Sometimes in life, there are things that are so blatantly obvious that you would be considered an idiot by the whole rest of the world if you didn't notice them. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this coming Sunday, they find themselves in a similar situation with regards to their hopes of leaving New Orleans with an improbable "upset" victory.
What's so blatantly obvious for them is that they already know well in advance just what their #1 key to pulling off such an upset requires: which is for their improved pass rush to pressure, hurry, hit, and hopefully sack Saints 18th year veteran starting QB and future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees — which conversely means that the highly-rated and respected Saints O-Line has a mission this Sunday: stop the Bucs pass rush "dead in its tracks".
Tampa Bay came into the 2017 season last year expecting to improve on their 22nd ranked pass defense from the 2016 NFL season, a young unit at that time which went out and intercepted 17 passes while sacking the quarterback 38 times.
Unfortunately for both the Bucs pass defense and defensive coordinator Mike Smith (who most Saints fans lovingly recall from his tenure as the former head coach for hated arch-rival Atlanta Falcons) instead regressed badly,
The at-times very anemic Buccaneers pass rush produced a League-worst 22 sacks in 2017. Additionally as a direct result, the Buccaneers defense finished dead last in passing yards allowed, 22nd in points allowed and 31st overall in total defense.
Those disappointing numbers became the impetus that led to Buccaneers' team management's decision to address their pass-rush issues in 2018 NFL Free Agency this the off-season; and their monetary investments have now added so much diverse talent up front, that the Saints O-Line will face a tough challenge right out the gate.
Buccaneers GM Jason Licht commandeered owner Bryan Glazer's wallet and began splurging in free agency for some of the top available pass rushers on the market, and landed one immediately after he helped engineer a blockbuster trade for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
While the Bucs certainly overpaid for the former Giants pass rusher, he was a much-needed addition; given the fact that he's still a player who create havoc and generate a ton of pressure off the snap of the football and at 29 years old while still managing to put up 8 and a ½ sacks for New York last season.
The team also brought in two members of the current defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles' defensive unit, in DE Vinny Curry and defensive tackle Beau Allen.
And when put alongside with returning starters Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence, their pass-rush along their defensive Front 7 could provide a very stern test for the Saints pass-protectors this Sunday at the Superdome.
McCoy of course remains as the team's "centerpiece" and franchise-caliber defender; as one of Pro Football's most dominant interior players.
Spence — their storied former 2nd-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft — appears to have already worn out his welcome in Tampa Bay, but he still remains a very dangerous pass rusher off the outside edge.
Heralded rookie DT Vita Vea was drafted earlier this off-season in the 2018 NFL Draft to help shore up the run defense and free up McCoy to attack the line of scrimmage, but still hasn't returned to practice after missing over a month with a strained calf muscle, putting his availability to play against the Saints in jeopardy.
Veteran Beau Allen has manned the position throughout the Bucs Training Camp and Pre-Season this Summer, and likely will get the start yet again this coming Sunday.
However, the Buccaneers likely will surely look to compensate for Vea's absence with the sensational linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, both of whom are among the League's most talented and rangy pair of LB's and can easily cover the entire field with their great speed.
Bottom line: the Bucs pass rush has been the recipient of a major upgrade in the past 8 months, and the Saints O-Line — which now is considered as one of the League's very best — has the mission of stopping them "dead in their tracks" this Sunday.
The Saints O-Line might be at a slight disadvantage with the injury status of 4th year veteran Andrus Peat; who could miss this game with the lingering affects from the broken left leg that he suffered near the end of last season. 7th year veteran Josh LeRibeus will start in Peat's place, and he'll look to mitigate any concerns that the coaching staff might have with Peat's absence.
Otherwise, they should be at full strength and well-prepared to accomplish the mission of protecting Brees this Sunday.
As noted by Canal Street Chronicles Managing Editor / beat writer John J. Hendrix recently (click HERE to read his fantastic article), the Saints O-Line has all five starters are returning for 2018, and four of them ranked in the Top 10 at their respective position in snaps per blown block in 2017.
Translation: the Saints O-Line is not only doing their job of keeping Brees safe, but they're doing it pretty damn well.
As Hendrix points out: Brees was sacked just 20 times in 2017, his lowest total since the 2009 season. If the big guys up front don’t do their job properly Hendrix says, then none of that would have happened.
Hendrix notes that 6th year veteran right guard Larry Warford was the only Saints offensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl, and he wasn’t even voted in at first. 2nd year veteran right tackle.
Meanwhile, Hendrix adds that 2nd year veteran Ryan Ramczyk became a superb staple at right tackle as a rookie last year, while 31 year-old and now 10th year veteran Max Unger last season played in every single offensive snap for the Saints last year (1,037), as did Ramczyk.
And of course not to be forgotten: Hendrix says that 6th year veteran left tackle Terron Armstead battled injuries last season (he only played in just 10 regular season games) for the Saints but yet his elite-caliber blocking skills as well as his towering physical presence were felt.
Additionally, 12th year veteran Jermon Bushrod and rookie Will Clapp appear more than capable of filling in at a moment's notice; and 2nd year lineman Cameron Tom can play multiple positions besides center, if called upon.
Certainly that left side (Armstead and Peat) remains as the O-Line's weakest link, but yet it looks that it would be in capable hands if either Armstead or Peat were forced to deal with any lingering issues that will keep them out of the line-up for an extended period of time.
All in all, the Saints offensive line appears to be ready to accomplish bigger and better things in the upcoming season, and it starts with achieving their clearly-stated top goal to begin the year: keeping #9 safe and sound, or at the very least for the majority of the contest.