Top storyline: Games like this are why the Saints added Brandon Browner
The Saints signed Brandon Browner for a reason.
Sure, he’s a good press cornerback and provides solid coverage. His leadership was also a benefit in a locker room in need of strong veteran voices.
But the biggest reason the Saints signed him this offseason was his size.
The 6-foot-4 Browner has excelled against bigger wide receivers. Throughout his career, entering Week 1, he had been targeted 86 times when covering a wide receiver standing 6-3 or taller. He allowed 44 receptions for 550 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
It all adds up for a passer rating against of 64.58. New Orleans, as a whole, allowed a passer rating against of 94 to the receivers fitting that profile last season.
Browner was brought here for weeks like this, when he’ll be tasked with covering the likes of Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans, both of whom measure 6-5. It also will help when the Saints have to find ways to stop Atlanta’s Julio Jones and some of the other bigger wide receivers in the division.
“Tampa’s got two big receivers. You watch Atlanta, they’ve got big receivers, (and) Carolina, although (Kelvin) Benjamin was hurt in this preseason,” coach Sean Payton said. “But I would say more than any other division, you’re going to see some of the bigger, better receivers size-wise in our league (in the NFC South).”
Browner had a solid debut. He was targeted five times against the Arizona Cardinals and allowed two receptions for 36 yards. He also broke up two passes.
One of the receptions came on a quick slant to start the game. It’s expected that Browner will give up those kind of receptions.
Quick, shifty receivers have a way of getting the best of Browner. That’s fine. Browner wasn’t brought here to excel against those kind of players.
He was brought here to play big. And that starts this week.
Know your opponent
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy
New Orleans’ revamped interior offensive line is going to get tested this week.
McCoy is one of the better interior pass rushers in the NFL, and he proved it last season by finishing with 36 pressures and 8.5 sacks. In a Week 5 meeting with the Saints, McCoy finished with five hurries and four quarterback hits. That cannot happen again. And it shouldn’t. Center Max Unger was added to help in situations like these.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston
Winston had a rough go of it in his first start last week against the Titans, finishing with 210 yards on 16-of-33 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
If he performs like that again, the Saints should have plenty of opportunities to create turnovers and pick up sacks. But it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Winston has been lauded a quick study and could find ways to cure the woes that ailed him last week.
Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins
A lot is made about the Bucs having two 6-foot-5 receivers: Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. They also have a tight end of the same height, giving Winston three big targets to choose from.
The Saints are going to have to play big all over the field — but especially in the red zone, where Winston can throw it up to any of his targets. This will be a tough task if a linebacker is matched up with Seferian-Jenkins.
1. Need for Snead: WR Willie Snead said he expects to have a larger role this week and work higher in the receiver rotation after logging 18 snaps against the Cardinals. Will this result in more four-receiver sets, or could he cut into someone like Marques Colston’s snaps? Either way, Snead deserves a longer look.
2. Spiller spinning? After the Saints scored one touchdown on four trips to the end zone last week, getting C.J. Spiller back on the field would be a major lift for this offense. His presence also would make it more difficult for defenses to drop seven men into coverage, as Arizona did last week. Officially, he’s listed as questionable.
3. Slot it out: Kenny Vaccaro showed last week that he’s still one of the best slot cornerbacks on the team by successfully defending two passes. When the Saints go into subpackages, if it’s about getting the best 11 players on the field, he could be an option to move down, with another safety coming on the field in his place.
4. Finish the job: The pass rush wasn’t great last week. It also wasn’t bad. There’s always a need for more pressures. The bigger issue, however, is finishing. The Saints hurried Carson Palmer 14 times but did not record a sack. That needs to change quickly. There will be no excuses for not sacking rookie QB Jameis Winston.
OUT: S Jairus Byrd (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe), CB Keenan Lewis (hip) QUESTIONABLE: RB C.J. Spiller (knee)
Getting Spiller back would be the biggest development of the week for the Saints. The team needs help in the red zone, where Spiller could help immediately, and his presence would open things up for the rest of the offense.
Arizona was able to drop seven players in coverage on many plays last week. With Spiller, who has the ability to turn short passes into huge gains, that would be a more difficult task.
With Byrd out, Kenny Phillips, who was brought back this week, should start at free safety. Ellerbe’s absence means that David Hawthorne will continue to start at weakside linebacker.
Delvin Breaux and Brandon Browner will be the starting cornerbacks with Lewis out, as it was last week.
OUT: DE T.J. Fatinikun (shoulder), S Major Wright (abdomen) QUESTIONABLE: WR Mike Evans (hamstring), CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring), LB Danny Lansanah (ankle), LB Bruce Carter (ribs)
Nick Underhill: Saints 28, Bucs 20
These still aren’t “The Saints.” Jairus Byrd, Dannell Ellerbe and Keenan Lewis will be out of action, and C.J. Spiller may not play. For evaluation purposes, it’s impossible to judge the strengths and weaknesses of this team with so many key players missing. But it doesn’t matter. The guys out there need to succeed, so there’s something to fight for when the cavalry returns.
Joel A. Erickson: Saints 30, Bucs 17
The Saints offense should have no problem finishing drives against a Tampa Bay secondary that struggled against a rookie last week, and the possible addition of C.J. Spiller gives Drew Brees another weapon. On defense, New Orleans faces a good group of talented weapons, but rookie QB Jameis Winston is going to make mistakes in his first road start. New Orleans comes away with the win.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 31, Bucs 20
There was disappointment over the Saints’ loss to Arizona. Baggies will bloom in the Superdome if the Saints lose this one. Discouraging as Sunday’s loss was, the Saints defense showed enough moxie to make you believe it will confound Bucs QB Jameis Winston in his first NFL road start. There should be enough time and opportunity for the Saints offense to get on track and win easily. It better.