Play action key for Saints, Buccaneers

One of the key things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s game between Tampa Bay and New Orleans will be play-action passing for both teams.

The Saints use play-action passes a lot and they use them well. The Bucs haven’t used that tactic nearly as much and they have struggled when they have tried.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees has attempted more play-action passes (79) than any quarterback in the league. He’s completed 52 of them (65.8 percent) for 547 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions while being sacked three times, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has attempted just 49 play-action passes and completed 24 of them (49 percent) for 347 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. Freeman has not been sacked on a play-action attempt.

The Bucs are in a state of transition with their backfield. Top rusher LeGarrette Blount is coming back after missing the last two games with a knee injury. His backup and third-down back, Earnest Graham, will miss the rest of the season.

Even when Blount was healthy, the Bucs weren’t setting themselves up for success with play-action passing. They were using Blount almost exclusively on running downs and replacing him with Graham on passing downs. That made the offense predictable and defenses weren’t reacting to play-action fakes.

With Graham out, Blount said he expects to be more of an every-down back. If he is, that should help the Bucs. Defenses have to account for Blount as a runner. If the Bucs fake some handoffs to Blount, the defense should react and that could create more openings for Freeman and his receivers.