Although he's focused on exploiting the NFL's most porous defense Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is well aware of the prolific attack across the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium.
With Drew Brees under center, New Orleans boasts the league's top-rated passing game and the Saints have not been held below 24 points during a 1-4 start. Connor Barth is one of the NFL's most reliable kickers, but Freeman knows the path to victory against the Saints leads through the end zone.
"In this league, three points seldom gets it done,'' Freeman said, "especially when you're playing a quarterback and an offense as talented as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.''
Time of possession will also be telling against New Orleans, Freeman said.
Tampa Bay is struggling to convert third downs, with a 28.3 percent success rate that ranks 30th in the 32-team league.
"Another huge thing is staying on the field, giving your defense a chance to rest and keeping No. 9 off the field,'' Freeman said.
The Bucs (2-3) enjoyed a breakout game last week, rolling up 463 yards in a 38-10 rout of Kansas City as Freeman fired three touchdown passes while posting a passer rating of 124.7.
"It's football, it's a blast,'' Freeman said. "I'm having so much fun playing with this team. You can't lose sight of the camaraderie, the brotherhood, going out and going to war with your guys. It's been extremely enjoyable and I'm excited to see where we can take this team.''
Brees is leading New Orleans to an average of 28 points per game, but that doesn't mean the absence of head coach Sean Payton isn't felt by the record-setting triggerman.
Payton has been suspended for the season by the league for his role in the Saints bounty program, denying Brees access to an astute play-caller as he prepares for Sunday's NFC South matchup.
"He's one of the best offensive minds in this league, so when it comes to game-planning, when it comes to his game-day presence and his mentorship, it's something that you miss, obviously,'' Brees said.
After setting NFL records last season for accuracy (71.2 completion percentage) and passing yards (5,476), Brees is hitting at a 58.9 percent clip during a sluggish start by the defending division champions.
"I feel his absence,'' Brees said, "but our assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job.''
The suspension of Aqib Talib for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs means the Bucs have to face Brees' big targets without their tallest cornerback.
At 6-foot-1, Talib is a rangy defender who would normally be assigned to shadow 6-4 WR Marques Colston, averaging 15.9 yards per reception with four TDs.
At 6-7, Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham is a weekly matchup nightmare.
In Talib's absence, the Bucs will count on CBs Eric Wright (5-10), E. J. Biggers (6-0) and Brandon McDonald (5-10).
"We've got an elite quarterback coming to town,'' said Wright. "It's possible height advantage could come into play, but I'm not going to grow five inches by Sunday, so it's not something that you tend to worry about. I get great work on a daily basis guarding bigger receivers like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. We just have to make sure we don't give the Saints open shots.''
Freeman is 3-3 against the Saints, completing 63.5 percent of his throws while registering a passer rating of 84.9. …Saints WR Marques Colston has 63 catches in 11 games against the Bucs, his most receptions against any opponent. …When Tampa Bay opponents start at their 20-yard line or deeper, they have only three touchdowns in 38 possessions.