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.