Bucs and get back on track.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 31, Buccaneers 15
As bad as things have been for the Saints, with a little help they could be tied for the NFC South lead by nightfall. But to be worthy of winning the division, New Orleans has to find its way back to a consistent vertical passing game, defensive pressure and sticky pass defense. And for goodness sake, force a turnover already.