It’s going to get heated at the Caesars Superdome on Sunday. Big battles are brewing at the line of scrimmage, in the second level of the defense, and deep downfield whenever each team has the ball. Critical matchups in each phase will determine this clash between the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers; if New Orleans falls behind like they did last week, a good team like the Buccaneers will put on the pressure to prevent another Saints comeback. Here are the one-on-one battles we’ll be watching closely:
Saints CB Marshon Lattimore vs. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans
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Let’s start with the heavyweight fight, or at least the one we’ll be paying closest attention to. Evans and Lattimore seem to genuinely dislike each other, and it’s easy to see why — the Buccaneers’ all-time leading receiver has averaged an impressive 76.2 yards per game in his pro career, but when lined up specifically against Lattimore he’s managed just 26.6 yards per game. They’ve had some great battles over the years, and if Evans can play through a new calf injury we should see the next exciting chapter in this feud.
Saints LB Pete Werner vs. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Werner was consistently in the right place at the right time to make a tackle for the Saints in Week 1, and he’s got another tough challenge coming right at him in Fournette. Hopefully his teammates up front can do a better job against the beaten-up Tampa Bay offensive line to close the running lanes, because Werner’s got his work cut out for him in stopping Fournette once he’s up to speed. He’s an able defender at the second level, you just hope the big guys up front keep fewer plays from reaching him. It’s important Werner wins those matchups when they do get through the first line of defense.
Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis
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The last corner to get the better of Thomas when he was fully healthy, Davis has played up his rivalry with the Saints’ star receiver and appears eager to try him again. For his part, Thomas has been cleared on the injury report and now just needs to continue working on his surgically-repaired ankle so he can rebuild confidence in the joint. And he’s coming off of a strong start to the season against another team’s top corner. Davis will be ready for this matchup, and so will Thomas. It’s one he’s been looking forward to for two years.
Saints DE Cameron Jordan vs. Buccaneers RT Tristan Wirfs
AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio
So this may better fit the definition of a heavyweight bout given the players involved. Wirfs is an all-star right tackle who has mopped up everyone he’s faced in the NFL — except for Jordan, a potential Hall of Famer who beat Wirfs to sack Tom Brady twice a year ago. Jordan still primarily rushes from the left end spot going against right tackles like Wirfs, and the third-year pro will be looking rebound after the older veteran got the better of him last season.
Saints WR Jarvis Landry vs. Buccaneers S Antoine Winfield Jr.
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Landry was a hero of the Saints’ Week 1 comeback, primarily working from the slot to pick up big gains deep downfield — he was thrown to 7 times in that alignment, catching 6 passes and gaining 74 yards while picking up 3 first down conversions. Compare that to Winfield, who mainly covered the slot for Tampa Bay and responded to 8 targets by allowing 5 catches for 55 yards but yielding 3 first down conversions and snagging an interception. Winfield has been sensational since making the jump to the NFL, but the Saints have already gotten more out of Landry than his past teams managed, and it should be a highly competitive matchup.
Saints RG Cesar Ruiz vs. Buccaneers DL Akiem Hicks
\AP Photo/Zach Bolinger
Ruiz was a weak link again for the Saints, and things don’t get any easier with Hicks and Vita Vea coming to town. Hicks always seems to have an axe to grind with the Saints given the way things turned out, and he’ll likely get plenty of one-on-one snaps rushing against Ruiz. If the Saints can’t trust Ruiz to hold the line against a more-experienced opponent like this, it’ll make for another long day in the office for Jameis Winston.