By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published October 8, 2006
Out - Safety Bryan Scott (hamstring), cornerback Curtis Deloatch (hamstring). Questionable - Receiver Devery Henderson (shoulder).
Deuce McAllister has three 100-yard games against the Bucs in the past four seasons, but it has been a while. His last came Oct. 10, 2004, 102 on 21 carries. The Saints are 2-1 against the Bucs when McAllister crosses the century mark.
The Bucs are 11-17 against the Saints. And New Orleans' .607 winning percentage against Tampa Bay is its best against any franchise except for the Texans, whom the Saints have met just once. Since 1992, 11 of the 14 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Bucs won both games in 2005, including the season finale that clinched the NFC South title.
KEEP IN MIND
Cornerback Ronde Barber, who isn't off to his best start, has excelled against the Saints. Twice he has recorded a team-record three interceptions, in 2001 and last season.
Kelly vs. Colston: This probably isn't the matchup the Bucs cornerback wants to see after missing two games with turf toe. Marques Colston made mincemeat of the Panthers last week (132 yards) one week after picking apart Atlanta's formidable secondary for 97 yards. Brian Kelly is a smart player who rarely gets beat, but he is not at full strength.
Trueblood vs. Grant: If Bruce Gradkowski is to have any chance, he must get adequate protection from his right tackle. That task just got tougher when Jeremy Trueblood, a rookie, was thrown into the mix as a result of Kenyatta Walker's season-ending knee injury. Charles Grant will do his best to run by Trueblood, who isn't a polished pass protector.
The Saints have been rejuvenated by an upgrade at quarterback (Drew Brees, left), the addition of an electric running game (rookie Reggie Bush and the returning Deuce McAllister) and a stout defense that ranks eighth in the NFL.
Brees has been one of the biggest differences. The offense is much more stable with Brees playing smartly and bringing a big-play capability without the level of risk the Saints had with Aaron Brooks. His four touchdowns versus two interceptions are an upgrade from Brooks' 17 interceptions and 13 touchdowns in 2005.
Bush has been one of the biggest differences in the Saints even if his numbers aren't staggering. He is gaining 3.3 yards per carry, but his game-breaking ability coupled with a penchant for catching balls out of the backfield make him a threat on every snap. Bush has a team-high 23 receptions for 187 yards. His 23 catches are the most in the NFL among nonreceivers and 10th overall.
McAllister has played well after losing 11 games in 2005 to a major knee injury. The ability to rotate the backs gives defenses little rest.
While making considerable gains with the run, New Orleans is not reluctant to go to the air. Rookie Marques Colston, from Hofstra, has been a welcome surprise. He is sixth in the NFL with 336 yards on 20 catches, including an 86-yard touchdown last week against Carolina. Joe Horn remains a threat even in his 11th season. He already has a 57-yard reception this season and is gaining 14.8 yards per catch.
The retooled defense will be a challenge, too. Expect the front seven to launch an all-out assault on rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The Saints already have 13 sacks, and with rookie Jeremy Trueblood starting at right tackle, look for the Saints to overload on his side. Defensive tackle Brian Young leads the team with 3½ sacks.
"They've always been a good defensive team that's given us problems," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "And they're playing hard."
Brooks vs. Bush: These two are bound to cross paths at some point with Derrick Brooks, the weakside linebacker, likely staying at home while the strongside linebacker takes the tight end. Brooks will be tested against a tough-to-tackle back such as Reggie Bush, left. But the truth is this challenge applies to the entire defense. The only sure-fire way to contain Bush is to gang-tackle him.