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Tony Dungy’s shift from Trent Dilfer to Eric Zeier reaped little offensively last week and it’s becoming clear that there is something inherently wrong with the Bucs’ offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula was overly protective of Zeier in last week’s loss to Detroit and it’s time that Tampa started expecting more out of the quarterback position.

Instead of simply asking Zeier to avoid turnovers and complete dump offs to RB Warrick Dunn, Shula needs to open up the playbook let his wide receivers make plays. Two things need to happen in order for that to happen. First, Zeier needs to get better protection up front from his line. The Saints’ front four should have success collapsing the pocket against struggling players like LOG Jorge Diaz and LOT Paul Gruber. Secondly, Buccaneer receivers must stop giving up on their routes. On film, it is obvious that Tampa’s receivers are falling into the trap that many players do when they aren’t thrown to on a consistent basis. Dungy must get his troops regrouped in practice this week before these bad habits become routine.

By design, the Bucs will always predominantly be a running team. However, by ignoring the downfield passing game, Shula has done nothing but clog running lanes. Unfortunately for defensive coordinator Zaven Yaralian, the Saints don’t have the right personnel to expose the Bucs this week.

Teams that have been successful shutting down Tampa’s offense have had a big, run support strong safety, such as Detroit’s Ron Rice. The Saints’ SS Sammy Knight is more of a cover player and it will be difficult for them to stop FB Mike Alstott when the Bucs hammer the ball inside. Astott wasn’t given many opportunities to make a difference last week but he will surely demand more carries this week in order to make up for a costly fumble near Detroit’s goal line.

New Orleans offense vs. Tampa Bay defense

Head coach Mike Ditka put his stamp on the offense last week by running Ricky Williams 40 times and the line responded well to the loss of left guard Wally Williams. Reserve Tom Ackerman played well last week against Cleveland’s John Jurkovic but he stands a stiffer test this week against a fed up Buccaneer defense.

Tampa entered last week’s drubbing at Detroit with the top rated run defense in the league but were subsequently burned for 147 yards by an average Lions running game. DT Warren Sapp is coming off an uncharacteristic performance in which he failed to make a single tackle. Sapp had trouble fending off double teams last week but even more surprising was the way Detroit’s Tony Semple handled him one on one after sitting out the past month with an elbow injury.

Ricky Williams’ sprained ankle is finally back near 100 percent, which is evident in his improved burst and lateral quickness. Normally a very sound unit, Tampa’s tackling was subpar against Detroit, as too many guys were going for knockout blows instead of simply wrapping up. Williams, who runs “behind his pads” better than most RBs in the league, will make the Bucs pay if they continue to be sloppy.

New Orleans’ passing game mirrors Tampa’s in many ways: unimaginative, conservative, and devoid of a consistent deep threat. The parallels are endless. One dimension that the Saints sorely miss is the ability to utilize Williams out of the backfield. With TE Cam Cleeland unable to contribute like he did a year ago, the Saints need a nickel threat on third downs. Because of his elbow injury, Williams has not been given the opportunity to make plays in the passing game and FB Aaron Craver, despite good effort, just doesn’t provide the necessary spark.

Ditka needs a full game out of starter Billy Joe Hobert in order to win. Tolliver, has the arm to take advantage of Saints vertical threats Eddie Kennison and Keith Poole.

Tampa applied decent pressure last week but not like Dungy would have liked. With his secondary struggling to close on balls and make tackles especially Donnie Abraham expect the Bucs to be more aggressive with their linebackers this week. Tampa’s starting trio combined for just six tackles last week and it was clear that OLB Derrick Brooks was not on his game. Brooks and FS Damien Robinson are the two guys that must step up and make plays for this defense. If the Saints continue to go with their nickel and dime passing game, look for Brooks to come free on some weakside blitzes and Robinson to target newcomer LOG Ackerman on some delayed blitzes inside.

The Bucs’ special teams were a disaster last week against the Lions. Not having enough men on the field for an extra point afforded Detroit coach Bobby Ross enough time to appeal Warrick Dunn’s apparent touchdown which was subsequently nullified. A blown gap assignment by Hardy Nickerson allowed Ron Rice to come free and block Martin Grammatica’s first field goal try not something a rookie kicker’s psyche can handle. Last week, the Saints tried to get too cute on returns and must return to the basics this week. Both teams boast excellent cover units and average return teams so don’t look for many big plays in the kicking game.

Tampa Bay QB Eric Zeier vs. New Orleans FS Willie Clay

Last week, Zeier did a nice job of dumping the ball off underneath to RB Warrick Dunn but that’s about all he did. The Buccaneers need to take more shots downfield and it will up to Clay to stop them. Two Hail Mary’s in two weeks is not a good sign for New Orleans’ deep coverage.

New Orleans WR Eddie Kennison vs. Tampa Bay CB Donnie Abraham

Kennison is a little bit of a hot and cold WR, but his production is directly connected with the ability of the New Orleans’ QBs to get him the football. Abraham is a very physical DC who loves to attack versus the run, but Kennison is capable of getting by him if he uses his speed and athletic ability.

Tampa Bay FB Mike Alstott vs. New Orleans MLB Chris Bordano

Alstott is a load running the football between the tackles, and he is even more effective when he moves the tailback, and backup TE Patrick Hape lines up at fullback. Bordano must step up and fill versus the inside run, as Tampa Bay would love to grind it out against this defense.

DC’s Ronde Barber and Donnie Abraham can handle their one on one matchups, allowing the Bucs to use a lot of eight man fronts to stop Ricky Williams and the run game. Abraham is coming off his worst performance of the season, and if last week was any indication, the Bucs’ run defense needs some help. SS John Lynch will be the key guy on Sunday.

QB Eric Zeier can take advantage of some man to man matchups on his receivers, forcing the Saints to play honest on defense. Last week, Zeier was no better than Dilfer, dinking his way to a respectable completion percentage without any big plays. Whatever he does, Zeier must do his best to avoid Ambrose’s side of the field.

Its defensive line can dominate the line of scrimmage. Sapp Co. were completely demoralized last week against a hungry Lions team. The Bucs need to recapture the intensity they showed in their 6 3 win over Chicago. New Orleans’ OL is one of the most surprising units in the league. These guys are doing a workmanlike job keeping opponents away from the quarterback.

QB Billy Joe Hobert/Tolliver picks up the blitz and completes his hot reads. Whoever ends up under center must be accurate against the Bucs zone defense. WR Eddie Kennison has been invisible but his size gives him the best chance of making something happen on Sunday.

The front seven forces QB Eric Zeier to throw under pressure. Zeier was battered last week and his lack of height makes it difficult for him to throw with people in his face. The right side of RDE Smith and RDT Glover should have a big day against the Bucs struggling left side.

The offense can take advantage of turnovers and great field position. These are two things the Saints must have to snap their losing streak. The Saints offense will never be able to sustain long drives against this defense so they must take advantage of a short field when they get the chance.

These are two struggling football teams that are very lethargic on offense and have trouble generating points. However, the Bucs still have a championship caliber defense and have the ability to shut down Saints RB Ricky Williams, and force either Billy Joe to throw the football. The Saints are likely to be totally demoralized from last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Cleveland, and will be in no mood to play a physical Tampa Bay defense. If you want good offense, exciting football, and big plays, this is a game that you will probably want to avoid.
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