Saints vs. Buccaneers: Running Game Frees Drew Brees to Shred Defense
It was supposed to a showdown between an ascending team in the NFC South and a descending one. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 3-1 and anxious to prove themselves against the beat-up Saints (3-2), who have struggled with injuries and inconsistency on offense.
It was the status quo, though, not a change of place. The Saints, who had lost two of three, built a 17-0 halftime lead en route to a 31-6 win. They did it with Drew Brees throwing, but for the first time all season, New Orleans had a run game with rookie Chris Ivory.
• Ivory, who is 6-foot, 222 pounds, had 124 yards midway through the third quarter. There were issues with his fumbling. There were also some whispers that he had begun to worry so much about holding onto the ball that he was tiptoeing into the line.
Sunday, Ivory ran hard. He still runs too upright, but he has burst and explosiveness. It must have been a relief for the Saints to finally get a running game.
It wasn't all Ivory. His offensive line, led by guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans plowed some running lanes for him. The Bucs' defensive linemen, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, two rookies, were no match inside.
• He's still Drew Brees. The Saints' quarterback stayed patient against the Bucs' defense and worked his team down the field series after series. Then, he ripped the top off their defense. Brees threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore and a 42-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem.
Brees, by the third quarter, was 20 of 29 with three touchdowns and finished 21 of 32 for 263 yards. More important, the big play was back in the New Orleans' arsenal. It had been missing. Credit the running game.
• The Bucs miss Tanard Jackson, their safety who has been given a one-year ban for violating the league's drug policy. Cody Grimm, the rookie who replaced him, was worked over by Brees in the first half.
• Not much went right for the Bucs, including the field goal kicking. Connor Barth missed two field-goal attempts from makeable distance.
• Brees usually spreads the ball around sideline to sideline. But he really worked over the right side of the Bucs' defense. Alib is supposed to be the guy who takes away half the field. Brees completed more than half of his passes through three quarters to that side of the field.
• The Saints bamboozled second-year Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman. They rushed seven, then backed off seven, and came from all angles. New Orleans made sure there were no escape routes for Freeman out of the pocket. It was an impressive defensive stance for the Saints.
• Here is something else about the Saints vs. Freeman: New Orleans' coverage was so good, it made Freeman make pinpoint throws. He couldn't. There were a lot of pass plays where Freeman was leaning backwards to throw the ball; he was off balance. There is no way to be accurate like that.
• The Bucs are a puzzle on offense. One thing that needs to happen: find some plays for Earnest Graham. The veteran running back is an afterthought, and he has been hanging around and hanging around. He can play. Nine Bucs had a pass catch midway through the fourth quarter, but Graham wasn't one of them. He had no touches on the run.
What's to lose? The Bucs were down 24-6 at that point.
• The Bucs' Ronde Barber broke the Lions' Dick LeBeau's record for consecutive starts by a cornerback. Barber is at 172.