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Game Day: Buccaneers at Saints

Posted Dec 29, 2013

Prepare for Sunday’s season finale with our preview, including injury reports, key matchups, series history, players to watch and more


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tampa Bay's offense wants to help its defense slow down Drew Brees by staing on the field as long as possible
  • WR Vincent Jackson says his team still has plenty to play for in the 2013 season finale
  • DT Gerald McCoy's 10th sack is one of a handful of milestones that could happen on Sunday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Buccaneers bring a 4-11 record into the game while the Saints are 10-5.

Offensively, the Bucs know that protecting the football, controlling the clock and leading productive drives will be of the utmost importance against a high-powered New Orleans offense that is currently ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game.

“I think time of possession – particularly with an opposing offense that is as potent as theirs is – is critical,” Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “First and foremost, we can’t turn the football over. That’s hard for us as an offense to try to sustain drives and get first downs and be in manageable third downs if we are turning it over.

“A lot of times the best defense is with [Drew Brees] sitting on the bench. We just want to get some consistency. That’s been the goal all year and no better way – again in a tough game, in a tough environment – to match up against these guys, to get that done on Sunday.”

Quarterback Mike Glennon added that while scoring points is obviously a priority, he and the Bucs offense can actually help out on defense – simply by keeping their teammates on that side of the ball resting on the sidelines.

“I think a big part of the game is to keep that offense off the field,” Glennon said. “We want to control the ball as long as we can because that’s such a powerful offense and they’re one of the best offenses in the league. We have great confidence in our defense, but at the same time, [New Orleans has] one of the best quarterbacks in the league and one of the best offenses, so we want to do everything we can as an offense to stay on the field and score points to put our defense in a good situation.”

Speaking of the Tampa Bay defense and the challenges it will face on Sunday, Head Coach Greg Schiano said the game-planning process when preparing for the Saints is critical, considering the multitude of weapons New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has at his disposal.

- WR Vincent Jackson has had three strong games against the Saints since joining the Buccaneers
“Jimmy Graham, let’s call it like it is; he’s their leading receiver,” Schiano said. “That in itself is a rarity, that the tight end is a leading receiver by far. It’s interesting that the second-leading receiver is a running back. They spread the ball around. When I do my introduction to the opponent, usually there are two or three key guys who carry the ball. With the Saints, there are six or seven. It’s a different look; they spread the ball around so well.”

Of course, getting pressure and hits on Brees is a great way to prevent him from getting the ball in the hands of such weapons. While certainly easier said than done, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said coming out strong and making Brees uncomfortable in the pocket from the opening whistle will be the top priority come Sunday.

“It’s definitely difficult,” McCoy said. “He does a great job of moving in the pocket. I think people underestimate his athleticism, and he’s real crafty. A lot of people get him on the ground but he just gets the ball out, and even if he’s going down, he’ll flip it to his other hand and flick the ball so you can’t get the sack. We’ve got to keep him bottled up. Coaches talk about putting him in the well. You know, you put somebody in the well that’s really far down and make them throw out of the well. He’s a shorter guy, he’s extremely accurate though, but if we put pressure on him, I think we could frustrate him.”

Aside from Brees and Graham and the rest of the playmakers the Saints have on the offensive side of the ball, Schiano said another challenging aspect of the New Orleans offense is the way those weapons are employed, with a wide variety of formations, personnel packages and play calls on display.

“It’s by design,” Schiano said. “They have more personnel groups than any team we play all season long. You’re talking about different combinations exceeding 15 different personnel groups. You can see that, when you sift through and unpeel the onion, over and over again and layer after layer, there’s a method to the madness and they have a quarterback who reads things out better than anybody in the league. That’s why the ball gets distributed to all those different guys.

“They’re very well-coached and [Head Coach] Sean [Payton] is a very aggressive play-caller. It doesn’t mean that he’s haphazard or that he’s reckless, he’s just aggressive and he’s going to push the ball down the field, but he has the patience to run the ball as well. That’s a rare combination and I think that’s what makes him so dangerous. No. 9 makes him pretty dangerous too.”

New Orleans is far from a one-note squad, however, as new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has helped turn the Saints defense around in 2013. After ranking dead last in the NFL in average yards allowed per game last season, New Orleans now boasts the league’s fourth-best unit in that category, and ranks fifth in the NFL in points allowed per game at just 19.1.

“They’ve evolved some, but it’s still the same base structure,” Schiano said. “They’re multiple. Rob [Ryan] does a really good job with that scheme. He’s very comfortable and their players seem much more comfortable in it now. They’re a top five defense. It’s a remarkable turnaround.”

Click here for more on what the Saints will bring to the table on Sunday afternoon.

**

SERIES HISTORY

The Saints lead the all-time series with Tampa Bay, 26-17,  and have recently widened the gap with four straight victories dating back to 2011.  It’s worth noting, however, that the underdog Buccaneer teams upset two very good New Orleans squads in Week 17 of 2009 and Week 16 of 2010.

The Saints are going for their second season sweep in a row; the Bucs’ last sweep came in 2007.  Since the two teams became NFC South foes, the Saints have taken a 13-10 edge in the series, thanks to the aforementioned four-game streak.  The Bucs and Saints split in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; now Tampa Bay has a chance to get the same result with another late-season upset of a team that may have to win in order to make the palyoffs.

Prior to the formation of the NFC South in 2002, Tampa Bay had claimed three of the previous four meetings, including wins in both 1999 and 2001. The Bucs won the first game between the two clubs, a 33-14 triumph at the Superdome in 1977. Tampa Bay tied an NFL record, which has since been broken, by returning three interceptions for touchdowns. The victory marked the Bucs’ first regular season win after 26 consecutive losses to open the franchise’s competition. More than 8,000 fans greeted the team upon its return to One Buccaneer Place. Tampa Bay and New Orleans split the next four meetings, each winning two straight on the other team’s turf before the Saints assembled a six-game winning streak.

 Click here for more details on the all-time Buccaneers-Saints series.

**

INJURY REPORT

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Game Status

S Mark Barron

Hamstring

Questionable

LB Lavonte David

Elbow

Probable

LB Ka'Lial Glaud

Knee

Questionable

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Probable

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Out

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Probable

LB Dekoda Watson

Groin

Questionable


Saints:

Player

Injury

Game Status

T Terron Armstead

Shoulder

Probable

QB Drew Brees

Knee

Probable

S Rafael Bush

Ankle

Probable

WR Marques Colston

Back

Probable

LB Keyunta Dawson

Calf

Probable

G Jahri Evans

Knee

Probable

TE Josh Hill

Hamstring

Probable

LB Kevin Reddick

Shoulder

Probable

RB Pierre Thomas

Eye

Probable


**

BUCCANEER PLAYER TO WATCH: WR VINCENT JACKSON

As one of the more experienced veterans and a leader on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wide receiver Vincent Jackson has helped the young squad keep its heads held high throughout a difficult 2013 season.

And while things certainly haven’t gone as planned this year, Jackson said there are still a number of positives that can be taken from a trying season, especially if he and his teammates can pull off a victory in New Orleans on Sunday.

“It is one of the hardest years that I’ve ever been through, not only just statistics-wise and our record, but we’ve had a lot of things go on in this organization, in this locker room, and it’s not something that happens each and every year,” Jackson said. “If anything – Coach talked about it – it’s callused our skin, it’s made us so much tougher, and I think we’ve done a good job, as an organization, of sticking together. There never was a point where we started pointing fingers at each other as players or players pointing at coaches, coaches attacking players. It’s been pretty united throughout this turmoil, from things starting rough early in the year and where we’re at now.

“Hats off to the men. There’s something to be said [about] the men in this organization that are able to stand up and face it each and every week and continue to believe in what we’re trying to do and go out there and play hard each and every week. That’s what I love about this team, that nobody’s quit. It’s still been a fun ride. As hard as it’s been, with the record, it’s still been fun to go out there and compete with these guys each and every week. I’m excited to finish this one strong, on a high note, and move forward to next season.”

That goal of finishing the season strong is extremely important, Jackson says, not just because the Bucs’ final game comes against a hated division rival looking to secure a playoff berth. It’s also critical in building momentum into the offseason and next year.

Above all else, however, Jackson said finishing strong is about pride and taking advantage of every opportunity to play the game he and his teammates love.

“It always helps you going into the offseason,” Jackson said. “It’s a long three-month break when you’ve got a little bad taste in your mouth. Is that going to set us back [at all] next year? Absolutely not. Once the games are gone, they’re gone, just like the losses we’ve [had] this year we’re not even thinking about. We’re going into this game thinking what a great opportunity [we have] to play this game again. We’ve worked so hard, going back to training camp and OTAs and all the stuff that we’ve done. It’s an opportunity to play an NFL football game, and each time you get that privilege to step out there on the field, you’ve got to appreciate it, take advantage of it and go out there and play hard.”

Jackson came just two yards shy of recording his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season last week against St. Louis, and has already set a career high this season with 74 catches. A huge day on Sunday could also see him eclipse his best yardage total in a season, which he just set last year.

So while Jackson has been his usual consistent, productive self in 2013 despite the Bucs’ ups and downs, he says he’s more intent on helping his team close out the season on a high note in what is sure to be an extremely exciting contest.

“It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere out there,” Jackson said. “It’s a great opponent, on the road. Can’t ask for a better environment for us. We have nothing to lose and so much to gain, personally and to feel good about where we’re going. I’m excited, I know everybody in this organization’s excited, our coaches are excited, energy’s been great this week and I think we’re going to go out there and give them our best shot.”

**

KEY MATCHUP: BUCCANEERS G TED LARSEN VS. SAINTS DE CAMERON JORDAN

Last week in St. Louis, fourth-year man Ted Larsen replaced Jamon Meredith at left guard halfway through the game.  Though Schiano declined to indicate who would start at that spot in New Orleans on Sunday, there’s a good chance Larsen will get another chance to show what he can do.  The left guard position has been a bit of a struggle for the Buccaneers this season thanks to Carl Nicks’ injuries.

If Larsen does get the call, he’ll have his hands full with a number of strong Saints pass-rushers, especially rising-star end Cameron Jordan.  Jordan leads the Saints with 12.5 sacks this year and has really blossomed since Ryan brought in his 3-4 defense.  In such a front, Jordan plays more of an interior-line position, with linebackers rushing from the edge, and that’s similar to what he did in college at Cal.

Jordan has been a problem for opposing offenses all season, especially at home when the noise is cranked up in the Superdome.  He already has 3.5 more sacks than he had in his first two NFL seasons combined, and seven of them have come at home.  Whoever gets the call between Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn will be responsible for helping keep Jordan off QB Mike Glennon’s back.

Click here to read about other head-to-head matchups that will help determine Sunday’s outcome.

**

TEAM RANKINGS

The Saints bring an edge in most offensive categories into Sunday’s game, particularly in terms of points per game, though the Bucs have been a bit better at running the ball.  The Saints’ pass-rush has been more productive than Tampa Bay’s, but the Bucs have been one of the best teams in the league at picking off opposing passers.  On special teams, the visitors might find a slight advantage in the return game, but the Saints have a very good punting game.

OFFENSE

BUCS RANK

SAINTS RANK

Points Per Game

29

13

Yards Per Game

32

5

Rushing Yards Per Game

22

25

Average Per Rush

25

26

Passing Yards Per Game

32

2

Sacks/Pass Play

28

8

Interception Pct.

14

8

Third-Down Efficiency

32

5

Punt Return Average

10

28

Kickoff Return Average

12

16


DEFENSE

BUCS RANK

SAINTS RANK

Points Per Game

14

5

Yards Per Game

13

4

Rushing Yards Per Game

17

19

Average Per Rush

28

17

Passing Yards Per Game

15t

2

Sacks/Pass Play

22

2

Interception Pct.

3

20

Third-Down Efficiency

18

10

Punt Return Average

28

9

Kickoff Return Average

1

27


OTHER

BUCS RANK

SAINTS RANK

Turnover Differential

4t

16t

Gross Punting Average

24

6

Net Punting Average

27

3

Field Goal Percentage

27

30


**

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
  • LB Lavonte David has six sacks on the season, and, with a half sack more, will tie for the fourth-most (6.5 Chris Washington-1987) and, with one more, will tie for the third-most sacks in a season by a Buccaneers linebacker (7.0 Lonnie Marts-1996).
  • David has five interceptions this season, and, with one more, can become the first linebacker in Buccaneers history to record six interceptions in a single season.
  • LB Mason Foster has two interceptions returned for a touchdown this season and, with one more, can tie LB Derrick Brooks (3 in 2002) and CB Wayne Haddix (3 in 1990) for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a single season in franchise history.
  • WR Vincent Jackson needs two more receptions to tie for the ninth-most (76 - Kevin House, 1984; Keyshawn Johnson, 2002), three more to tie for eighth-most (77 - Kellen Winslow, 2009) and six more to tie for seventh-most (80 - Michael Clayton, 2004) receptions in a season in franchise history.
  • With one or more sacks against New Orleans, DT Gerald McCoy will become the first Buccaneer to record double-digit sacks since DE Simeon Rice (14.0 in 2005).
  • The Buccaneers as a team have 21 interceptions this season and with two more can have their highest total since recording 31 in 2002.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers