When New Orleans travels to Tampa Bay for Sunday’s game, you’ve likely read as much about the Saints as you possibly can.
But what about the Buccaneers?
That’s where A View From the Other Side comes in. Every Friday during the Saints’ season, WWL-TV.com will ask five questions to at least one beat writer covering the Saints’ opponent that week.
This week, we welcome in Jenna Laine and Anwar Richardson, who were kind enough to help us out.
Laine has covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four seasons, including three for NFL.com, Sports Fan Live, and Yahoo’s ThePostGame. She also covered the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. She hosts a Tampa Bay sports talk radio show called “The Sports Mob” on 1010 CBS. She tweets @JennaLaineBucs
Richardson covers the Bucs for the Tampa Bay Tribune. He tweets Bucs news from @TBO_Buccaneers.
WWLTV.com: Tampa Bay was shockingly blown out by San Francisco this past Sunday. What have you seen from this team that leads you believe they’ll be able to handle recovering from that loss?
Jenna Laine: “I spoke to linebacker Quincy Black about this during preseason, right after Tampa Bay got beaten pretty badly by New England. He told me he thought this team’s strength, especially with being so young, is its resilience. I think when you’ve got a bunch of guys who are 22 and 23 years old and they experience a big loss, they tend to bounce back quicker and respond better to coaching than some of the veteran players.
It’s almost like they don’t know any better, so they just focus on their corrections and play. And when you look at the 10-6 team from last year – they only lost back-to-back games once. But I do think that in this situation, with the injuries they’re dealing with this week to key players Gerald McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Mason Foster, Luke Stocker and losing Cody Grimm for the season – it’s going to be very difficult to bounce back, especially against a team like New Orleans that racked up 30-plus points at Raymond James the last two years.
The team did get some good news with the reinstatement of free safety Tanard Jackson this week. And from what I’m hearing, he may actually get the start.
Anwar Richardson: “Honestly, I’m not convinced Tampa Bay can rebound from that loss against New Orleans. The Bucs will be without running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster is battling an ankle injury. Add in that New Orleans is 2-0 in its last two games at Raymond James Stadium, winning by a combined margin of 69-13, I think Tampa Bay struggles once again.”
WWLTV.com: Josh Freeman said he’s more comfortable with the offense this season. Where has he improved from his first two seasons?
Laine: “To be perfectly honest, I think Josh Freeman’s regressed a bit this year. In his first five games he’s matched his interception count from all of last season (6) and he’s thrown twice as many picks as he has touchdowns (3). I don’t like to harp too much on stats, but they illustrate some of the mistakes he’s making and the fact that he and his receivers aren’t always on the same page. It’s causing him to force things.
Guys like Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn aren’t getting the separation they need downfield so Freeman is holding on to the ball longer, and it upsets the timing of everything. In his defense, I really don’t think he’s had a real ‘go-to guy’ this year, with the exception of second-year receiver Preston Parker, who has been a pleasant surprise.
The one thing I will say is that Freeman has shown this year that he’s not afraid to take risks, throw deep into coverage. I think that’s what makes Drew Brees so much fun to watch – the way he threads a needle, it just takes your breath away. But, it’s important not to get careless with the football.
Richardson: “If you look at the numbers, Freeman has regressed this year. Freeman has thrown six interceptions and three touchdowns this season. Freeman threw 25 touchdowns and had only six interceptions last year. He is forcing passes and Freeman’s receivers aren’t getting open.”
WWLTV.com: If LeGarrette Blount can’t go, can Earnest Graham more than make up for what Tampa Bay will lose without Blount?
Laine: “I don’t think you can replace LeGarrette Blount in terms of physicality or production. Even though they’re two different types of backs, I think he gives the Bucs the same type of electricity as Darren Sproles gives to the Saints.
Last year, so much attention centered around ‘number five,’ but really, this year, it’s Blount who makes this offense work and allows them to utilize what they’re best at – play action. Plus, he wears down a defense, which is why you see a lot of his breakout runs, like that 35-yarder against the Colts, later on in games. He’s so tough to bring down once he gets in open space. That’s when you start to see those hurdles he’s known for.
Graham, who’s 31, doesn’t have that. His role is more of what you saw from Cadillac Williams last year. His greatest asset is picking up blitzes, blocking, using his hands when needed, just being that “extra guy.” He’ll take a shovel pass to the outside for a 5-yard pickup to keep the chains moving, but he’s not the focal point of the offense the way Blount is. He’s not going to gash a team for 127 yards.
Richardson: “Not really. Graham is a GREAT man. He’s an awesome human being. He’s just not a person who can carry the ball 20-or-more times a game. Graham will split carries with RB Kregg Lumpkin, but the Bucs will struggle without Blount.
WWLTV.com: What happened with the Bucs defense against the 49ers and where do you expect them to improve this weekend?
Laine: “So much of what we saw on tape from last week, defensively, was the result of guys shooting the wrong gaps, missing their assignments, thinking they saw something that wasn’t, and of course the 49ers completely dictating the tempo from start to finish. And by now, everybody knows Tampa Bay’s a fourth-quarter team, so the 49ers got an early lead and never let up.
With that said, I think they’ve got to do a better job up front, defensively after failing to get a single sack last week. And this D-line is an area the team invested its first and second round picks for two consecutive years while they took a rookie MIKE backer this year. So I expect them to get to Brees more, but the team’s linebackers have to do a better job against the run.
Richardson: “Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t show up against San Francisco and I’m not sure how much better it will do against New Orleans. Tampa Bay’s total defense is ranked 23rd and the Bucs are tied for 20th in points allowed (25.0 ppg). New Orleans averages 31.4 points per game, so the math is simple.
WWLTV.com: Gerald McCoy is likely going to be out this week against the Saints. Who fills in for him and if it’s Da'quan Bowers, is he ready to fill in on a full-time basis?
Laine: “With Gerald McCoy’s ankle injury, while he hasn’t been officially ruled out yet, it’s pretty much assumed he’s a no-go for New Orleans on Sunday. So Frank Okam, an absolute mammoth at 6ft 5, 350 will get the start. If you remember, he was the one who recovered the fumble by Julius Jones last year in the season-finale.
So Okam will rotate in and out with rookie defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, who will step in on third-down. At 6-foot-4, 277 pounds, Bowers is a bit undersized for a defensive interior lineman, but he did play three-technique at Clemson. In fact, that’s what he was originally when he was recruited to play there.
Richardson: “I hate to sound like Debbie Downer, but Da’Quan Bowers has never played defensive tackle in the NFL. Brees also has a knack of keeping defenders on the field by moving the offense constantly. New Orleans should have its way on Sunday. “