WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 7
WHERE THE SAINTS STAND: The New Orleans Saints are 0-0 and tied for first place in the NFC South Division.
SAINTS HEAD COACH: Jim Haslett
SAINTS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Mike McCarthy
SAINTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rick Venturi
SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Everest
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2001):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 26th RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 6th RUSHING: 12th PASSING: 5th
HOW THE SAINTS RANK IN THE NFL (2001):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 30th RUSHING: 28th PASSING: 22nd
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 16th RUSHING: 14th PASSING: 17th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Saints RB Deuce McAllister vs. Buccaneers middle linebacker Shelton Quarles: The Saints parted ways with RB Ricky Williams via a trade with Miami during the offseason, so New Orleans' 2000 first-round draft pick RB Deuce McAllister is left to carry to the torch. He's much quicker than Williams, and he's a better pass-catcher too. The Saints likely will hit McAllister with screen passes and he'll get his fair share of draw plays, too, which are both hard to defend.
Tampa Bay held Williams in check last December. He only rushed for just 26 yards. McAllister averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in the preseason while Tampa Bay's defense, including middle linebacker Shelton Qualres, played well against the run. Something will have to give when they collide on Sunday.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Saints were outscored 160-52 in the final four games of the 2001 season?
ATTACK, BUT CONTAIN BROOKS:
Tampa Bay's defense made life tough for Saints starting QB Aaron Brooks last December. They intercepted him four times and Bucs CB Ronde Barber hauled in three of those. Brooks isn't the most accurate passer. He completed just 53 percent of his passes this preseason and 55 percent of his passes last year. Even if the Bucs' defense can get pressure on Brooks, they'll have to be careful in their pursuit. Brooks is as mobile as quarterbacks come and can make teams pay if they don't wrap him up right away. He rushed for 358 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. Tampa Bay's defense has struggled against mobile quarterbacks in the past, but if they can put a couple of hard hits on Brooks early, he might not be so quick to scramble out of the pocket.
BUCS CAN'T PUT BALL NEAR HAND:
Tampa Bay's offense was able to rush for 157 yards against New Orleans' defense last season, but the Saints were without big run-stuffer Norman Hand in that game. Hand dropped over 40 pounds during the offseason, so one has to wonder if he'll be as strong of a force against the run. The Saints allowed 112 yards rushing per game in the preseason, so the Bucs could pick up where they left off last season in terms of rushing success.
Unless it's raining on Sunday, temperatures on the field should be in the 100s. Tampa Bay would be wise to sport its white-on-white or white-on-pewter uniform combination, which would force the Saints to wear its home colors, which are black jerseys on either black or gold pants. Believe it or not, this could play a role in the outcome of Sunday's contest at Ray-Jay.
New Orleans' upgraded its receiver corps during the offseason. They signed Jerome Pathon and drafted Donte' Stallworth, who has 4.2 speed, which gives them a lot more speed on offense. Both Pathon and Stallworth will line up alongside WR Joe Horn, who is a speedster, too. Horn hauled in 83 passes for 1,265 yards and scored nine touchdowns last year, but Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly did a good job of containing him last December. But neither Barber nor Kelly has the speed to keep up with Pathon and Stallworth in a footrace, which means they'll have to do a good job of pressing them at the line of scrimmage in order to disrupt their routes.
BEWARE OF SAINTS DEFENSE:
While most people think New Orleans' defense has slipped in terms of its level of play, they still have some solid players on that side of the football. Saints S Sammy Knight led the team in interceptions with six last season. He's an excellent player in both pass and run coverage. New Orleans MLB Nate Clemons is a force in the heart of the Saints' defense. He recorded 13.5 sacks and 75 tackles last season. The Saints' defense led the NFC in sacks last year with 53, but look for them to concentrate more on stopping the run against Tampa Bay, even if it means recording fewer sacks.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Visit the New Orleans Saints' site and TheInsiders' New Orleans Saints web site for more information on Tampa Bay's next opponent – the New Orleans Saints.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach SS John Lynch on stopping Saints RB Deuce McAllister:
"We have a lot of respect for Ricky (Williams)," said Bucs strong safety John Lynch. "But I think Deuce gives them the guy that can go 80 (yards). He's also a good receiver. Part of our challenge this Sunday will be stopping him."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the game against the Saints:
"I'm excited and I think our team is excited. We have a lot to prove and we have a long way to go. But this Sunday will give us a real good indication of where we are. We're fired up about this opportunity."
Gruden on the Saints' speedy offense:
"We're facing a very complex defensive scheme and an offense that has tremendous skilled position receivers. They have (Donte') Stallworth and (Joe) Horn, two guys that can really run. (Deuce) McAllister is a guy that lines up in any eligible position. Aaron Brooks is a guy that can pretty much keep it alive. They're very dangerous on both sides of the ball."
Bucs QB Brad Johnson on playing an entire game for the first time this year:
"It will be the first time (we play together 60 minutes)," said Brad Johnson. We'll probably have to hydrate a little more this week. It's going to be a hot day. We've had enough work in all the mini-camps and training camps. In preseason, I think we played the right amount of snaps."
Bucs WR Keenan McCardell on how important Sunday's game is:
"It's big," Bucs WR Keenan McCardell said of Sunday's game. "This is a division game. Your first goal is to win your division and the only way you can win your division is to win your division games."
Tampa Bay has to come out of Sunday's game with a win if they plan on making a serious playoff run this season. An opening-day loss to New Orleans at home would be devastating. It will be interesting to see how the Bucs' offense fares against the Saints' defense.
Look for the Saints to blitz the Bucs all day long, especially with Clemons. Tampa Bay's offensive line struggled throughout preseason, and New Orleans certainly saw the same thing when they studied film this week. If Tampa Bay's offensive line can't create some holes for RB Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott in the running game, the Bucs could be in trouble. Look for Tampa Bay to come out throwing in order to order to open up the running game.
If Tampa Bay's offense isn't going to score a lot of points, they certainly can't turn the ball over and put its defense in awkward situations. The Buccaneers are home, which should be a tremendous advantage. Tampa Bay needs to take advantage of having home field by scoring early and keeping the crowd very involved throughout the game. If they can do that, the Saints should march out of Ray-Jay losers.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 17 Saints 13
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