Gameday: Bucs go for five in row hosting Saints

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Tampa–

What’s At Stake?

It never seems like it at the time but the climb to the top is always the easy part. Staying on top is what’s hard. The Bucs are about to find out just how hard. Though the Falcons have a slight edge on them in the tiebreakers, the Bucs have clawed their way into a virtual tie for first place in the NFC South. As a result, everyone is looking at them differently now. A team that once seemed vulnerable in many ways is now being scrutinized more heavily, opposing coaches looking even deeper now for flaws they might have overlooked before and for strengths they didn’t think were there. The extra attention will make it harder for the Bucs to win, but the Bucs have something on their side now that they haven’t had through much of their climb and that is a re-energized fan base. The Bucs have made believers out of doubters the last few weeks and another win today won’t just keep their current fan base intact, it will spark new growth, and that new growth could make staying at the top a lot easier.

Key matchup

Defensive end Cameron Jordan is to the Saints what Gerald McCoy is to the Buccaneers. He’s the often underappreciated trigger man to their pass rush, a menace to quarterbacks who has posted 44 sacks since he first came to the league in 2011 and stands as one of only two players (J.J. Watt is the other) to record 40 sacks and 20 pass breakups over the course of the last four seasons. Jordan is more than just and end, though. He can slide inside and play tackle and work both sides of the line. With right tackle Demar Dotson (concussion) and fullback Luke Stocker (ankle) in danger of missing this game the Bucs could have a hard time keeping Jordan out of their backfield. That’s not good for the Bucs. In the last four years the Saints are 23-11 when Jordan has a sack and 7-0 when he gets two sacks or more.

Statistically speaking

The Buccaneers pass rush has been humming of late. Though that unit remains on pace for just 38 sacks, the same number it had a year ago, the Bucs have recorded 20 sacks in their last seven games, the third-most in the league over that span. Maintaining that pace today will be critical because Drew Brees has a great tendency to struggle when he’s harassed on a consistent basis. Since 2012, Brees is just 4-9 in games in which he’s been sacked four times or more and he’s only 6-9 in games in which he’s been sacked three times or more. The Bucs have to find a way to generate a strong pass rush today to help their secondary. Brees is a small quarterback who sometimes has a hard time looking over the big linemen in front of him. The closer the Bucs can get to Brees, even if they don’t sack him, the better their chances are of reducing his effectiveness and possibly even taking the ball away.

He said it

“He’s a tough out, there’s no doubt about it. The thing about him is, he’s got a very good understanding of how people play defense. He knows what you’re going to be in, so when play one of these quarterbacks, you’ve got to try to not tell them what you’re doing pre-snap. I mean, we know they’re going to get their completions. What we’ve got to do is make sure when the opportunity comes that we win a down here and win a down there. We don’t want to give up explosive plays and when we get down in the red zone we’ve got to either turn the ball over or force them to kick a field goal.’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith on Saints QB Drew Brees.

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