Some would say better late than never, but when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary this season against the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, it’s more likely closer to the latter.
Since joining the New Orleans Saints from the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers in 2006, Brees is 15-10 against the Bucs. With the exception of a few years, both teams often split their divisional games against each other.
Since losing in Game 1 to the Bucs, the Saints have won 10 straight and are another win or another Carolina Panthers’ loss away from the NFC South Divisional Title. Given the series’ history, despite being away, the Saints are favored after an underwhelming performance at Dallas against the Cowboys. They’re coming in at 10-2, while the Bucs (5-7) won back-to-back games for the first time since the start of the season with victories over the San Francisco 49ers and Panthers. The Bucs’ first two victories were against the Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles.
With a greater emphasis on the run under running back Alvin Kamara, Brees threw below 200 yards 3 times this season including his last two games against the Falcons and Cowboys, with 171 and 127 respectively. He’s also thrown for just 3 interceptions all season and, given his current pace, will be at a career low.
Despite the Bucs’ defense finally approaching respectable in the past couple weeks under interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, there are a few factors at play. First the Niners were down to their third string quarterback Nick Mullens. Second, despite getting 4 interceptions from Cam Newton in a season where interceptions have been a luxury with the Bucs’ secondary, the team barely managed to hold off the Panthers by a score. Third, this Saints team hasn’t changed and isn’t any less intimidating than the last time the Bucs faced them.
Brees tossed for 417 yards with the Bucs’ defensive starters, and the Bucs barely managed to stave them off because Ryan Fitzpatrick and offensive coordinator Todd Monken caught the Saints’ defense off guard with the deep ball. Fitzpatrick, Monken, and DeSean Jackson deserve all the credit in the world for their execution, but they were just fortunate to stay a step ahead with Brees carving up the Bucs’ defense. Brees seldom makes errant throws for interceptions, so pressure will be key. A fumble here or there coughed up by the Saints could turn the tide in the Bucs’ favor as long as they play a near-perfect game.
This will no doubt be Duffner’s biggest test. If the Bucs stand their ground at Raymond James Stadium, then running the table becomes a little more realistic. The playoffs, on the other hand? They still need a lot of help.