The long-anticipated 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season is upon us. Many obstacles stood in the way, and some thought the season wouldn’t happen. With the Covid-19 protocols and safety measures in place, the NFL’s pumped in crowd noise will be something we’ll all have to get used to. It’ll be a much different feel for the Buccaneers as they travel to New Orleans to open the season as America’s game of the week.
It’s a new season, and it’s an all-new Buccaneers squad with high expectations for their season. With Tom Brady in town and what seems like a rejuvenated Buccaneers team, Tampa Bay will need to start the season with a bang. Let’s breakdown what the Buccaneers can expect this Sunday in The Big Easy.
Cameron Jordan and the Saints Front Seven
One thing that can be said of the Saints defensive line is that they have improved from season to season. Kade Kistner of the Canal Street Chronicles pointed out in an article last month that New Orleans’ sacks per game have gone from sixth in the league in 2017, to third in 2019. This squad has gone from 2.63 sacks per game in 2017, to 3.13 sacks per game in 2019.
Tampa Bay is no stranger to the Saints pass rushers, especially Cam Jordan. In 2019, the Saints’ defense accounted for eight sacks on the Buccaneers in their two matchups. Left tackle Donovan Smith has the tall task of keeping his new 43-year-old quarterback from letting Jordan have his way with him. But the Saints aren’t just limited to Jordan being a sack master, who has 87 sacks over his nine seasons with the Saints. Marcus Davenport had six sacks in 2019 and heading into his third year, he’ll look to keep the trend moving up.
Sheldon Rankins will be a player to monitor, as he looks to have a better season than he did in 2019. He’s fresh off an achilles injury and could cause some trouble upfront against rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Tampa Bay will need to play aggressively along the line of scrimmage this Sunday and keep New Orleans’ defensive line in check.
Lattimore, Jenkins, and Jenkins.
We’ll start with Marshon Lattimore here. Buccaneers star receiver Mike Evans has gone blow for blow against Lattimore with each player getting the better of one another each year. 2020 won’t be any different except Evans now has Brady throwing him the ball. Lattimore has been one of the league’s top corners and just had his fifth-year option exercised in March. Lattimore can be a ball hawk and plays an aggressive man coverage.
Malcolm Jenkins joined the Saints in this offseason and has had high praise for Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, saying:
“For me, and without knocking anybody I’ve played with, I don’t think I’ve played with a tandem who are both as talented as Marshon and Janoris,”
With Malcolm Jenkins and safety Marcus Williams handling safety coverage, Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins can play more press-man coverage. This will be important, especially going against the likes of Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and O. J. Howard. If the Saints defensive backs can win their one-on-one matchups, then Brady will have to be on the money with his mid-range and deep throws.
Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jared Cook.
Michael Thomas has been a Buc killer for the past few seasons. In 2019, Thomas burned the Buccaneers defense for 296 and three touchdowns. With no real additional receiver threat for New Orleans, they signed veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders will add a weapon to Drew Brees’ toolbox and can be a fast, deep threat target.
Jared Cook has been a bright spot on the Saints pass-catching squad. The 6-foot-5 veteran tight end posted 705 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 for the Saints and averaged 16.4 yards per catch. Cook gets behind the second level of the defense well and has been a mid-range threat for the Saints in 2019. He also can become a red zone threat because of his size and aggressiveness against man coverage.
This will be the first season opener in which Tom Brady will an underdog. But that’s to no surprise, as New Orleans has been a contender for several years now. With Drew Brees looking to male possibly make one last push for a Super Bowl, the Buccaneers secondary will need to cross their T’s and dot their I’s. New Orleans’ defense has steadily been one of the top-10 squads in the league, and they’re not looking to take a step back. This will be the game to watch Sunday as the two future first-ballot Hall of Famers take the field in New Orleans.