After an absolute debacle on defense at home against the Tennessee Titans and Marcus Mariota in Week 1, very few analysts, myself included, gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a snowball's chance in hell of going into New Orleans last week and beating the Saints. No matter what you think of the Saints overall, the fact that they still have Drew Brees -- one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen -- means they will always have a shot to win any game. Combine that with the assumption the Saints would fight their asses off to make sure they didn't start the season 0-2, and you got the feeling that things could easily get out of hand early for the Bucs. Again.
Somebody on that Bucs defense needed to step up their game if they were going to have any chance of success. Lucky for them, defensive end Jacquies Smith did just that.
Three sacks, two caused fumbles and a hurry that led to an interception is one helluva day's worth of work for any young pass rusher. It's even sweeter when it helps your team get a much-needed win. That outstanding performance against the Saints earned Jacquies Smith my Hoss Of The Week for Week 2.
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Smith already is a good story dating back to last season. After having bounced around the league for several years without actually making it onto a regular season roster, Tampa brought him in after the first week of the season to help with depth after some injuries. He would eventually go on to start seven of the last eight games of the season and notched 6.5 sacks in his first year with the team.
Smith probably wasn't the first name most folks would have come up with if they were asked who was going to lead a turnaround for the Bucs defense on Sunday. It's easy to overlook a guy like Smith when you have a Pro Bowler like Gerald McCoy on the defensive line, especially when Smith also missed quite a bit of training camp with a shoulder injury. Somehow I doubt after his performance against the Saints that folks will continue to overlook Smith.
Right off the bat, I have to point out that that sacking Drew Brees is never an easy task. Nope, not at all. That's especially true for defensive ends trying outside rushes on the offensive tackles because Brees is always looking to climb the pocket after he does his drop back steps. I think that's why it was so weird to see Smith successfully turn the corner on Zach Strief and knock the ball out of Brees' hand in the first quarter, Smith's first sack.
It happened so fast, and it was like everybody just paused for a second while the ball was rolling around on the turf. Nobody seemed to be moving toward the ball because it just couldn't have actually been a fumble, could it? But the next thing you know Brees scooped up the ball and all of a sudden he was getting tackled by Bucs safety Chris Conte. Brees was able to recover the football, but he was still tackled at his own 1-yard line after the play had initially started at the Saints 22-yard line.
Did I mention this all happened on third down?
The Saints ended up having to punt from backed up in their end zone, which gave the Bucs excellent field position to start their next drive. The Bucs eventually converted that field position into a field goal and they were off to a 3-0 lead in the Superdome. That's what you call an impactful play!
Smith's second sack looked like a carbon copy of the first, coming with 13:42 left in the second quarter. Once again he blazed the corner around Strief and was able to get the ball out from Brees' clutches before he could throw it. This time, the sack occurred on second-and-12 and the ball took a lucky bounce forward so that the Saints actually gained a yard on the recovery. Brees was clearly shaking his arm after the play, and it's not crazy to think it affected his throws the rest of the game. Since then, we learned that his shoulder is injured. The Bucs held on third down and the Saints once again had to punt with the score still 3-0.
I'll get to Smith's third sack of the day in a minute, but I want to point out another big play of his that doesn't really show up in the stat book.
Early in the third quarter Brees faked a hand off then came back the opposite direction on kind of a bootleg/play action pass play. He tried to go deep to his wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, but the pass was picked off by Conte who undercut the route. Conte handed the ball off to Bucs corner Alterraun Verner whose return helped set up another Bucs field goal that put them up 20-7. But the question is why did Brees throw that ball into double coverage in the first place?
Well, it might have had something to do with Smith fighting through two blockers to get heat on Brees right before he threw the ball. This was a maximum protection situation where Brees should've had all the time in the world to throw, but because Smith kept working, Brees ended up having to throw well before he would've liked to.
The third and final sack of Smith's day came on the final drive of the game. After a furious comeback, the Saints were only down seven points with 1:20 left to play. Once again Smith was able to turn the corner on Strief, but this time his move was so clean that he was actually able to get two hands on Brees and take him down to the ground. The Saints ultimately got into the red zone, but that play helped run the clock down enough that the Saints ran out of time to score at the end.