TIME FOR ROUND TWO…DING! DING!
Well, here we go again! It’s the Bucs and the Saints in another NFC South matchup on primetime Monday Night Football. Or is it another street brawl? I’m not sure these days. Either way, it’s going to be a fight to the finish. Both of these teams have underachieved this season, but for different reasons. The Saints have had injury problems and quarterback issues. The Bucs have just sucked. Neither of them have lived up to anyone’s expectations this season.
This game is important. I don’t think that needs to be said. It’s a “must win” for Tampa Bay. A division game. A primetime game. It’s at home. A chance to open their lead in the division. A chance to get back to .500 for this season. A chance to sweep the Saints in the regular season for the first time since 2007. With just 6 games left, the Bucs have to get on a roll and start playing better football RIGHT NOW if they want to win their division and make some noise in the playoffs. That journey starts tonight.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-8)
Like the Bucs, the Saints have had their fair share of problems this season. Jameis Winston began this season as their starting quarterback until he was injured. Andy Dalton took over and is still the starter even though Winston is healthy and ready to play again. Dalton has totaled 2,023 yards, 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while completing 67% of his passes. He leads an offense that ranks 15th in the league averaging 347 total yards and 21 points per game. Their leading rusher is Alvin Kamara with 524 yards averaging 4.0 yards per carry, but he only has one rushing touchdown this season. Their leading receiver is Chris Olave with 56 catches for 822 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s averaging nearly 15 yards per catch, so he’s definitely a threat to go deep.
Their defense is ranked 11th allowing just 326 total yards and 23 points per game. The 8th ranked pass defense is allowing just 197 passing yards per game, while the 22nd ranked run defense is giving up 129 rushing yards per game. Their leading tacklers are linebackers Pete Werner and Demario Davis, both with 74 tackles this season. Davis also leads the team in sacks (6.5), with defensive end Cameron Jordan just behind him (5.5) and they are tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (9). Cornerback Paulson Adebo leads the team in passes defensed (6), while safety Tyrann Mathieu leads the team in interceptions (2).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : QB Taysom Hill
Hill is always tough to defend. He’s the textbook definition of a utility player in today’s NFL. The Saints line him up all over the field and no matter where he is, he has to be accounted for by the defense. He’s their second leading rusher with 409 yards, averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per carry, and he leads the Saints with 5 rushing touchdowns.
DEFENSE : DE Marcus Davenport
With Tristan Wirfs out with an ankle injury, Josh Wells will get the start at right tackle for this game. Even though Davenport only has a half sack this season, he’s still going to be a tough matchup for Wells on that right side. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has multiple sacks in this game.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-6)
The Bucs are in a state of emergency right now. Even though they still have a hold on first place in the division DESPITE the loss last week, they are below .500 for the second time this season. They need to get things moving in the right direction, especially on offense where they rank 18th in the league averaging just 339 total yards and 18 points per game. Tom Brady has thrown for 3,051 yards, 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while completing 66% of his passes. Leonard Fournette is still their leading rusher with 462 yards and 3 touchdowns. Mike Evans is still their leading receiver with 702 yards and 3 touchdowns averaging almost 14 yards per catch. This offense has scored just 200 points in 11 games this season. How bad is that? Some of the worst teams in franchise history scored more. The 2014 Bucs that finished 2-14 with Josh McCown at quarterback scored 207 points through the first 11 games. The 2013 Bucs that finished 4-12 with rookie QB Mike Glennon scored 211 points through the first 11 games. That’s how bad it is.
Thankfully, the defense has been keeping them in games and giving them a fighting chance. They rank 9th allowing just 315 yards and 18.5 points per game. Their pass defense is now ranked 5th allowing just 192 passing yards per game and the 19th ranked run defense is giving up 123 rushing yards per game. Their leading tackler is linebacker Devin White (89) who also leads the team in tackles for loss (8). Defensive tackle Vita Vea leads the team in sacks (6.5), but they have five other players with 3+ sacks this season. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III are tied for the team lead with 6 passes defensed and Dean is tied with safety Mike Edwards in interceptions with 2 each.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE : RT Josh Wells
I mentioned him briefly above when talking about Marcus Davenport. Tristan Wirfs is out for this game, so Wells gets the start at right tackle. He’s going to have his hands full all night between Davenport and Cameron Jordan. Hopefully, he holds his own but he’s got a tough assignment ahead of him for Monday night.
DEFENSE : S Logan Ryan
If he gets activated, he’ll get thrown right back in the fire with Antoine Winfield Jr, Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting possibly out for this game. He hasn’t played since Week 4 against Kansas City, so he’s going to need to shake the rust off and get the job done against the Saints.
1. Mike Evans vs Marshon Lattimore
Lattimore is “questionable” for this game with an abdominal injury, so there’s a chance he doesn’t play in this game. But if he does, this is always a fun matchup to keep an eye on during these games.
2. Josh Wells vs Marcus Davenport
I’ve touched on this matchup already, but it’s one to watch for this game. The Bucs need Wells to do his job or Tom Brady might be getting pressure from both sides throughout this game.
3. Donovan Smith vs Cameron Jordan
Smith hasn’t been playing very good lately and Jordan can be a dominant pass rusher. That’s not a good combination for the Bucs. Hopefully, Smith ups his game after the poor performance last week against Myles Garrett.
The only player officially “OUT” for this game so far is right tackle Tristan Wirfs (ankle). However, they have three players listed as “DOUBTFUL” that might be gametime decisions. Unfortunately, all three are in the Bucs secondary. Safeties Antoine Winfield Jr (ankle) and Mike Edwards (hamstring) , along with cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadricep) may not be available for the game, but it appears as though safety Logan Ryan (foot) will be activated. They have six other players on their final injury report listed as “QUESTIONABLE” including tight end Cam Brate (illness), running back Leonard Fournette (hip), wide receiver Russell Gage (hamstring), guard Luke Goedeke (foot), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (foot) and defensive tackle Vita Vea (foot). All of them participated in practice on Saturday, so they all should be available to play Monday night.
The Saints final injury report was quite extensive as well with four players officially ruled “OUT” for the game including cornerback PJ Williams (knee), safety JT Gray (hamstring), tight end Juwan Johnson (ankle) and defensive end Payton Turner (ankle). They also have six players listed as “QUESTIONABLE” including wide receiver Kevin White (illness), linebacker Pete Werner (ankle), defensive tackle Kentavius Street (illness), defensive tackle Malcolm Roach (illness) and cornerbacks Bradley Roby (concussion) and Marshon Lattimore (abdomen).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Todd Bowles says that these games between the Bucs and Saints usually come down to turnovers. The Saints are dead last in turnover differential this season at -14, while the Bucs have dropped to 13th with a +2 differential. The Bucs have forced just 2 turnovers in their last 7 games. They need to be better in this game.
Seems simple enough, right? Just score touchdowns instead of field goals. It should be easy with so many “playmakers” on offense, right? Apparently not. This is statistically one of the worst offenses in franchise history. Whatever they are doing wrong or not doing at all, it needs to be corrected and fast.
Stop the run on defense. Run the ball on offense. Control the clock. Keep Tom Brady clean. Get some pressure on Andy Dalton. It’s a simple game plan. They just have to go out and execute it.
ODDS & ENDS
Saints +3.5/Bucs -3.5 & Over/Under is 40.5 points
WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH
When : Monday, Dec. 5th @ 8:15pm ET
Where : Raymond James Stadium
TV : ABC & ESPN Radio : 98 Rock/97.9 FM
Temps in the mid-to-high 60’s with 0% chance of rain
Until this offense proves that they can consistently score more than 17 points per game, that’s all I’m giving them no matter who they’re playing. If the defense shows up, they’ll be able to handle Andy Dalton, Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave and hold them to less than 17 points. So I am cautiously going with a Bucs victory here to complete their first regular season sweep of the Saints in 15 years. Bucs win.
Bucs 17 Saints 13
THE WRAP UP
This team has me stumped. It’s not the losing that bothers me. I’ve been a Bucs fan for as long as I can remember, so I’m used to the losing. It’s how they’re losing that has me baffled. Tom Brady and his boys can’t score? The offense that’s averaged 30 points per game over the last two years can’t score all of the sudden? Do you realize that if they were averaging 30 points per game, like they had been in 2020 and 2021, they would be 10-1 right now. Instead, they’re 5-6 and still looking for answers with 6 games left. Is it the coaching? Is it the playcalling? Is it the offensive line? Is it injuries? Is it attitude? Is it a little bit of all of it? It’s been the same problems all season. Every game. And we hear the same weak ass excuses in every press conference after. “We just have to be better.” That’s the unanimous conclusion from the players and coaches. For 11 games in 12 weeks, that’s been the go-to answer from all of them. Be better. I have an idea. Let’s try something new and crazy. Let’s ACTUALLY be better. Let’s coach it better. Let’s call it better. Let’s prepare better. Let’s practice better. Let’s execute better. Why don’t you try that for a change. Stop talking about it and start doing it. Then we can talk about winning the division and making the playoffs. Until then, none of it matters. So now that you know everything you need to know about the Bucs Week 13 matchup with the Saints, there’s only one thing left to say.