Dat’s Davis: Here’s What the Saints Must Do to Beat the Bucs Without Their Head Coach

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New York Jets
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints, for the moment, kept their playoff hopes alive by beating the New York Jets decisively, 30-9. Taysom Hill was efficient through the air, connecting 15 of 21 pass attempts for 175 yards.

The team also saw star RB Alvin Kamara return in a big way, leading the Saints on the ground with 120 rushing yards off 27 carries. Now the Saints have to dial in & focus for what should be their biggest game left remaining on the schedule.

The team won against Tampa Bay in its last meeting on October 31st, but this time the Saints will have to try to overcome both Tom Brady AND COVID-19.

Head Coach Sean Payton tested positive for the virus and will miss SNF. Payton missed Wednesday practice with an illness, but tested negative for COVID. He returned to practice on Thursday, but subsequently tested positive on Friday.

This left many wondering whether any other Saints players were considered close contacts and also contracted the virus. So far, it doesn’t look to be the case. In fact, the Saints overall are reportedly getting healthier, especially on the offensive side of the ball. 

Per analyst Nick Underhill from NewOrleans.Football, Pete Carmichael will be in charge of offensive play-calling. Carmichael did well when he last called plays for retired Saints QB Drew Brees during seasons 2011 & 2016.

RB Mark Ingram returned to practice this week, and has since been activated off the COVID-19 list. Ingram spoke with Saints media about having the virus, saying, “I was angry when I couldn’t play last week. I woke up Sunday angry.” This should give Saints fans plenty to talk about, as he has a chance to release that anger & frustration alongside his partner-in-crime Alvin Kamara against a Tampa Bay defense, that has been showing holes in its run defense the last two games. The Bucs have dropped to 3rd for best run defense in the NFL this year. 

TE Adam Trautman was also activated off Injured Reserve, and this comes as a pleasant surprise. Trautman had his best game of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles catching 5 of his 8 targets for 58 yards, but was then injured with an MCL sprain making an athletic reception to put the Saints within scoring distance. Projected time tables for return had him at 4-6 weeks. He returns after three. This gives the team another viable option in both the passing & running game alongside veteran TE Nick Vannett.

What about defense? How about getting Cameron Jordan back, for starters? Jordan has also been activated off the COVID-19 list this week, and has had his sights set on wreaking havoc on the edge to speed up Tom Brady’s internal clock. The extra week off, with extensive familiarity of the Bucs offense, should help the Saints like it did last time, having created a turnover via forced fumble when the Bucs were in the red zone.

The 2nd-round pick, LB Pete Werner, returned to practice as well this week and was upgraded to Full Participant on Friday. Other Full Participants include DB CJ Gardner-Johnson, and QB Taysom Hill. 

Now here comes the bad news. LT Terron Armstead landed back on the injury report this week with a knee designation. Armstead has been ruled OUT alongside RT Ryan Ramczyk, who has missed the last several weeks also with a knee injury. Whereas Tampa Bay’s defensive line is going into Sunday night healthy. With no Sean Payton to add to the mix, it’s looking like a tough night ahead for the Saints offense. TE Garrett Griffin has been placed on Injured Reserve.

I have the Saints losing to Tampa Bay but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they find a win to pull off the upset victory on the road in the Bucs own building.

Here’s why:
Since joining Tampa Bay, Tom Brady has a 1-3 losing record against the Saints, a 8-7 TD/INT ratio, and a passing grade of 67.5. You could say that they are Brady’s “kryptonite”. Even amidst the fact that Brady, statistically, had his best showing against the Saints in terms of passing, and Chris Godwin going for 140 receiving yards off 8 catches, he also threw two interceptions, including a game sealing pick-six to safety PJ Williams. 

There’s also injuries on the Bucs, particularly in their secondary. CB Jamel Dean has been ruled out, and CB Richard Sherman has been listed as doubtful. Other notable names to watch for include Safety Antoine Winfield Jr., RB Leonard Fournette, WR Breshad Perriman (COVID-19), and Safety Jordan Whitehead who is working towards returning back to the lineup after being injured earlier in the season.

What do the Saints need to do in order to win?
– Dominate Time of Possession: If the Saints get into a shootout with Tom Brady, they are likely to lose. They simply do not have the firepower to keep up with the Bucs offense. Taysom Hill & Pete Carmichael have to find a way to sustain drives, chew the clock and most of all score when in the red zone. It took close to three full quarters for the Saints to put away the Jets, but the defense did its part. Hill’s legs will have to create opportunities for his arm, instead of the other way around.

– Win Turnover Battle: Saints won the turnover battle against Tampa Bay on October 31st. They have to do so again before Tom Brady gets into any sort of rhythm. CJ Gardner-Johnson will have to have a rebound game, given that Chris Godwin worked him over decisively from in the slot. 

– Avoid Big Plays: Saints have to make the Bucs earn every yard on Sunday; which means, they must avoid giving up the deep shots down the field. If I were a betting man, I would put money on Tom Brady going after rookie CB Paulson Adebo with one of their speedy receivers such as WR Scotty Miller, or even WR Tyler Johnson.

This isn’t unknown territory for the Saints, so they know what to expect. The team must improve to 7-7, otherwise its playoff hopes become extremely dicey with Washington, Philly, Minnesota and Atlanta in the mix.