Friday, 15 October 2010 13:18

Brees, New Orleans Saints Have No Gimme With Tampa Bay Bucs, Freeman

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staton1The Saints (3-2) roll into Tampa for a Sunday noon game and the defending Super Bowl champs are favored by five points. This was a game that was supposed to be an easy win when the schedules came out, but it's no longer a gimme.

Despite a 3-1 start there isn't lot of fervor surrounding the Bucs just as there isn't for the baseball Rays. This NFC South game will be blacked out in the Tampa television market. The Bucs have had all their games blacked out this season, including two preseason games.

After only 13 NFL starts, Josh Freeman is making a compelling case for himself as the best young quarterback in the league. Freeman, a first-round pick in 2009, has led the young Bucs to victories in five of their last seven games. He pulled off another fourth-quarter 24-21comeback in Cincinnati last Sunday.

Freeman averages 7.1 yards per pass attempt, but the Bucs' running game is mediocre, but still better than the Saints, who are 31st the the league.

Freeman simply can't keep pace with Drew Brees in this one despite Brees' running game woes. The Saints have only one rushing touchdown this season.

The Saints offense has been scaled down by soft coverages and injuries.  Opponents, who tried to blitz Brees last season were ruined, are now sitting back in two deep zones and playing quarters of the field in softer coverage. There is no Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas to worry about on the short pass for five yards that can turn into a 20-yard gain. The Saints are getting the underneath passes, but not the shots down the field they got last year.

"We have people getting a little softer in their coverages and yet we still constantly are paying attention and looking for ways to get an optimum look to get behind the defense," said coach Sean Payton. "But sometimes there are plays that when they come out of my mouth and Drew calls them in the huddle, all of us are think 'shot' and then it ends up being a dump-off or a check-down.

"You would never know that but that was the intention with the play. We'll continue to carry six, eight, ten of them a game and continue to look for those opportunities."

With little fear of the Saints' running game, the Bucs figure to go after Brees. The Bucs have yielded 350 yards on the ground in their last two games, falling to 30th in rush defense.

"The Saints are world champions," said Jeremy Zuttah, who will start at center while ex-Saint Jeff Faine recovers from a quad injury that could keep him out until December. Faine became a millionaire outside of football with business investments. "They came in here last year (38-7 triumph) and scored a lot of points on us and played very well defensively. They're a team we can measure ourselves against." With four straight victories on the road, the Bucs are eager to prove themselves once again.

The Saints lost to the Bucs 20-17 last December in the Superdome despite jumping out to a 17-0 lead. Garrett Hartley missed a 37-yard field goal attempt late in the game that could have won the game for the Saints. He is back on the roster now that Jim Carney was released again.

In last year's game, Brees completed a team- record 19 straight passes.

If the Saints and Falcons lose on Sunday, which isn't likely, the Bucs would take over sole possession of the NFC South.

Prediction: The Saints have covered six of their last eight trips to Tampa and should cover the five points on Sunday.

Other NFL picks: Chiefs +4 1/2 over Texans; Chargers -8 1.2 over Rams (best bet); Raiders +6 1/2 over 49ers; Ravens +3 over Patriots;  Falcons +3 over Eagles; Lions +10 over Giants;  Bears -8 1/2 over Seahawks; Steelers -14 over Browns; Jes -3 over Broncos;  Vikings -1 1/2 over Cowboys; Colts -3 1/2 over Redskins; and Titans -2 1/2 over Jaguars.

by Ed Staton

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