Without Mark Ingram, Drew Brees will have to carry the weight of the entire offense through the passing game. Image by dbking (originally posted to Flickr as _MG_5421) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In what felt like a blink of an eye, three quarters of the season have come and gone and we are down to the final four regular season games. The New Orleans Saints enter today’s contest with a disappointing 4-8 record, currently on a four game skid. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the other hand, have won four out of their past six games to get themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff race with a 6-6 record. The Saints had beaten the Buccaneers in seven straight games, but that streak ended when Jameis Winston led his team to a victory in the Superdome way back in Week 2 for his first NFL win. The 26-19 Tampa Bay win was also the same game that Drew Brees sustained his shoulder injury, which occurred during the first quarter and severely limited him for the rest of the game. If the Buccaneers can win today, it would mark their first season sweep of the Saints since 2007.

Saints Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

Saints Team Offense

  • Total offense: 495.6 yards per game (4th in NFL)
  • Scoring offense: 24.9 points per game (9th)
  • Pass offense: 301.2 yards per game (2nd)
  • Rush offense: 94.4 yards per game (25th)

Buccaneers Team Defense

  • Total defense: 337.2 yards allowed per game (9th in NFL)
  • Scoring defense: 24.8 points per game (23rd)
  • Pass defense: 242.5 yards per game (T-16th)
  • Rush defense: 94.7 yards per game (7th)

Pass Offense

At 3rd in the NFL in passing yards per game, Drew Brees is averaging 317, along with his 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The big issue has been pass protection. The Saints have allowed 28 sacks this season, but Brees has been hit much more than just that. Through the first half of the year, it was sort of a mixed bag as far as how well the protection would perform, but during the four game losing streak, it’s been consistently awful. Brees’ leading receiver has been Brandin Cooks, who has been on sort of a hot streak lately with six touchdowns in his last five games. With 840 yards receiving, he looks sure to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his two year career. Ben Watson continues to be a reliable target for Brees and Willie Snead looks set to return from a calf injury that kept him out a week ago.

Tampa Bay has gotten to opposing quarterbacks at almost the exact same rate that New Orleans has allowed teams to get to theirs. The Buccaneers could be without both of their top two pass rushers, though, as Gerald McCoy is questionable to play with a hand injury and Jacquies Smith has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Defensive linemen do not typically miss games because of any type of hand/wrist injury, but we will have to wait and see. He and Smith lead the team with 7.0 and 6.0 sacks, respectively. Linebacker Lavonte David continues to shine as he leads the team in numerous categories, including interceptions with three and passes defended with ten. Safety Chris Conte has two interceptions of his own, one of which was on Brees in the teams’ first meeting.

It was obvious that the hits on Brees were the biggest issue in Week 2’s contest. He was sacked four times, while being crushed on plenty of other snaps. Jacquies Smith recorded three of those sacks and plenty of those hits himself, so Brees is likely pleased to know that he will not be on the field this time. Even with the bum shoulder, he still threw for 255 yards, so if the offensive line can protect him, he may be able make things happen against a mediocre pass defense. You can expect him to rely heavily on his three favorite targets of Cooks, Watson, and Snead, but there is still one big question that remains. How much will the loss of Mark Ingram as a pass catcher and an extra blocker in pass protection hurt? I believe it will hurt a good bit, because Ingram had turned in to a three down caliber back, capable of keeping C.J. Spiller on the sidelines more than anyone expected prior to the season. Spiller is the obvious choice to catch more passes out of the back field, but I would not be surprised to see Tim Hightower in on passing downs to try and help pick up blitzes and keep Brees on his feet.

Rush Offense

This facet of the offense will be the biggest mystery until we see what they actually do. With Mark Ingram shut down for the rest of the year due to a shoulder injury, Hightower and Spiller will have to carry the load. That is not particularly ideal, considering they have only 43 combined carries for 156 yards so far this season. Hightower will get the first crack as the first and second down back, but if Spiller can make an electric play or two, Sean Payton may start to believe in him.

As I mentioned earlier, Lavonte David is really good. Along with the interceptions and pass breakups, he leads the team with 105 tackles. That is 5th most in the NFL. Conte is next on the team with 70 tackles. Former LSU Tiger Kwon Alexander had played spectacular in his rookie year, but has been suspended for the final four games for breaking the league’s substance abuse policy with PEDs. Alexander was second on the team with 93 tackles.

Do not expect much from the rushing attack in this one, as the Saints struggled to find consistency on the ground even with a healthy Pro-Bowl running back in the backfield. Hightower played very well in the preseason, but he has not seen quality reps in quite a few years.

Saints Defense vs. Buccaneers Offense

Saints Team Defense

  • Total defense: 425.2 yards allowed per game (32nd in NFL)
  • Scoring defense: 31.7 points per game (32nd)
  • Pass defense: 287.3 yards per game (31st)
  • Rush defense: 137.8 yards per game (32nd)

Buccaneers Team Offense

  • Total offense: 369.9 yards per game (9th)
  • Scoring offense: 22.6 points per game (18th)
  • Pass offense: 226.6 yards per game (24th)
  • Rush offense: 143.3 yards per game (2nd)

Pass Defense

After a much improved effort in Dennis Allen’s first game as defensive coordinator two weeks ago, the Saints reverted back to their old ways against the undefeated Carolina Panthers last week. Allowing 331 yards and 5 passing touchdowns to Cam Newton, the pass defense was once again soft and easy to beat. Delvin Breaux did exit the game during the first quarter with a hamstring injury after his second career interception, but he could not have single handily changed things for the entire game. New Orleans continues to get crushed by opposing tight ends, as Greg Olsen reeled in nine catches for 129 yards. As far as the pass rush goes, Cam Jordan was the only Saint to get to Newton. Jordan leads the team with 8.0 sacks this year, which is 2nd most in the NFC.

He may not be lighting things up like he did at Florida State, but Jameis Winston is quietly having a solid year and doing more than many expected in his rookie season. He is averaging 240 yards a game, while throwing 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He is not quite the scrambler that someone like Newton is, but he is more than capable of getting out of the pocket and finding open grass, proving so by scoring five rushing touchdowns. That’s the second most by a quarterback in the league. Big Mike Evans may not be finding the end zone as much as he did in his rookie season a year ago, but his 54 receptions, 850 yards, and three touchdowns have him as the team’s leader in all categories. Vincent Jackson has three touchdowns of his own and also provides a tough matchup due to his size. Speaking of large statures, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins weighs in at 6’6, 260 pounds and is ready to suit up for his second game back after getting hurt when these teams squared off in the second week of the season.

As with any young quarterback, getting pressure is key to throw him off. The Saints will have to try and get to Winston, because things will not end well if he has time to try and find one of his three big targets. Dennis Allen may choose to try and keep Delvin Breaux on Mike Evans, so we can likely expect Vincent Jackson to draw a few coverage penalties from Brandon Browner. With 21 penalties this season, Browner is by far the most penalized player in the NFL and on his way to shattering the record for most in the season. If I am picking a guy in the Buccaneers passing offense to have a big day, though, it is Austin Seferian-Jenkins. As much as the Saints struggle with tight ends, his size is nothing but a nightmare. If Allen’s unit can not find a way to keep Winston from finding a rhythm, it could be another long day.

Rush Offense

Missed tackles and poor angles continue to plague this defense. Stephone Anthony and Kenny Vaccaro are two of the silver linings for this disaster or a season for the defensive unit, leading the team with 92 and 86 tackles, respectively. The Saints are set to welcome back Dannell Ellerbe, who has played in just four games this season and has been out with a hip injury since the team’s Week 7 victory in Indianapolis. When he has been on the field, he has been productive, averaging seven tackles a game.

The last thing that the league’s worst run defense in the league wants to see (or second to last, I suppose) is the NFL’s second leading rusher. That is currently Doug Martin, who has bounced back from a few rough seasons after setting high expectations in his rookie year. Martin has 1,133 yards on the ground, which is 94.4 per game. His 5.0 yards per carry average is the highest of any running back in the top 20 of players with the most carries this season. That, my friends, is an impressive stat. Charles Sims has also played very well this year as the complimentary speed back, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and chipping in for 407 yards on the ground. He has also made for a nice third down running back, catching three touchdowns out of the backfield.

For a team that is allowing 137.8 yards of rushing per game, it could be one. Considering the fact that the Saints offense may struggle to hold possession of the ball very long with Ingram out, the defense could see a lot of time on the field and get worn down by Martin’s downhill, bowling ball rushing style. I fully expect the Buccaneers to use Martin to control the game, with the Saints showing no signs of being able to stop anyone on the ground.


With as much NFL that I watch and as many box scores that I look at, I generally have an idea of what my prediction will be before I dive in to this article. This one, though, changed from a game that I believed Tampa Bay would most likely win to a game that I believe that they will almost definitely win. New Orleans, of course, could show up and play well as they tend to do with their backs completely against the wall, but this just looks like an awful matchup with the Buccaneers thriving in everything that the Saints struggle with. I am expecting big games from Doug Martin and Austin Seferian-Jenkings, as they pull away in the second half to win this one by double digits.

Prediction: Buccaneers-31, Saints-20

As always, I hope I am wrong when I pick them to lose, but this one should be tough. Regardless, enjoy the game!

Follow David Billiot Jr on Twitter @DCBilliotJr