Is the Saints defense Tom Brady’s new kryptonite?

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick breaks down the film to determine why Tom Brady has struggled against the Saints.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the New Orleans Saints in one of the more intriguing games of Week 15 on Sunday night.

Since joining the Bucs last season, Tom Brady is 0-3 against the Saints. Have the Saints become Brady’s kryptonite, as the Giants seemingly were back when Brady was in New England?

The Bucs (10-3) are a 10½-point favorite over the Saints (6-7), according to Tipico Sportsbook, but it likely still will be a battle for Brady. Last season, Brady threw five interceptions in two games against the Saints. In the most recent Bucs-Saints matchup, back in Week 8, Brady threw four touchdown passes. But he also threw two interceptions (including a pick-six) as the Saints came out with the win, 36-27.

The Saints are looking to climb their way into wild-card position, but Friday they learned that head coach Sean Payton will miss Sunday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19.

However, the Saints defense will get a boost from the return of defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is back from the COVID-19/reserve list.

Brady praised the Saints defense when asked about the matchup.

“They’ve got a great, powerful front,” Brady told media on Thursday. “They’ve played together a long time. It’s been one of the top defenses in the league. [New Orleans defensive coordinator] Dennis Allen does a great job preparing those guys. They’re just a very fundamentally sound defense. They make you earn it.”

The Saints started 5-2 on the season before their defense was beset by injuries. They’ve lost five of six since that hot start.

New Orleans boasts a bend-but-don’t-break pass defense which ranks 18th in the NFL in passing yards allowed — but ranks seventh in touchdown passes allowed and eighth in completion percentage.

Marcus Williams is ranked as the fourth-best safety in the league by Pro Football Focus. As Williams patrols over the top and Marcus Davenport applies pressure on the edge, it likely will be up to inside linebacker Demario Davis to disrupt Brady.

If there is one thing Brady hates, it’s the inside pass rush. Back in Week 8, there were several key plays that showed how much it impacts Brady’s performance.

In the clip below, it’s first down and the Saints wanted to bring pressure. So they sent Davis up the middle one-on-one against the right guard. A late stunt from the backside of the play got into the face of Brady, who rushed the throw that led to an interception.

Although Davis was picked up by a blocker, key players on the defensive line forced double-teams. That allowed defensive tackle David Onyemata to get in Brady’s face up the middle and force him to get rid of the ball.

In the clip below, Davis burst through the line untouched, and Brady was fortunate to get rid of the ball.

Once Brady is feeling the blitz, the Buccaneers often try quick passes in hopes of getting yards after the catch to move the sticks.

Davis likely will have a big job this week. Back in Week 8, he covered the middle of the field and also was the main player expected to make reads on quick screens and quick outs with the responsibility to protect the line of scrimmage.

These quick outs have been key for the Buccaneers this season, but the Saints shut them down in the previous matchup.

In the clip below, the Saints’ defensive backs dropped back into zone coverage when the Buccaneers lined up with twin receivers on the outside. This is done so that rub routes by receivers aren’t as effective.

This is where it will be key for Saints defenders to make solo tackles on the outside.

Below, cornerback Marshon Lattimore shows how important that is with a third-down stop against Buccaneers wideout Chris Godwin.

In two games against the Saints last season, Brady only completed 60.8% of his passes for 6.05 yards per attempt. He threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns against them in Week 8 of this season, but he also tossed those two costly picks.

The Saints can take away key Buccaneers weapons if they are able to successfully follow a plan similar to what they used in Week 8. The keys this week for the Saints defense will be the inside rush by Davis, his ability to read quick passes on the outside, and Lattimore continuing to dominate on the outside.

If New Orleans can execute in those areas, the Saints have an opportunity to upset the mighty Bucs.

How Stephon Gilmore can take Panthers defense to next level

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick breaks down how Stephon Gilmore is the missing piece the Carolina defense needed.

There was surprising news this week when the New England Patriots announced that they were prepared to part ways with standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore to save cap space.

The Carolina Panthers swooped in to acquire the veteran, who is in his 10th NFL season, for a mere sixth-round draft pick. Gilmore suffered a quad injury last season and was limited to 11 games, but he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.

So this is kind of a big deal for the Panthers.

Gilmore has elite man-coverage skills on the inside and outside and also has the ability to play in different zone coverages as well. The Panthers appear to be in win-now mode, and they needed a lockdown corner in order to continue the defensive success they enjoyed in the first three weeks of the season. Gilmore, who began the season on the PUP list for the Patriots, will be eligible to play for the Panthers in Week 7.

The Panthers allowed just 30 points while rolling to a 3-0 start to the season, but that dominance was halted in Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Carolina had allowed fewer than 50 rushing yards against the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans. But behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys racked up 245 yards on the ground against the Panthers.

When the Panthers opted for man coverage while focusing on the run, the Cowboys exploited Carolina’s defensive vulnerabilities upfield. That allowed Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott to throw four touchdown passes.

To put it bluntly, the Panthers were better in zone coverage than man-to-man. Per Sports Info Solutions, Carolina has allowed 37 catches on 63 attempts for 507 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in zone so far this season. Conversely, the Panthers have allowed 17 catches on 30 attempts for 174 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in man coverage.

If the Panthers want to stop the run, they need to be able to trust their corners to cover opponents one-on-one. This is where Gilmore can shine.

The clip above is an example of how the Panthers come out in looks that leave the cornerbacks on an island to the outside. Gilmore, meantime, is a lockdown cover corner with the ability to keep up with some of the NFL’s fastest receivers.

Gilmore doesn’t need to wait for a receiver to break to the ball. He loves to jump routes — remember his interception in Super Bowl LIII? He also knows how to use the sideline to take a receiver completely out of the play, like in the clip below.

Gilmore is a film watcher who pays close attention to receiver tendencies, field position and game situation, the offensive formation and the coverage scheme. He uses all of this knowledge and awareness to his advantage before he even lines up across from his opponent.

These skills can be used in zone as well, which is the coverage the Panthers prefer to use more often.

At the top of your screen in the video above, Gilmore would be a perfect fit lining up in press coverage then dropping back and reading the play as it develops.

Gilmore is the missing piece that the Carolina defense lacked. The Panthers understood their weaknesses in man coverage, and now they can be confident in leaving their cornerbacks on the outside while they bring pressure up front and leave single high in the back. They now have a formidable secondary, no matter which coverage they line up in, and Gilmore also can serve as a mentor to young corners Jaycee Horn and C.J. Henderson.

[lawrence-related id=138608,138633]

How rookie CB Jaycee Horn can turn the Panthers’ pass defense around

Last season, the Panthers’ pass defense was a problem. But with rookie cornerback Jaycee Horn on board, it may now be a bigger problem for opponents.

The Carolina Panthers’ cornerback room took a step forward this offseason by picking up a few key players in free agency and more importantly in the NFL draft. Though the Panthers lost Rasul Douglas to the Raiders, they upgraded in a big way by picking up free agent cornerback A.J. Bouye, and selected South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn, one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 draft, eighth overall.. 

Last year, the Panthers gave up 239 yards per game through the air, and ranked 25th in the league in opponent passing attempts per game. Around the league, the game plan versus the Panthers was to pass against their defense, and two brand new corners plan to put an end to that. Bouye is a guy who has 100 games under his belt, so he has the experience to help the rookie Jaycee Horn.

Bouye was put in a similar situation in 2017 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, as he helped Jalen Ramsey lock down opposing receivers and turned that secondary into one of the NFL’s best. Horn has Kyle Fuller-type awareness in space, Jalen Ramsey-style stickiness, and he can mirror physicality during routes like Champ Bailey. Now before you tag me on Twitter, I am not saying he will have the same success as those players… he simply showed those attributes in college. 

The first thing a cornerback must show is the ability to limit separation from a receiver early. Against one of the biggest targets in college football, Florida All-World tight end Kyle Pitts, Horn held his own, and let him know early that he wasn’t going to allow Pitts to be comfortable.

The Panthers need a guy who can stay hip-to-hip on deep routes, and when lined up shaded inside, Horn really does a great job using the 12th man (not the fans, but the sideline), which eliminates space for the receiver. 

Not only does Horn do this against receivers outside the numbers; he also eliminates space defending slants and post routes by staying on the backs of receivers, and staying aggressive at the catch point.

Whether it’s in press coverage or off the line of scrimmage, Horn has the long frame and overall speed to stay with the league’s bigger and more aggressive contested-catch receivers.

One of Horn’s best attributes and possibly why the Panthers drafted him is his overall play in space.

Horn shows elite anticipation when he is downfield, not limited to zone nor man to man defense. His comfortability undeniable as we watch him keep his eyes on the quarterback so he can read where the ball is going and close-in with his fluid hips. 

The Panthers’ pass defense was a relative weakness in 2020; Horn alone has the potential to turn that around to an impressive degree.

In-depth breakdown on Jaycee Horn from my YouTube Podcast: Ponytails Talking Pigskins.

10 facts about Panthers No. 8 overall draft pick CB Jaycee Horn

The Carolina Panthers selected South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Here are 10 facts surrounding the pick.

The Carolina Panthers have quarterback taken care of with Sam Darnold, which is whey they went with former South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Here are 10 facts surrounding the Panthers’ selection of Horn.

10 facts about Falcons No. 4 overall draft pick TE Kyle Pitts

The Atlanta Falcons drafted former Florida Gators TE Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall. Here are 10 facts surrounding the selection.

The Atlanta Falcons drafted former Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts No. 4 overall in the 2021 NFL draft.

The Falcons have given Matt Ryan another weapon, and receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley have another target to take the heat off of them downfield.

Here are 10 facts surrounding Atlanta’s selection of the Florida tight end.

10 memorable games from former Chargers, Saints QB Drew Brees’ career

Former San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees announced his retirement. Here are 10 of his most memorable games from his career.

Drew Brees is finally hanging them up.

The former San Diego Chargers 2001 second-round pick and New Orleans Saints legend announced his retirement on Sunday. The Super Bowl XLIV MVP will leave the game with the most passing yards in NFL history with 7,142.

Here are 10 memorable games from Brees’ career with the Chargers and Saints.

NFL reveals announcer schedule for Week 12

A week off for Al Michaels turned into one with another game to call

The deck has already been shuffled for the Week 12 announcing slate because the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was moved to Sunday due to COVID-19 issues with the Ravens. Al Michaels was going to have the week off … was being the keyword.

Thursday

Houston at Detroit, CBS 12:30 p.m.
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo & Tracy Wolfson

Washington at Dallas, FOX 4:30 p.m.
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman & Erin Andrews

Sunday

Las Vegas at Atlanta, CBS 1 p.m.
Kevin Harlan, Trent Green & Melanie Collins

LA Chargers at Buffalo, CBS 1 p.m.
Greg Gumbel, Rich Gannon & Jay Feely

NY Giants at Cincinnati, FOX 1 p.m.
Kevin Kugler, Chris Spielman & Laura Okmin

Tennessee at Indianapolis, CBS 1 p.m.
Ian Eagle, Charles Davis & Evan Washburn

Cleveland at Jacksonville, CBS 1 p.m.
Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta

Carolina at Minnesota, FOX 1 p.m.
Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma & Shannon Spake

Arizona at New England, FOX 1 p.m.
Kevin Burkhardt, Daryl Johnston & Pam Oliver

Miami at NY Jets, CBS 1 p.m.
Andrew Catalon, James Lofton & AJ Ross

Baltimore at Pittsburgh, NBC 1:15 p.m.
Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth & Michele Tafoya

New Orleans at Denver, FOX 4:05 p.m.

Adam Amin, Mark Schlereth & Lindsay Czarniak

San Francisco at LA Rams, FOX 4:05 p.m.
Chris Myers, Greg Jennings, Brock Huard & Jen Hale

Kansas City at Tampa Bay, CBS 4:25 p.m.
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo & Tracy Wolfson
Compass Media: Bill Rosinski, Chad Brown

Chicago at Green Bay, NBC 8:20 p.m.
Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy & Kathryn Tappen

Monday

Seattle at Philadelphia, ESPN 8:15 p.m.
Steve Levy, Brian Griese, Louis Riddick & Lisa Salters

NFL Week 3 announcers’ schedule

Some big games are on tap in NFL Week 3 and the big names got those assignments.

Time to get ready to travel if you are an NFL announcer. The assignments have been posted and you know where you are going. Have to hope you get a good one. For a map of what games will be shown in what parts of the country, click here.

Thursday

Dolphins at Jaguars, NFL Network, 8:20 p.m.

 Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analyst), Erin Andrews (reporter), Kristina Pink (reporter)

Predicting win-loss records for all 32 NFL teams in 2020

Predicting win-loss records for all 32 NFL teams in 2020

 

Predicting win-loss records for all 32 NFL teams in 2020

Free agency has had its run. The NFL Draft is over. A first take on how teams will finish the upcoming season.

The NFL Draft is over and most free-agent moves have taken place. What does the 2020 season look like at an early glance for all 32 teams?

Arizona Cardinals: 7-9

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

There were growing pains in Year One for Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. They will continue in Year Two with more progress. Being in the NFC West doesn’t make improvement easy.