Knocking Off The Champs

September 7th, 2018


Ever since Drew Brees and Sean Payton joined forces in 2006, NFL defensive coordinators haven’t slept soundly heading into Saints week.

In the past 12 seasons, New Orleans has ranked sixth or better in total offense every year, including six No. 1 finishes. Seven times in that span the Saints boasted a Top 5 scoring attack.

The wide receivers, tight ends and running backs may churn in the Big Easy, but that overworked scoreboard keeps putting up crooked numbers.

But let’s not forget the other side of the equation heading into Sunday’s season opener.

The Saints made significant strides on defense in 2017 en route to a division title. That’s how they vaulted from three consecutive 7-9 finishes to an 11-5 mark and that’s a big reason why they are favored by 9 1/2 points against the Bucs.

“They’re got a lot of good players on that side of the ball,” says Caleb Benenoch, who will open at right guard in the Superdome. “But this offense has shown we can get things done. Guys have bought into what we’re doing around here and things are moving in a positive direction.”

While Tampa Bay’s pass rush remains the key to victory, the Bucs are highly unlikely to spring a major upset without a productive ground game.

Breaking 20

Check it out.

When the Bucs attempt 20 rushing plays or fewer, they are 1-16 in the past five seasons. And while the Saints topped the NFC with 20 interceptions last year, they were vulnerable against the run, yielding 4.4 yards per carry.

Peyton Barber

That’s why Peyton Barber could very well be the difference on Sunday.

“He runs hard and we know he’s going to finish,” Benenoch says. “That makes you want to block for a guy like that. Peyton’s going to keep fighting, leaning forward.”

In 2015, the Saints ranked dead last in scoring defense. The next season, they inched up to 31st, slightly less awful.

The big breakthrough came last fall, when New Orleans allowed the 10th fewest points in the league. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the catalyst, picking off five passes and earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors while getting in the head of Mike Evans.

Model McCoy

Up front, Cam Jordan has joined the ranks of the NFL’s premier defensive ends. Unlike most elite pass rushers, he usually lines up on the left side, so Demar Dotson faces quite a challenge.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, has developed quickly after studying tape to learn Gerald McCoy’s favorite technique.

“A cross-chop, chop-swat, whatever you want to call it,” Rankins says. “That move, a lot of guards sit with their hands low and try to punch up, so if they’re hands are down, you chop their hands, swat the shoulder and you’re able to get around. That move, coming out of college, I didn’t have it.”

The Saints almost doubled Tampa Bay’s sack total last season, dropping quarterbacks 42 times. Jordan was credited with 13 of those takedowns and in last year’s season finale, Jordan registered 4 unassisted tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 3 QB hits.

“It’s a challenging front,” says Ali Marpet, “but I like our group. I like the guys we brought into our building. Leadership in the NFL is pretty big. The talent level between teams is minimal, so what often makes the difference is your desire to win. I know there will be great energy in their building, but we’ve won there. No reason we can’t do it again.”

Now in his 40th year covering the NFL, Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in the Tampa Bay area. He scored a full-time seat at world headquarters in July of 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays at 5 p.m. Also a TV star, see Ira now on Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360 (aka BayNews 9). Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday NFL show and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, tennis, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

8 Responses to “Knocking Off The Champs”

  1. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Hopefully the Saints have been reading their clippings and are ready to be upset.

    Better still would be if we come out and simply prove we are the better team.

    Watching Atlanta Philly last night…does anybody believe we can’t beat either of these two teams. Let’s hope Matty Ice continue his slump.

    We are off to a great start and haven’t even played yet..but Atlanta is 0-1.

  2. AlabamaBucFan Says:

    If we are to win this Sunday, I think we need Barber, Godwin and our TEs to have big games. On Defense, with Ingram out, we need to stop their running game. Go Bucs.

  3. BucEmUp Says:

    only way the Bucs win is if Grimes get puts on Michael Thomas vh3 in the slot in Carlton Davis pressing on the other side with Peyton Barber getting 24 carries but we all know Drew Brees is going to throw for over 400 yards easily

  4. 813bucboi Says:

    cant wait til sunday!!!!!!!


  5. Defense Rules Says:

    Great analysis Ira, especially about us being 1-16 in the past 5 seasons when we rush 20 or fewer times a game. That is a huge, telling stat IMO, not just against the Saints but against everyone. Now you’ve got me prayin’ that Peyton Barber holds up for the whole season.

    Saints could very well be the best team we’ll face all season. Playing them in the SuperDome doesn’t help much, and neither does our playing them without a couple of our key players. For our young Secondary to be going against a Top-5 offense led by Drew Brees certainly seems like a daunting task. BUT … I’d much rather see us play them at the start of the season than later after they’ve built up a head of steam (Saints reeled off 8 straight wins after losing the first 2 games last year). What’s so impressive is that they morphed very quickly into an extremely well-balanced team … 23 TDs passing; 23 TDs rushing, and their defense only gave up 12 TDs passing and 13 TDs rushing. That’s excellent balance IMO. Good thing we beefed up our DLine to (hopefully) provide more pressure on the QB AND stop the run better. Even though we’re missing Jameis, I still think that the rest of the team will rise to the occasion, especially our defense, and compete well.

  6. Defense Rules Says:

    @BucEmUp … “we all know Drew Brees is going to throw for over 400 yards easily.” If you look back at last season, you might notice that Drew Brees didn’t through for over 400 yards in ANY regular season game. Matter of fact, he only threw for over 300 yards in 3 games. Sean Payton understands the concept of BALANCE a lot better than our Bucs management group seems to.

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    The long wait is almost over – FINALLY

    In 2 days we get our first looky-loo at the 2018 Buccaneers starters playing in a real game that counts (double according to recent comments since its a division game on the road).

    Sucks that our franchise QB is suspended the first 3 games without a shred of direct evidence that he actually did what was alleged… SMFingH – but its no different I guess than if he had twisted a knee in the 3rd pre-season game and needed a month to recover. Same mentality. NEXT MAN UP

    The Bucs capacity for success in 2018 hinges on 5 specific areas that need improvement over what 2017 yielded:
    1. DLine play
    2. OLine play
    3. DB play
    4. Ability to run the ball and stop the run (directly related to 1 & 2)
    5. Red Zone TDs (directly related to 2 and first part of 4)

    If the Bucs can show moderate to significant improvement in all 5 of those areas compared to 2017 results – this team will be playoff bound and a legit contender to win it all.

  8. Mike Johnson Says:

    I want to see a Different Sway..a differentcockiness..confidence in our Defense this year. Until we get that, we will always ne mediocre. Knock somebody on their GD A..! You gotta make teams respect you. I can’t wait to see this so called new Defense come Sunday. And Ira, ask Smitty to make a cameo on the sidelines. Defensive troops need to see their leader on the sidelines during the game….Don’t you think?