Sunday at 6pm (UK time) in New Orleans, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints, both fresh off of Week 1 victories that were closer than they ought to have been, rekindle their rivalry, with each seeking a 2-0 start and an early grip on the NFC South.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers team news
On the surface, the Buccaneers underwhelmed in Week 1 in Dallas. There is, I suppose, something to that notion. After all, between the five-minute mark of the first quarter and halftime, four Buccaneers drives ended inside the Cowboys 30, two of them inside the 20. Unfortunately, Tampa wound up settling for four Ryan Succop field goals. That, stemming from the Bucs’ poor performance on third down all game (they converted 5-of-14) gave the impression that the Cowboys were in the game for far longer than they actually were.
Outside of, well, that stuff, the Bucs, broadly speaking, played quite well. Tom Brady completed two thirds of his 27 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown (though he did throw an interception). Running back Leonard Fournette was outstanding, piling up 127 yards on 21 carries. The receiver duo of Julio Jones and Mike Evans combined for eight catches (on ten targets) for 140 yards, with Evans adding the game’s lone touchdown late in the third quarter. By and large, despite the pedestrian point total, there’s really nothing here to worry about.
Now, if the third down woes continues, the Bucs will certainly have something to think about. However, given that (cliche alert!) ‘it was only Week 1’, and the man under center is still Tom Brady, and he’s still surrounded by elite skill position talent, it’s far more likely that this was a one off, and the offense will continue to gain efficiency.
It’s tempting to chalk up the Cowboys toothless showing to Dak Prescott’s exit with what turned out to be a broken hand. The fact is, however, that even when Prescott was healthy, the Buccaneers defense did an outstanding job against him, limiting the ‘Boys’ star QB to a ghastly 14 of 29 for 134 yards in an interception, and sacking him twice (they also sacked backup Cooper Rush twice after he was forced into action).
While it must be said that this Cowboys offense, with its lack of depth at both wide receiver and on the offensive line, is not the fearsome unit of recent years. That being said, the Buccaneers did an outstanding job of eliminating whatever threat the remaining playmakers did pose. The focus now shifts to New Orleans and the Saints, who are deeper and more talented at receiver than the Cowboys, and should present a sterner challenge.
New Orleans Saints team news
The saints started their season in Atlanta, against what is widely expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. They promptly proceeded to fall behind the Falcons – by nine at halftone, 13 after three quarters, and 16 with 12:41 remaining in the game. At the helm was starting QB Jameis Winston, who’s returning from a torn ACL that ended his 2021 season. Winston, who is one of the ultimate ‘boom-bust’ players at the position, has long been notorious for being a turnover machine. For a half in Atlanta, every last bit of that seemed like ancient history.
After a grotesque first half, in which he completed just five of 10 passes for a ridiculous 24 passing yards, after halftime, Winston effectively transformed into peak Joe Montana. After the break, he completing 18 of 24 passes (including 13-of-16 in the fourth quarter), for 245 yards and two touchdowns. 12 of his 18 completions went first downs. His rating for the half was an astronomical 134.9 (it was 56.3 in the first half). There’s no denying the Winston was absolutely dialed-in, but credit must be given to his supporting cast. One time backup quarterback (now a weird running back/tight end hybrid, I guess?) Taysom Hill was dangerous out of the backfield, rushing four times for 81 yards (including a 57 yarder) and a touchdown. Out wide, newly acquired wideout Jarvis Landry was outstanding, catching seven of nine targets for 114 yards. Former All-Pro Michael Thomas, himself returning from a lost season, posted 57 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, rookie first-rounder (#15 overall) Chris Olave caught all three of his targets for 41 yards
For all that went right in Atlanta, there are causes for concern for Winston and the Saints. First, for as incandescent as he was in the second half, that horrific first half performance did, in fact, happen. Also, Winston was sacked four times by what projects to be a bottom-third defense. Also, star running back Alvin Kamara was limited to 46 total yards by that same expected-to-be-bad defense. Against the Buccaneers defensive front, if the Saints’ offensive line doesn’t pick up the slack, both Winston and the running game could be in trouble.
Every bit as concerning as the O-line was the showing defensively against the Falcons. Now, Marcus Mariota didn’t exactly light the Saints up through the air, completing 20 of 33 passes, for 215 yards and no TDs. That said, this probably represents greater productivity than most anticipated from him prior to the game. More concerning is the fact that the Saints did not register a single sack against Mariota (though, in fairness, they did force two fumbles, one of which they recovered), and allowed both Mariota (12 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD) and especially Cordarrelle Patterson (22 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD) to carve them up on the ground. Against what looks like a rejuvenated Leonard Fournette, with Tom Brady and the Bucs complement of receiving talent around keep their defense honest, the Saints could be in for another bruising on the ground.