When the New Orleans Saints host the visiting Tampa Bay Buccanners tomorrow afternoon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there will be a handful of individual match-ups to watch between the two teams that could play a huge role in eventually determining the game's final outcome.
Out of all of those match-ups, perhaps no match-up will potentially have as a great of an impact on the game's end result than the one between two of the NFL's truly "elite" players at their respective positions: Saints left defensive end Cam Jordan vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers right offensive tackle Demar Dotson.
As noted by Pro Football Focus football analyst Bill O'Brien, tomorrow afternoon's match-up between Jordan and Dotson is one between two players who are both currently the highest graded player at their respective positions.
O'Brien says that Jordan has spent the majority of his snaps rushing from the defensive left side this season for the Saints; and has turned in a pass-rush productivity rating of 11.3, which ranks 19th overall among 107 qualified NFL "edge" defenders throughout the League.
Meanwhile, Dotson has been up to the challenge against "edge" defenders this season, as he currently ranks 1st overall among tackles in pass-blocking efficiency with a rating of 98.2.
However, their impacts for their respective squads have gone in quite the opposite direction in recent weeks, leading up to this contest.
Jordan is one of the NFC South Division's best pass rushers, and has a total of 5.5 sacks through the first 7 games that have played a very big part in helping the (5-2) Saints win 5 straight games in a row and earn the division lead in the current NFL standings by a half-game.
Conversely, Dotson has been a reliable and very solid pass protector for the (2-5) Buccaneers; but had a critical false start penalty last week that killed Tampa's momentum as they were headed towards a 2nd quarter score which potentially could have allowed them to tie up their divisional game at home vs. Carolina.
Instead of finishing the drive with a potential tying score, the Buccaneers ended up losing a fumble by QB Jameis Winston two plays later and eventually ended up with their 4th straight loss, and now suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the NFC South standings.
Tomorrow's match-up for Dotson against Jordan will be a key one since he is responsible for protecting Winston; who in recent weeks has been battered and bruised repeatedly — and enters the game in possibly the worst physical condition at any point of his 3-year NFL career thus far.
Winston suffered a sprained AC joint 2 and a half weeks ago in a loss at Arizona, and hasn't been the same ever since. He took yet another hit to the shoulder again the following week at Buffalo; and although he's actually listed officially as questionable for tomorrow's game, will start.
Winston completed 21 of 38 passes for 210 yards against the Panthers last week, but missed receivers badly at times, was intercepted twice, lost a fumble, and was sacked three times.
And with Jordan and the Saints defense having notably improved their pass rush this season, they figure to have Winston lined up directly in their sights.
Which obviously makes the individual match-up between Jordan and Dotson tomorrow afternoon THE one to watch, given that Jordan is by far and away the Saints' best pass rusher.
Can Cam get the "edge" against Dotson tomorrow and help the Saints win their 6th straight game?
It's a distinct possibility, for certain.
But Dotson already knows that Tampa's entire season is on the line already, and a loss against the Saints could likely bring an early and unexpected end to their 2017 campaign; and before they've even had the chance to play half of it.
“You have to look at the reality of it. We’re a 2-5 football team, and the division is getting away from us. If we don’t do it ASAP it will be too late,” Dotson told reporters in the locker room after their loss to Carolina.
“We’re in a deep hole, but we still see some light,” he added. “But we can’t afford to lose another game or else we’re going to be done.”
It will take a top-notch effort on Dotson's part to not only stop Jordan, but also to still be able to hear the snap-count over what figures to be a very boisterous and extremely-loud sold-out Saints home crowd inside of the Superdome.
On the flip side, those same factors should provide a bit of an "edge" for Jordan and the Saints against Dotson and the rest of the Buccaneers offense.
But nevertheless, match-ups and preconceived advantages aside: when two truly "elite" players at their respective positions such as Jordan and Dotson do battle, you know it's going to be a real "slobberknocker" down in the trenches.
And in that event: to the best man, goes the spoils.
When the Saints leave the field for the day at the Superdome tomorrow evening, they hope it will be "good enough" for consecutive win #6.....