Sunday, September 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New Orleans Saints: Five things to watch in Saturday's game

TAMPA — Here are five things to watch in today's Bucs-Saints game:

1. Can the Bucs win with 7s instead of 3s?

The Bucs beat the Saints two weeks ago despite scoring one touchdown, eking out a 16-11 win with the help of three Roberto Aguayo field goals.

The Buc stalled twice just outside the red zone and converted one of their two red-zone chances. Beating the Saints that way in the Sean Payton era (since 2006) isn't easy. Entering this season the Saints were 31-3 when holding opponents to one touchdown or less; this year, they're 0-2, with the Bucs loss and a 16-13 loss to the Giants in Week 2.

The Bucs are 22nd in the NFL in red-zone offense, getting touchdowns 52.1 percent of the time, down slightly from last year. Jameis Winston completes 47 percent of his passes in the red zone. Cameron Brate (nine catches) and not Mike Evans (eight) is his top red-zone receiver.

All seven Brate touchdowns have come in the red zone. Only Green Bay's Jordy Nelson has more. Brate leads the NFL in fourth-quarter red-zone TDs with four.

2. Can the Bucs do their best Falcons impersonation?

If there's a model for beating the Saints in New Orleans, Atlanta provided it in Week 3, rushing for 217 yards in a 45-32 win. The Falcons scored touchdowns on five straight possessions for a 35-17 lead.

Nobody has rushed for 120 yards on the Saints since. They're vulnerable by the air — 31st in pass defense, allowing 271.2 yards — but the Bucs pride themselves on being a run-first offense.

New Orleans has allowed only 19 run plays of 12 yards or more, second fewest in the NFL. The Bucs have run for just 20 — Jacquizz Rodgers has eight, Doug Martin just five, Jameis Winston three. But in last year's Bucs win in New Orleans, the Bucs rushed for 139 yards, getting a 20-yard Martin run on their first drive. If they can pull that off, their defense won't have to do so much to win this time.

3. Can Jameis Winston set any Bucs passing records?

If Winston throws three touchdowns, he'll have 28 for the season, breaking Josh Freeman's team record of 27 set in 2012. And while it's more likely to happen next week, Winston can reset his own career high by passing for 432 yards and can set the Bucs' single-season record by passing for 455, breaking Freeman's 2012 mark of 4,065.

If Winston throws three touchdowns against the Saints, he'll become just the sixth QB to throw for 50 in his first two NFL seasons, joining Dan Marino (68), Derek Carr (53), Peyton Manning (52), Russell Wilson (52) and Carson Palmer (50).

4. Can the Bucs match the team record for road wins in a season?

A win at New Orleans would be the Bucs' sixth road win of 2016; they were 6-18 on the road from 2013-15. They had six road wins in their Super Bowl season in 2002 and again in 2010 when they went 10-6.

Current NFL teams with better road records than the Bucs: the Patriots (7-0), Raiders (6-1) and Cowboys (6-1).

5. Can Daryl Smith pick off Drew Brees?

It's an obscure shot to call, but he has done it before, and he had one earlier this season in the Bucs' win against Carolina. Smith, 34, is old enough to have faced Brees in the QB's Chargers days, losing to San Diego as a Jacksonville rookie in 2004.

The only linebackers Smith's age to get an interception the past five years: James Harrison, London Fletcher, Julius Peppers and Paris Lenon.

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