Lure of a playoff berth and home-field edge drive heavily favored Saints.
Battered Bucs offense won’t be able to keep Drew Brees and Co. off the field.
A long, dreary, forgettable season is finally coming to an end, and there were some signs of that in the Bucs’ locker room this week. Tables in the middle of the room were filled with more than the usual allotment of footballs and jerseys to be signed, and the talk among the players was of finishing strong and going out on a good note. Beneath it all, of course, there was a great sense of uncertainty about the future. This is a team that really has no idea who its coach is going to be next year. The message from the current coach, however, was very clear. Greg Schiano is demanding nothing short of the best effort from every player this week. He’s referred to this game as the Bucs’ playoff game, and the opportunity to knock the Saints out of the playoffs should be incentive enough to get the best the Bucs have to offer.
Bucs CB Darrelle Revis vs. Saints QB Drew Brees
This was a marquee matchup the first time these teams met this year, and it is again today. Brees ranks second in the league in just about every meaningful passing category and Revis is the top-rated corner in the league, according to the numbers crunchers at ProFootballFocus. He has allowed receivers to catch only 30 of 58 passes thrown his way, and those receivers have gained just 271 yards or 9.0 yards per reception, the seventh-lowest average per catch in the league. Brees threw for 322 yards against the Bucs the first time out this year, but he completed only 26 of his 46 passes and was picked off twice while facing mostly zone schemes. Revis still isn’t back to his old self, but he is playing more man coverage now than he was during Week 2, so Brees might get a lot of looks from the Bucs today that’s he not accustomed to seeing. This matchup alone might be the single best reason for Bucs fans to tune in today.
Questions with Bucs TE Tim Wright
Q: How has coach Greg Schiano changed since you were with him at Rutgers?
A: I feel like he’s gotten more wise as a coach in terms of handling the game and making calls. He’s learned from the people that he’s surrounded by and he has become a better coach all the way around.
Q: You will finish second on the team to Vincent Jackson in number of receptions this season. Could you have imagined that at the start of your rookie year?
A: It’s something I probably didn’t expect when I first came to the Bucs, but I work hard and they say good things come to those that work hard. I feel like I put my myself in a position where they called my number and I came through for them.
Q: What have you learned about NFL defenses?
A: It all happens faster at this level. Defenses in the NFL make less mistakes and get to the ball with speed and skill. These guys know the game and they’re usually in position to make the play.
Q: You grew up in New Jersey. Have you ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert?
A: No, I haven’t, but I certainly like his music. He’s so big in New Jersey. I’m going to try to stop down to the Stone Pony club on the Jersey shore, because the man’s a legend.
Q: Can you see yourself living in the Bay area after your playing days?
A: Definitely. It’s a great area. My true inside identity will always be as a Jersey guy but let’s face it this is a great place to live. You can’t beat the weather — or the people. No doubt this area has a lot going for it.
Keys to Victory
WIN IN THE TRENCHES
LT Donald Penn isn’t the only member of the Bucs offensive line who is struggling down the stretch this season. With the possible exception of RT Demar Dotson, the entire unit has been struggling. And it’s not just because it has been taking on some of the league’s best defensive fronts. Those matchups have certainly contributed to the O-line’s woes, but the problems up front run much deeper than that. The Bucs are being beaten consistently at the point of attack, both in the run game and in pass protection. They’re being beaten so badly it makes you wonder if the line isn’t in need of an overhaul. This was supposed to be one of the Bucs’ greatest strengths, but it has recently become one of their most glaring weaknesses. If the Bucs are going to have any chance at all today of staying with the Saints, this unit has to bounce back and bounce back big.
KEEP THE BALL IN FRONT OF YOU
The Saints do not have a balanced offensive attack. They have thrown the ball on 61 percent of their plays this year, so the run is really just a change-up to them. The amazing thing is they succeed despite being so predictable. The Bucs are not going to shut down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston today, but their linebackers and defensive backs can limit the effectiveness of those three and others such as RB Pierre Thomas by keeping the ball in front of them and tackling well. Brees has tremendous precision, and a lot of his success comes from his ability to deliver the ball in a way that allows his receivers to make big yards after the catch. The Saints rank second in the league in that category, so the Bucs have to play tight coverage and knock the ball away when they can and rally to the ball and tackle quickly when they can’t.
PLAY UP TO THE MOMENT
The NFL moved this game to the late-afternoon television time slot because the Saints are trying to advance to the playoffs. A victory will do that for New Orleans, but the Bucs have a little something to play for, as well. This is another chance for Tampa Bay to prove to a regional TV audience that it’s not as bad a team as many people think. The Bucs have had a couple of chances to do that recently but have failed to capitalize, losing first at Carolina and then at home to San Francisco. No one expects the Bucs to give the Saints much of a game today, but you might want to keep in mind that back in Week 2, New Orleans beat Tampa by only two points, 16-14. If the Bucs can muster a similar effort today and pull off an upset, it would give them a memorable finish to an otherwise forgettable season.