NFC South just warmed up.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) and New Orleans Saints (5-2) were dragged into one of the NFL’s most compelling squad battles heading towards Sunday night’s key match in Tampa (8:20) Dark ET, NBC). Now they are about to add two of the best players of the past decade to the second half of the season: Antonio Brown and Michael Thomas.
Brown will make his first appearance with Bucs, making his first in-game appearance in 14 months. Thomas, meanwhile, appears likely to make his first appearance since he sprained an ankle in New Orleans weekend 1 against the Buccaneers.
Thomas was officially included in the questionable list. But he trained all week in limited numbers, and a source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini he was expected to play.
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said Brown could play somewhere between 10 and 35 seconds on Sunday. Saints manager Sean Payton – who respected Brown’s talent enough to bring him on a probationary in New Orleans late last season – said that could be enough for the All-Pro four-time team to make it up for the first time. affect.
“You know, a big play at the wrong time possible [be a game-changer]. And it doesn’t ask for 11 arrests, “said Payton. He’s explosive and smart. He understands football.
“This week’s challenge was not having any idea of ’Did he come out and play a Z or an X? How much does it cost?’ So you have to be prepared for where they can put him on their plans. “
Matthew Berry and Field Yates discuss Antonio Brown’s fantastical relevance and why Tom Brady was key to his success in Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers should have a better idea of what would happen if New Orleans had the full complement of attacking players back. (Recipient Emmanuel Sanders has also been kicked off the bench / COVID-19 this week after missing the past two games.) But that won’t make Saints any easier to defend.
The Saints have begun to find the pace of attack in their recent four-win streak, spearheaded by Alvin Kamara’s historic beginnings as runner and receiver.
“Don’t even give the ball to him, you have to include Mike Thomas,” said Kamara. “Defense is a predictable game. They have to predict what will happen when Mike Thomas is on the pitch. … And obviously, when you put the ball in his hand and you take him away. How moving and running he’s used to running and doing the things that he used to do, not many players, not a lot of defense that could stop him. “
Here’s how much influence Brown and Thomas could have had during this time period – and what else the Buccaneers and Saints had to do to win in the South.
Brown requires defense attention
Unlike Thomas, Brown won’t be the focus of the Bucs’ passing game. But his presence lost the attention of some of the players with heavy training, such as Mike Evans, who said he just started feeling almost 100% after having an ankle injury in Week 4. Injury affected Evans’ ability to cut, but he also saw double coverage when Chris Godwin was not on the pitch, which had a significant effect on his production . Godwin’s condition on Sunday is uncertain, and much of that will depend on pain, but Arians said Friday after Godwin passed for the first time since surgery on May 27. 10. “I predict he will probably play.”
What Brown brought Bucs’ attack that could help the team not only secure a place in the playoffs but also a boost in the Super Bowl was that he could do it all as a front runner. He was just as dangerous on the outgoing and deep routes used with Scotty Miller as well as he was on the short to medium passes below and across the routes used with Godwin. He has the same versatility as Godwin, which Arians has described as invaluable.
“He is a dynamic player. What you always know for him is that his ability to transition in and out of the cut is definitely his strong suit,” Payton said of Brown.
The Bucs will create some packages for Brown against the Saints, but Arians are keeping it near the coffin. In Brown and Brady’s only match last season – a 43-0 win over Dolphins in Week 2 – Brown lined up in place over 12 times and another 12 outside.
Although he doesn’t run any for the Patriots, you can’t ignore Brown’s ability on the routes, which has become a defining trait of Brady’s turning to Arians’ offense. Brown has captured 67% of his lines since 2017. Brady has thrown more line efforts this season (14) compared to all last season, with only Matt Ryan and Patrick Mahomes throwing a lot. more, with 15 times per person. Bucs currently have four of the top 15 players in goals across postal routes since 2017.
Brown doesn’t have to play a ton to deal damage. In one of his games against the Patriots, Brown was targeted eight times on 14 runs (57.1%), and he caught four passes in 56 yards and one touch. According to ESPN’s Statistics & Information study, there have been more than 2,300 WR cases running more than 10 lines in a game since the start of last season; Only one goal more often than Brown in that game.
“He’s efficient at everything he does. … Not much wasteful movement, so a small move or a mistake, he’ll definitely put you in the dust,” said corner defender Carlton Davis said Bucs. “You have to be above your P and Q with AB.”
Will the return of Thomas bring back a deep shadow?
The Saints have maintained their offensive effectiveness even in the absence of Thomas and Sanders, thanks to Kamara’s sensational gameplay and the savage of Payton and Drew Brees.
But the team can definitely use a spark in the passing game. Who better to offer that than Thomas, who broke the NFL record with 149 receptions last year?
Like Kamara said, even if Thomas wasn’t the one to get the ball, he could open everything up to others.
“He has a lot to do with game planning,” Bucs defense coordinator Todd Bowles said of Thomas. “Kamara is enough, but they take back all weapons in Thomas and [Emmanuel] Sanders – obviously they’ll be fully loaded – and you are [tight end Jared] Cooking more. …
“We cannot favor one or the other. We have to have technique, sound in everything we do and try to slow him down. He’s dangerous and probably one of the best. Tournaments. “
When asked what made Thomas a challenge to defend, Bowles said, “I’m sure he has a great work ethic. He can catch it down below. He can catch it. He has strong arms. He blocks them. He can run trees for them. He can do a lot of things, which makes him very dangerous. “
Barrett added, “They just got that chemical reaction. They’ve got it. [Brees] knows exactly where the number 13’s position will be and when he puts the ball on him, he has a huge catch radius. He is a great player. “
The Bucs have Davis, their top corner defender who is in the middle of the breakout season, with the league top four interceptions, the Thomas ball in Week 1, and Davis limit Thomas to three tackles in 17 yards .
When asked why he was so successful against Thomas, whom he is expected to play again this week, Davis said, “I like duel. I like superior fitness and the wrong timing. His online number is the same as the timeline. It’s my game. “
Brees leads the NFL, as usual, with a completion rate of 73.1%. After a slow start in his first two games, he has the league’s third best passer rating since Week 3, at 111.2, behind only Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
The Saints are in the NFL’s top 10 in terms of yards per game, points per game, third-down conversion rate and least revenue.
But as has been scrutinized, Brees pitched even less ball down the pitch than usual. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, just 3% of Brees’s passes fly at least 20 meters in the air this season – the second lowest rate for any player in the eight weeks since ESPN started. chart that statistic in 2006.
Now Brees is dealing with an unspecified injury in his right shoulder that restricted him from training earlier this week.
When Payton was asked if he thought Saints’ offense would find its loopholes when they have all the players together, he cautiously replied, “We’ll see.”
“There are some things that I think we’re doing better. However, I think there’s still a lot of work ahead for us to get the effect we want,” he said.
The more obvious problem with New Orleans’ championship hopes is perhaps the finding of consistency on the other side of the ball.
The Saints’ talented defense has been repeatedly damaging itself by allowing deep passes to counter it. New Orleans has made a staggering seven passes of 48 meters or more in the past five matches.
Saints’ defense ranks eighth in the NFL in terms of allowed yards per game and third relative to run. But they faltered in areas like red zone defense (last, with 83.33%) and third defense (22nd, with 47.92%).
Next, they were faced with one of the toughest tests against the Tampa Bay attack even more profound and varied.
“It’s just a matter of concentration with us. We have talent,” said Saints winger Marshon Lattimore, who played his best football against Evans, saying he hasn’t been caught over 54. online in the past two seasons. “Every week, we go in there as if we are going to dominate. But some small things turn into big things. So that’s just what happens. We just need to fix those things, persevere. and we will be fine. “