The fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information just passed along some great stuff previewing both of this week’s NFC South matchups. We’ll start with the game between Tampa Bay and New Orleans and come back later with something on Carolina at Atlanta.
One thing to keep an eye on is New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees throwing to his right. It’s something he’s excelled at this season, but the Bucs also have been very stout in defending quarterbacks passing to their right. Brees leads all NFL quarterbacks with a 72.2 percent completion rate on passes to his right and has averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. His 17 touchdown passes in that direction are tied with Peyton Manning for the league lead and he’s thrown six interceptions to his right. Brees has a 103.7 passer rating when throwing to his right. But the flip side of that is Tampa Bay’s defense has held opposing quarterbacks to a 58.6 completion percentage on passes to their right and allowed 6.0 yards per attempt. They’ve given up 10 touchdowns on those passes, but also come up with 10 interceptions and they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to a 72.2 passer rating.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has been at his best when he’s on the move. Freeman ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards and third in passer rating on throws outside the pocket. In those situations, Freeman has averaged 6.9 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and a 107.9 passer rating. On the flip side, this isn’t an area of strength for Brees, who has many other areas of strength. Brees is averaging 4.5 yards per attempt on throws outside the pocket and hasn’t thrown a touchdown while being intercepted once. His passer rating outside the pocket is 52.2.
It’s no secret that Tampa Bay rookie LeGarrette Blount is a power runner. But let’s support that with some numbers. In the last nine games, Blount has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt on carries between the tackles. That’s second in the NFL to LeSean McCoy, who averages 5.1 yards per carry. Since Week 7, Blount has 911 rushing yards with 372 of those coming up the middle. Three of his five touchdowns in that span have come on carries up the middle.
The Bucs haven’t had opponents throw downfield on them much this season. In fact, opponents have only attempt 87 passes of 15 yards or more. That’s the second-lowest total in the league. That probably has a lot to do with the fact the Bucs have allowed only 36.5 percent of passes to be completed in those situations, while holding opposing quarterbacks to a 49.1 passer rating. But that’s likely to change Sunday. Brees has attempted 352 passes of 15 yards or more since 2008, which ties him for fourth-most in that span. In the last 10 games, Brees has been especially good on passes of 15 yards or more. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes, which is the most in the NFL in the last 10 games. In that same span, Brees has a 107.1 passer rating, which is the best in the league in those situations.