Keys to the Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans

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Week one of the NFL season is finally here. All offseason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans have been anxiously waiting to see how the new roster will shape up against an NFC South powerhouse in the New Orleans Saints.

 

The additions of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, and Leonard Fournette complement an offense that should be one of the best in the league. But make no mistake, this will be a tough first test, and the Buccaneers will need to key in on specific match-ups if they hope to come out on top.

Can the Offensive Line Keep Brady Upright?

This is probably the biggest question going into week one. Last season, the Buccaneers ranked 22nd in sacks given up per game at 2.9. One can equate this number to below-average offensive line play, and the tendency for Jameis Winston to hold on to the ball.

The addition of Tristan Wirfs on the right side should be an upgrade over the aging Demar Dotson, but one matchup I’m keeping a close eye on is Donovan Smith against Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan.

Last season, the two combined for 4.5 sacks on Winston. Not all were attributed to Donovan Smith, but he will need to stay on his A-game if the Buccaneers want to put points on the board.

I have no concerns with Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen, but rookie Tristan Wirfs will be put in the line of fire immediately. The offense will only go as far as both tackles can halt the pass rush of the Saints.

Will Shaq Barrett and the Buccaneers Front Seven Show Up?

Last season against the Saints, Shaq Barrett was a non-factor. He combined for zero sacks, just one quarterback hit, and two combined tackles. New Orleans has a solid offensive line anchored by Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead. Andrus Peat roams the inside, and the addition of Cesar Ruiz only bolsters a solid unit even more.

The Buccaneers front seven will need to pressure Brees if they want a chance at stopping Michael Thomas and company. The trenches are important in any game, but if the Saints dominate in this area, as usual, it’s going to be a long day.

Expect Todd Bowles to be more creative in his blitz packages this time around. An improved secondary should also buy the pass rush a few moments to land home on Brees. Pressure from the middle is the key to stopping Brees, so Vita Vea needs to excel out of the gate.

Who Will Slow Down Michael Thomas

In 2019, Michael Thomas torched the Buccaneers’ secondary for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Todd Bowles needs to key in on Thomas and force Drew Brees to throw to a different receiver.

We’ll see who, if anyone, in the Buccaneers secondary is tasked with shadowing Thomas. I would give Jamel Dean the first crack with a linebacker bracketed to his side to shut down any slants. Dean shut down DeAndre Hopkins in week 15, as he totaled for only 23 yards on five receptions. If this doesn’t work, rotating corners to throw Thomas off guard may do the trick.

It’s unlikely that the Buccaneers will completely shut down Michael Thomas, but he will need to be slowed down for a chance at stalling the Saints offense.

This will be the first time the Buccaneers take the field with their new additions. A limited offseason may cause chemistry issues to start, but I am confident Brady can lead this team through the playoffs. Many analysts have the Saints winning at home, and if they do, there’s no need to sound the alarm. In 2018, Brady and the Patriots started off the season 1-2, before going on to the win the Super Bowl. It’s a long season, but a week one win against the Saints would be a true tone-setter.

 

 

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