ELITE VS. ELITE: Superb Saints CB’s Seek to Shut Down Bucs Dynamic Duo in Week #1

Photo Credit; New Orleans Saints on Twitter (Original via Jonathan Bachman)

Just 2 more weeks to go. That’s the only amount of time now left remaining, until the highly-anticipated 2020 NFL Season-opening game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome between the New Orleans Saints and their NFC South Division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 13th.

And once the Black and Gold takes the field, there will be several areas of concern that their much-improved defensive unit will be focused upon, in their attempt to come away with a win that afternoon.

But perhaps no one particular match-up will be as big of a concern, than attempting to shut down the Buccaneers WR “dynamic duo” of All-Pros Mike Evans and Chris Godwin — who most NFL observers feel makes Tampa Bay legitimate Super Bowl contenders with the recent addition of their new starting QB — “living legend” and former 6-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.

Many NFL observers believe that Brady could potentially thrive in his first season in Tampa under the high-powered offensive scheme / passing attack of Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians; which features that tandem who most analysts believe are the best pair of #1 and #2 outside receivers in the entire League.

To that point, last season Evans and Godwin became the first pair of teammates in the NFL’s 100-year history to each have three games of 150-plus receiving yards in the same season. And this upcoming season beginning in two weeks from now, they’ll have one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time throwing them the football on every pass play.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Twitter.com

The now 7th-year veteran Evans finished the season with 1,157 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, even though his season was done after he was injured with a serious pulled hamstring and shut down for the remainder of the season following Week #14.

Perhaps even more impressively, last season was a “break out” year for Godwin; who last season in his 3rd year as a pro finished with 1,333 receiving yards and nine touchdowns and recorded six 100-yard receiving games. But he too was also shut down after pulling a hamstring himself, after Week #15.

Despite their late-season injuries, Evans and Godwin still finished as one of the most productive receiving tandems in NFL history based on yards per game; as they additionally became just the third pair of teammates in NFL history to each average at least 89 receiving yards per season. Not all that surprisingly, Godwin and Evans combined now own three of the top five receiving seasons in the Buccaneers’ entire 44-year team history.

That said, the Saints defensive backs have had some mixed results against the duo. The match-up between Evans and Saints #1 starting CB Marshon Lattimore has been well-publicized dating back to the Saints All-Pro’s rookie season in 2017; and as noted by New Orleans.Football analyst Nick Underhill, in their match-ups against each other last season in Week #5 at the Superdome and then again at Tampa in Week#11, Lattimore was stellar in coverage.

Photo Credit; New Orleans Saints on Twitter (Original via Jonathan Bachman)

Lattimore covered Evans on 29 of 35 total routes ran, and limited the former Texas A&M University All-American to 1 catch while playing “press coverage” on him on 16 of those snaps.

Godwin on the other hand had a total of 10 catches for 172 yards and 3 TD’s, in those two contests combined, and was outstanding for the most part in beating the coverage mostly by then-Saints #2 CB Eli Apple, who eventually was released and ended up signing with the Carolina Panthers this past off-season. In the game at the Superdome in less than 2 weeks from now, it will be current Saints #2 CB Janoris Jenkins‘ turn at covering Godwin.

The Saints claimed the former Pro Bowl selection and 9th year veteran Jenkins off of waivers near the end of the season last year, after he surprisingly was released by the New York Giants. New Orleans re-signed Jenkins to a new two-year, $16.75 million contract extension in late March; and now paired up along with Lattimore, gives the Black and Gold defensive secondary what many NFL observers feel might be the best pair of #1 and #2 outside CB’s League-wide.

Which it should go without saying, makes the match-up of Lattimore and Jenkins against Evans and Godwin a battle between the very best — or for the lack of a better term: “elite versus elite”.

While the previous battles between Lattimore and Evans are more than well-documented as noted above, the one-on-one meeting between Jenkins and Godwin could end up being the more critical one — if New Orleans has any intentions of coming away with a positive start to their 2020 campaign.

Underhill in his most recent article says that the 31-year old Jenkins has had a phenomenal Training Camp over the course of the past few weeks, and because Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen plans to use more press-coverage this season than last with the recent departure of Apple, Jenkins is the perfect player at that #2 outside CB position in order for the Saints defense as a whole, to be much more aggressive than ever before.

Underhill adds that the pairing of Jenkins alongside Lattimore could be what takes the Saints defense up a notch from “good” to “great” this season, because it will give Allen along with secondary / CB position coach Aaron Glenn the flexibility to have either player shadow opposing WR’s in coverage and give that week’s opponent more things to think about (and thus giving the Saints defense an advantage).

But just how much of an advantage that will be against a top-caliber tandem such as Evans and Godwin, remains to be seen — or at least until 2 more weeks from now.

As it is, the Saints secondary will have their hands more than full with simply covering those two receivers.

The Bucs will also have rookie 5th-round draft pick and former University of Minnesota star Tyler Johnson and young veterans Justin Watson and Scotty Miller — who observers down in Tampa in recent days have reported has become a personal favorite of Brady’s in a manner very similar to the way that his former Patriots teammate Julian Edelman did when they were together for an entire decade (10 seasons) in New England — for the rest of the Saints secondary to concern themselves with.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Twitter.com

That means Allen and Glenn will be counting on the rest of the Saints secondary which includes back-up CB’s Patrick Robinson and PJ Williams, starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams, and the versatile Ceedy Duce (a.k.a. 2nd year veteran Chauncey Gardner-Johnson) at both the slot corner and free safety positions, to step up and provide adequate protection.

But clearly if Lattimore and Jenkins can be solid in their coverage assignments against the dynamic duo of Evans and Godwin, they can prevent Brady from having a big debut in his first game in a Buccaneers uniform.

And as Underhill notes: if Lattimore and Jenkins can essentially shut down their respective sides of the field on the outside boundaries, it will force opposing QB’s to hold on to the football longer — which should prove very beneficial to the Saints pass rush.

“I love that we have guys who can do both press and zone (pass coverages). I love that”, Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan said in an exclusive one-on-one interview for Underhill’s article. “In my mind, they have given me another half-second (to pressure the QB), which is another step or two”.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports)

Whether or not that extra second or two will ultimately be the difference between the Saints getting off to a good start to their 2020 Season or a bad one, won’t be determined yet for another two weeks.

But this much is evident: the upcoming head-to-head meeting at the Superdome in Week #1 between Lattimore and Jenkins against Evans and Godwin, figures to be a true match-up of “elite versus elite”; and if the Saints’ two superb CB’s can shut down the Bucs WR dynamic duo — it means New Orleans can get an early upper-hand on winning another NFC South Division title — and perhaps even much more….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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