The New Orleans Saints return home to the Caesars Superdome this Sunday. Their guests? Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints rallied to victory in Week One over the Atlanta Falcons. It was not pretty, but when it mattered most, the Saints got the job done. While it is Week Two, and it may feel a tad early to suggest this game is season-defining, there is no doubt that this matchup is a big one.
The Saints and Buccaneers have their eyes fixed on an NFC South title, and a victory over a divisional rival would be a massive boost for Dennis Allen’s team. Here are three keys that could unlock the door to victory for New Orleans.
Silence Mike Evans
Quarterbacks love having go-to targets. For Tom Brady, that man is Mike Evans. Evans is a gritty technician. His intensity, efficiency, and relentlessness make him one of the best receivers in the NFL. Evans led the Buccaneers in targets and receptions last week and caught a touchdown pass from Brady.
Evans is a significant threat in the red zone; since 2016, Evans has a league-leading 20 touchdowns on go/fade routes. That meshes well with Brady’s skills as a passer; Brady currently leads the NFL in completions and touchdowns when throwing to vertical routes (corner, go, post, wheel). Evans is invariably the primary target on these plays.
Taking Evans away is vital, and the Saints have a history of doing that. Last season, the Saints held Evans to three receptions for 62 yards across both games as they swept Tampa Bay. Expect Marshon Lattimore, Bradley Roby, Marcus Maye, and an emotionally charged Tyrann Mathieu to get into Evans’ face and erase him from the contest. Forcing Brady to double-clutch and look elsewhere is a must.
Stretch The Field
Last year, the Saints had a weak wideout corps. That has changed in 2022 as the trio of Chris Olave, Jarvis Landry, and Michael Thomas have boosted the Saints’ passing offense. Landry posted seven receptions for 114 yards last Sunday. Landry’s average route depth was 11.6 yards, his highest for seven years. New Orleans finally finding a vertical threat is big news.
It dissuades defenses from compressing the field, allowing offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael more scope to attack the intermediate areas of the field. It is a critical component of the Saints’ identity. We have watched Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, and Devery Henderson streak clear on deep passes in previous years. The Buccaneers are a good passing defense; they finished second in pass DVOA last year.
And they are very good at taking the big plays away, but if the Saints can establish the threat of the big pass, it will create room underneath. Getting Thomas and Olave into space and working on Tampa’s linebackers could yield dividends.
Use Home Field Advantage
The Superdome is arguably the loudest NFL venue. No team in the NFC enjoys a more considerable home-field advantage than the Saints, and they must make it count on Sunday. It will not be any ordinary home opener; it will be an emotional homecoming for two Saints players.
When Louisiana natives Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry run out of the tunnel, the ‘Dome may destroy eardrums across the Bayou. The Buccaneers’ offensive line has experienced a rough preseason with injuries to Ryan Jensen and Aaron Stinnie.
Meanwhile, Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith are now questionable. Tom Brady is under .500 in games at New Orleans. Moreover, on Monday, Brady questioned how many more hits he could take. Behind a mix-and-match offensive line, expect the Superdome to vibrate and shake with noise every time the Buccaneers’ offense takes the field. Conversely, the home surroundings should allow the Saints’ offensive line to exude some composure.
This Sunday is a colossal moment in the early part of the 2022 season. The Saints are good enough to win the game, but they must execute and finish. They did it in the fourth quarter last Sunday, and they’ll need to do it again. If the Saints do these three things, they could make it a fifth straight regular-season win over the Buccaneers.