The New Orleans Saints march into the divisional round of the playoffs after a 21-9 victory against the Chicago Bears. The wild card game against the Bears showed how dominant the Saints defense can be. This momentum will need to keep going against a familiar foe. Awaiting in the divisional round is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Likewise, the Buccaneers are fresh off of a victory against the Washington Football Team. Tampa Bay will also look to continue their recent offensive success against the Saints defense. These are some key New Orleans Saints matchups in the divisional round playoff game.
Key New Orleans Saints Matchups in Divisional Round
The New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are natural rivals. Both have been stalwarts in the same division. Getting a dose of this rivalry recently is Bruce Arians. Arians took over head coaching duties for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, facing the Saints twice per year. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the Saints have gotten the best of them the past four meetings. In these games, the Saints have scored 31, 34, 34, and 38 points. The last matchup between these two teams was lopsided with the Saints coming out on top 38-3. If the Saints are going to have a repeat performance, they will need to win these key matchups.
Michael Thomas vs Buccaneers Secondary
The New Orleans Saints wild-card game against the Chicago Bears was only the third game that Michael Thomas and Drew Brees have played together this season. Each player has had their share of injuries which contributed to this. In Thomas’ first game back, Brees quickly looked his way. The Saints first touchdown was a Brees 11 yard pass to Thomas. Thomas finished the wild card game with five receptions, 73 yards, and the aforementioned touchdown. With both Brees and Thomas healthy, the duo will look to repeat past performances against the Buccaneers secondary.
Michael Thomas has had some career-highlight games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A game in 2018 saw Thomas have 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. A repeat performance would also happen in 2019. Thomas finished a game against the Buccaneers with 11 catches, 182 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. With Thomas’s success, the Tampa Bay secondary will look to slow him down as they did in 2020. Albeit slowed by injury, Thomas had his worst games against the Buccaneers this season. In both games combined, Thomas only had eight catches for 68 yards. Far below the previous season. Even with this season’s minimal statistics, Thomas has above-average statistics against the Buccaneers. In his career, Thomas averages eight catches, 100 yards, and a 44% chance of a touchdown against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s secondary against Michael Thomas will assuredly be a key matchup for Sunday’s divisional game.
Saints Tight Ends vs Buccaneers Coverages
Although not as prolific as Michael Thomas, the New Orleans Saints tight ends have seen some success in this rivalry. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have boasted one of the best running defenses in the league since Arians’ arrival. This had led to the Saints relying on their pass catchers. New Orleans has relied on multiple tight ends to combat the Buccaneers defense. In 2019, the Saints relied on Jared Cook and Josh Hill. Cook has been the anchor for 2020 as well but Hill has been partially supplanted. Adam Trautman has stepped in as a pass-catching tight end alongside Cook. Each unit’s production has been limited but reliable.
Josh Hill and Jared Cook combined for 11 catches against the Buccaneers in 2019. They were also responsible for two touchdowns. The meetings between these two teams in 2020 have seen very similar results. All three tight ends combined for 12 catches and also two touchdowns. In each game versus the Buccaneers, the Saints tight ends each had multiple catches. Drew Brees has been known as a quarterback who finds the open receiver. In this case, he spreads the ball around to multiple tight ends. If history holds, expect the Saints tight ends to find the end zone in this week’s playoff game.
Saints Defensive Front vs Buccaneers Offensive Line
The key New Orleans Saints matchup which seems to have the most interest is the Saints defensive front against the Buccaneers offensive line. The Saints defense has been highly ranked this year on all fronts. The Saints have a top-five defense against both the pass and the rush. The leaders of this defense are the front for the Saints. This front has had been good historically against Tampa Bay. Although, the Buccaneers have protected Tom Brady much better than they protected previous quarterbacks. Brady has only been sacked 21 times on the year. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, 28.5% of these sacks have been at the hands of the New Orleans Saints defense in only two games.
Trey Hendrickson has led the way for the New Orleans Saints defense in 2020. Hendrickson was tied for the league lead in sacks by defensive linemen. The player he is tied with is none other than the all-pro Aaron Donald. Hendrickson has been a quiet success for the Saints. The Saints have been able to rush the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks. In the past two seasons, the Saints are responsible for 14 sacks in four games. Maybe more impressive is the amount of times that the Saints have hit a Buccaneers quarterback. The Saints have hit a Buccaneers quarterback 36 times in the past four games. If Tampa Bay’s offensive line cannot cut down on the sacks or quarterback hits, Tom Brady will be in for a long Sunday afternoon.
Key New Orleans Saints Matchups
The New Orleans Saints will need a team effort to get past the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These key matchups and many others will play a significant role. Michael Thomas and the Saints tight ends will have to carry the offensive burden. Drew Brees will have to process coverages quickly as the Buccaneers do have the fourth-most sacks in the NFL. The Saints defensive front will need to continue their recent success in making Buccaneers quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. If the Saints can win these key matchups, New Orleans could be looking towards another NFC Championship game appearance.
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