Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans, LA)
December 24th, 2016 @ 4:25 pm
New Orleans plays Tampa Bay for the second time in just three weeks this season. After a tough loss for Tampa Bay on Sunday night to Dallas, the Buccaneers are on the outside looking in. Drew Brees and the Saints (barring a Christmas miracle) have already been eliminated from the NFC playoff picture but can ruin playoff hopes of second year quarterback Jameis Winston.
Tampa’s defense got the best of Brees in their first matchup two weeks ago but if there is anything that has been learned from Drew’s career is he rarely makes the same mistakes twice. Look for Brees to get rid of the ball in a hurry and try to spoil Tampa’s first playoff appearance since 2007.
Following the Buccaneers, New Orleans faces off against another divisional opponent in the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons control their own destiny and if the Saints are able to knock off the Bucs this week, Atlanta will clinch the NFC South for the first time since 2012. The NFC seeding is very close, with only one game separating the 2-4 seeds, and the Falcons cannot afford to drop any further.
What shaped up to be a very interesting wild card race, Atlanta will have to play an elite team regardless, but with some help they may be able to jump into a first round bye. The Saints will be looking for revenge after Atlanta ruined their ten-year reunion of returning to the Superdome earlier this season.
A Further Look at Saturday…
Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans for a premiere Saturday afternoon game as they try to keep their playoff hopes alive. They struggled early against Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Elliot and the Dallas Cowboys, but ran out of time to knock off the #1 seed in the NFC. The Saints come off of a convincing offensive campaign against the Arizona Cardinals last week and hope that their team shows up to play, as opposed to the Saints that showed up in Tampa two weeks ago.
Expect both teams to try and establish the passing game early, as they try to keep their quarterbacks comfortable in the pocket. Expect Dennis Allen to dial up different blitz packages to try and get after Winston while shadowing premiere receiver Mike Evans with a third safety on the field.
The Buccaneers hope to get the same pass rush with only four, as they did against the Saints last time. Tampa will most likely stick with zone coverage in hopes of limiting New Orleans’ big play ability down the field.
Key to Saints’ Success:
Control Line of Scrimmage
There was a clear winner in the trenches when these two teams squared up last time and it was not the Saints. Tampa managed to get after Drew Brees with only four pass rushers, forcing Brees to force the ball into coverage…leading to three interceptions.
If the Saints hope to stay competitive they must control the line of scrimmage, both in the passing and running game. Max Unger missed their last matchup against the Bucs and will have to make a difference at the center position. Brees plays his best ball at home and will rely on his center to control the line of scrimmage as he hopes to improve from his week 14 performance against Tampa Bay.
Establish Run Game
The Saints failed to eclipse even 50 yards on the ground (46) against the Buccaneers front seven in their last matchup and will have to be two dimensional if they hope to knock off Tampa Bay on Christmas eve. Mark Ingram ran with a purpose in the second half last week while Tim Hightower carried the ball twice across the goal line. The running back duo asserted themselves late in the game to finish off the Cardinals and will have to run with the same purpose this Saturday.
Sean Payton is most successful when his running backs perform and both players are competing for their spot on the roster next year. Ingram is 150 yards short of rushing for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and will be hungry for the ball after his emotions got the best of him a week ago.
Get after Winston
New Orleans has relied heavily on blitzing to get after quarterbacks but with the emergence of Sheldon Rankins and Dannell Ellerbe, they have found success. Dennis Allen has been one of the most blitz happy coordinators this season and with nothing to lose, don’t expect that to change.
New Orleans’ front seven has played with attitude in the second half of the season and will be counted on to make second-year quarterback Jameis Winston unwelcome in the Superdome. Look for Cameron Jordan and Dannell Ellerbe to blitz off the same sides in hopes of getting their best pass rushers in the backfield.
Players to Watch:
Brandin Cooks has been up and down this season but is coming off of an explosive game against the Cardinals. He totaled 186 yards receiving and two long touchdowns that came in the first half. Cooks dropped the go ahead touchdown against the Buccaneers late in the fourth and will be counted on to bounce back in the Superdome on Saturday.
He has voiced his opinions of wanting the ball in his hands and Sean Payton has responded by featuring his speed downfield more and more. Brandin Cooks could be the difference maker on offense and will be expected to play like the WR1 that he is supposed to be.
Dannell Ellerbe’s career in the big easy has been one riddled with injury and questions but has been the spark that the Saints needed in the pass rush. Since returning to the field in week 8, he has totaled four sacks but has not recorded one since week 13. Ellerbe is headed into his last year of his contract in 2017 and will have to prove that he is worth the investment for the Saints in the future.
When Ellerbe has been on the field this year he has provided New Orleans with valuable minutes, especially with the disappointing year that Stephone Anthony has had. Defensive coordinator will count on Dannell Ellerbe to get after Winston and make plays in the backfield on Saturday.
- New Orleans is pretty much playing for pride at this point in the season but if there is one thing that is guaranteed is that Drew Brees is a competitor. No one was as disappointed as he was after his outing against Tampa two weeks ago. Expect Brees to throw for at least two touchdowns and to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
- Although it seems like common sense, whoever wins the turnover battle will win the game. It is clear the Buccaneers have improved vastly on defense so the Saints will have to force Winston into bad situations in hopes of forcing turnovers. Winston will throw one pick that makes the difference in the outcome of the game.