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SEEING DOUBLE: Saints Secondary Faces Stiff Challenge vs. Top-Notch Bucs WR Tandem

“Seeing double”. That famous old expression can be applied to many things in popular American culture; but in the modern-day NFL of 2019, it’s an appropriate term that could be used to describe the League’s newest top-notch WR tandem: Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide-outs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, both of whom the Saints secondary will be tasked with stopping this Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

In their first 4 games, the two players have combined for a whopping 44 catches for 754 yards and 8 touchdowns; and along with the notable improved passing skills of QB Jameis Winston under the guidance and mentorship of 1st year Buccaneers head coach (and offensive “guru”) Bruce Arians, some experts are starting to believe that it’s Tampa Bay who could end up being the team that challenges the Saints for the NFC South Division title at the end of the year.

Given that the (2-2) Bucs initially began the season with an embarrassing home loss to the San Francisco 49ers, their prospects for success this season were thought to be dead before they even began.

But during their most recent performance in the new offensive scheme that’s been implemented by Arians, the Bucs passing attack has taken off and become the catalyst for Tampa’s sudden resurgence; which reached new heights in their stunning 55-40 upset win over the Los Angeles Rams in Southern California last weekend.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The much-maligned Winston has certainly earned his fair share of criticism during his first 4 seasons in the League. But with Arians having worked with him extensively throughout the off-season and Training Camp, the 5th year Bucs starting QB has shown major growth and development — and having thrown for 7 TD’s and just 2 interceptions over the past two weeks alone, he’s now made Evans and Godwin look like the best wide receiver duo in the league today.

As it turns out however, Evans and Godwin would very likely still be successful no matter who is throwing them the football.

Evans — who has been the Buccaneers’ #1 WR since they drafted him with the 7th overall pick in the 1st Round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M University over five years ago — has had a solid career thus far and is considered by many analysts as one of the best WR’s in the entire League. Thus far, Evans has caught 18 passes for 368 yards and 4 TD’s through the first 4 games of the current season.

But this season he’s been joined by Godwin, the Bucs’ 3rd Round pick in 2017 from Penn State University who as a back-up during his first 3 seasons in Tampa, has filled in previously for Evans when he was hurt; and has put up some very impressive stats and numbers of his own after moving up the depth chart and becoming the Bucs’ #2 starting WR.

Photo courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

Last week against the Rams with Evans drawing double teams all day, Godwin EXPLODED against the Rams defensive backs and caught 12 receptions for 172 yards and two TD’s.

With Godwin’s “break out” season, it’s basically now given Tampa Bay the equivalent of having not just one but two two No. 1 wide receivers in Arians’ offense — which of course means that the Saints will really need their defensive secondary to “lock down” both receivers sufficiently this Sunday to leave the Superdome with a win.

That task primarily will fall upon two Saints defenders specifically: outside boundary and #1 / #2 cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple.

In last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, Lattimore matched up one-on-one with another top-rated WR in the League against Dallas play-maker and pass-catcher Amari Cooper; and managed to hold him to only just 4 catches for a meager 39 yards on seven targets.

Lattimore once again will draw the assignment against Evans as he has in several previous match-ups against Tampa, and the Saints will need him to prevent Evans from having the big days that he’s capable of having on any given Sunday, regardless of the competition.

Mandatory Credit: Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK

But an even more critical match-up for the Black and Gold will occur between Apple and Godwin; who so far this season has caught 28 receptions for 386 yards and 4 TD’s of his own.

Last week against the Rams, all 12 of Godwin’s receptions were for first downs or touchdowns.

“That’s a pretty good stat,” Arians said to reporters in his press conference with the media on Monday morning, while noting that Godwin is also an outstanding blocker who has helped the emergence of the Buccaneers running game with RB’s Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones.

Nevertheless, after having completely “shut down” Cowboys WR Devin Smith to zero catches for zero yards last Sunday, Apple appears to be ready for the challenge of slowing down Godwin — or at least enough anyway to prevent him from doing any major damage.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

If the often-criticized Apple can be up to the task of shutting down his assigned receiver for yet another week, it hopefully will then allow New Orleans to earn another hard-fought victory while starting QB Drew Brees remains out of the starting line-up.

That of course will require yet another phenomenal effort by the Saints defense and especially the secondary; who after struggling somewhat in their first two games of the season, have played “lights out” football.

Lattimore and Apple have been boosted in particular by the stellar overall play of safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams in the past two weeks; and getting help from them “over the top” in pass coverage undoubtedly will be a key to New Orleans’ ultimate success or failure this Sunday afternoon.

Collectively as a whole position group, their most-recent performances are a major reason why the (3-1) Saints have continued to win games while Brees is out, and have remained on top of the standings in the NFC South Division. 

And if the Black and Gold hopes to leave the Superdome victorious yet again this Sunday afternoon, it most certainly will depend upon them not “seeing double” against Evans and Godwin — when the two teams take the field in what will be the Saints’ first division game of 2019….


Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....


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