The first thing that sticks out from New Orleans' season opener is the score — 41-10. It was unexpected. I think most people thought that the Saints would hang in there with the Colts because they had enough offensive weapons.
But the Saints were throttled instead, and as they come into Sunday's game with Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium, there are some things to correct, especially after watching that game again on Monday.
The Saints' passing game really held the offense back. Drew Brees had perhaps the worst game of his career, partly because of a Colts defense that was limiting his effectiveness upfield. The Saints have plenty of speedy receivers, but the Colts' defensive scheme left Brees unable to get upfield.
The upfield passing is a key component of head coach Sean Payton's offense. The Saints' longest pass play was 23 yards to Devery Henderson. That didn't lead to a score.
Fortunately for Tampa Bay, they play the same defense as Indianapolis, so they've probably already broken down the game film and seen the same things I have. The Colts secondary limited the Saints to underneath routes — plenty of tight rolls, screens, flats and tight end Eric Johnson, who had eight catches to lead all receivers. The tight end leading a Peyton-called offense is not a good thing. The Bucs secondary will be a key component in winning this game on Sunday. The Bucs have to run the Cover 2 as well as Indy did last Thursday.
Plus, the Colts got a great rush on Brees, who threw for only 192 yards and had a quarterback rating of 58.2. Statistically, it didn't look great. The Colts had only one sack and three hurries. But Brees threw two interceptions as a result of constant pressure in other ways. Brees played with uncharacteristic impatience in the second half and it showed in the interceptions.
The Saints defense gave up 452 total yards and 41 points. The Saints defense was never going to be great to begin with, but the sheer efficiency with which the Colts tore through it, especially in the second half, was startling. Sure, it's the Colts. But the Saints' defense isn't exactly, well, Tampa Bay's.
One reason the Saints struggled was cornerback Jason David, who played for the Colts last year and was burned repeatedly deep on Thursday. Apparently the Colts were right to leave him unsigned. You would think that if any player outside of Indy knew how to play the Colts' wide receivers in coverage it would be David. But the receivers played him instead.
It seemed David struggled the most with inside moves and routes, so perhaps the Bucs could tweak their use of their top receiving weapon, Joey Galloway, and give him more looks inside the middle of the field. He has enough speed to get by David either way, but if he's struggling going to the inside, exploit that. Watch for Galloway to see some post routes on Sunday. That's what Reggie Wayne scored on Thursday night.
Finally, the Colts did a solid job of limiting the effectiveness of backs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. Bush had 45 yards rushing and receiving, while McAllister had 40. That was certainly a product of the pressure the Colts put on the offensive line. Bush was bottled up all night, and perhaps that's a result of a year's worth of film and preparation for the second-year star. That's a symptom of the old sophomore slump. McAllister is more dependent on blocking and a diversified offense these days, so when the rest of the offense struggles, so will he.
The Bucs were given a blueprint for defeating the Saints, and because the blueprint was provided by their former coach, Tony Dungy, it's worth using. Defensively, the Bucs must limit the Saints' plays upfield, plus give Bush as little room to operate as possible. Offensively, the Bucs need to look deep and exploit David's sagging confidence as much as possible, plus not allow pass rushers Charles Grant and Will Smith to become factors in the pass rush. The Colts did a great job of limiting them both on Thursday.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.