With Drew Brees and his arsenal of wide receivers in town, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed a big push from the defensive line in the pass rush. Although the D-line did not produce any sacks against New Orleans, the unit did manage to ruffle Brees. In all, the All-Pro quarterback was knocked down 11 times and hurried nine times. Defensive end Michael Bennett looked on the verge of taking down Brees on multiple occasions and was right on the ball when Geno Hayes forced Pierre Thomas to fumble. The absence of Gerald McCoy was lightened by solid play from Brian Price and Frank Okam. The duo combined for four tackles and, by holding multiple blockers, allowed the ends to continuously rush the passer. Da’Quan Bowers recovered a fumble from the tackle position and Adrian Clayborn provided a nice push on his side of the line.
The corps that has more often than not been “Mason Foster and Company” turned in one of its best all-around showings of the season against the Saints. The “other” backers, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, made themselves known on two huge turnovers Sunday. Black made a huge interception in the end zone on New Orleans' last drive, jumping in front of tight end Jimmy Graham to seal the Bucs victory. Hayes forced a Pierre Thomas fumble early in the first quarter that led to a Conner Barth field goal. Foster, who was limited in practice all week with an ankle injury, played well. Adam Hayward also saw time in the defensive sets. The linebackers did a solid job on Saints sparkplug Darren Sproles. With the Bucs safeties drawing the responsibilities of athletic tight end Jimmy Graham in the passing game, the linebackers held Sproles to only 46 yards receiving.
It’s hard to see positives in a secondary that allows the opposing quarterback to throw for 386 yards. But, according to head coach Raheem Morris, when Drew Brees is the opposing quarterback, 300 yards is expected. Ronde Barber, Corey Lynch, and Sean Jones all had their chances with Graham. None were all that successful in the venture, as Graham finished with seven catches for 124 yards. Barber was also beaten badly by Marques Colston down the sideline for a touchdown in the first quarter. Jones had a big part in Pierre Thomas’ fumble, holding the running back up long enough for Geno Hayes to jut the ball loose. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and E.J. Biggers both looked improved over last week’s performance against San Francisco. Biggers drew the responsibility of Colston for the most part and came away with a big interception on a high throw. Talib shut down Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson, the Saints two speed receivers, holding them to a combined two catches for 35 yards. Free safety Tanard Jackson was welcomed back with open arms this week. He got the start after a 54-week suspension and made his presence felt immediately with an interception on a tipped ball in the first half. Jackson played well in his first game back, but his conditioning was there and he went into the locker room at one point in the second half after looking extremely tired. After harping on the downfalls of this unit for weeks, it is promising to see a performance like this.
With Darren Sproles back on punt return duty, Michael Koenen simply kicked the ball deep – and out of bounds. Sproles saw only one return and it went for a loss of ten yards. Koenen’s other three punts all went out of bounds AND for an average of 49.8 yards. Preston Parker took care of the return duties for Tampa and had a shaky showing. On one kickoff, Parker tight-roped the sideline to make a catch on a kickoff rather than letting the ball go out of bounds for an automatic 40-yard line start. Instead, the Bucs were forced to begin a drive from inside the 20. Kicker Conner Barth once again was outstanding. Barth scored 14 points, hitting four field goals and two PATs. Barth’s lone blemish was a miss from 55 yards. Take away Parker’s questionable decision and this unit is perfect.
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