NFC SOUTH STAR WARS: Would Clowney Help Saints Keep Up With Bucs “Dream Team”?

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on

As fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still celebrating the signing by their team a few days ago of veteran free agent superstar running back Leonard Fournette, fans of the New Orleans Saints continue to patiently wait for any breaking news of their team possibly signing veteran defensive end and free agent star pass rusher Jadaveon Clowney.

For New Orleans, the possible signing of Clowney would be yet another big-name NFL superstar to add to their already-loaded roster, as they try to match the most recent moves made by Tampa Bay — who now have assembled what’s basically become a “Dream Team” — as they try to surpass the Saints in the NFC South and win the Super Bowl.

Now the question becomes:

Can the Saints keep pace with the Bucs, in what’s become an NFC South Division “star wars” of sorts — to see which team can outdo the other one — just prior to their season-opening game against each other inside the Superdome one week from this Sunday?

As it was, Tampa Bay was already “loaded” on that side of the football coming into next Sunday’s highly-anticipated match-up, after they previously had added 6-time Super Bowl-winning QB Tom Brady and former All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski; to put with their pair of Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on

But if there was any one particular “weak spot” that Tampa and head coach / offensive mastermind Bruce Arians had on that side of the ball, it was that they still lacked talent somewhat at the running back position. which only averaged an anemic 3.7 yards per carry last season.

However, the Buccaneers’ signing of Fournette — the NOLA native and former All-American RB at nearby college powerhouse LSU who shockingly was released by his original NFL team the Jacksonville Jaguars after just 3 NFL seasons — now gives Tampa yet another star player to further add to what some NFL observers and analysts feel is a “Dream Team” favored to win this year’s Super Bowl.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on

The 6-foot, 228 pound Fournette will give Brady and company a legitimate “power runner” who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in two of his first 3 seasons in the League, and who also caught 76 passes of the backfield last season with the Jaguars.

However, the 25-year old former New Orleans St. Augustine High School star reportedly will need several days to go through the COVID-19 protocol before he can take a physical and officially sign with their team, which means that he might see limited action when they face the Saints next Sunday.

Instead, the Saints are expected to mostly see 3rd year veteran RB Ronald Jones II in the Bucs offensive backfield behind Brady, and possibly long-time veteran LeSean McCoy in a limited role as well; a reality that was confirmed by Arians in his comments to local Tampa media earlier Thursday morning.

“When you can get a player of that caliber — I got great reviews from people that know him and who have coached him — he’ll fit right in, and we’ll see what role happens and how fast it can happen,” Arians said. “But RoJo’s our guy, Shady [McCoy] is ready for his role, so it’s just gonna be building roles as we go along and having enough quality players to finish this thing.”

Nevertheless, Fournette could still end up seeing enough action against the Saints next Sunday to have an impact on the game and at least keep the Saints defense honest.

“I think [Fournette can play] right away,” Arians said to ESPN Buccaneers beat writer Jenna Laine. “He’s a very bright player, and everything I’ve heard from the guys coaching him [is] he’ll pick it up really quick. We’re not gonna force him — we don’t have to force him — so we’ll just let him get it at his pace. If I know him, he’ll be pretty fast-paced. So we’ll try to get him up to speed as fast as we can and see if he can have a role for [the Saints] next week.”

The addition of Fournette will now allow Arians to utilize the running game much more than they likely had originally planned — in order to keep teams like the Saints from applying pressure on the 43-year old Brady and the slightly-above average Bucs O-Line — which in turn should allow them to incorporate more play-action, so that the “living legend” and long-time former New England Patriots star QB can get the ball downfield to his explosive weapons at both the wide receiver and tight end positions.

Regardless of how much action that Fournette actually ends up having or not next Sunday, the biggest question still remaining for Who Dat fans at the moment is:

Could the Saints signing Jadaveon Clowney help their defense stop (or at least limit) the Bucs “Dream Team” offense from lighting up the Superdome scoreboard next Sunday?

Photo Credit: Seattle Seahawks on (Original Photo by Alika Jenner)

For now, that might be the million dollar question moving forward.

And of course, it also depends upon who you ask.

While many reporters and analysts on the National Media level have spent the past several months fawning over the Buccaneers because of the notable additions of Brady and Gronkowski (and now Fournette as well), not everyone believes that Tampa’s “Dream Team” offense and Brady are going to come in and drop 50-plus points on the Saints defense.

Among them is well-respected “Locked on Saints” podcast host and SBNation’s Canal Street Chronicles Editor / analyst Ross Jackson, who spoke with me / Big Easy Magazine earlier today for this very article that you’re reading at the moment.

“Locked on Saints” podcast host and Canal Street Chronicles Editor / Analyst Ross Jackson

Jackson began our conversation by saying that signing Clowney would be a move that’s basically a “no-brainer” for the Saints to make.

“The only competition going on between Marcus Davenport and Jadeveon Clowney, if they sign him, will be which one gets to the QB first,” Jackson said.

Photo Credit: Seattle Seahawks on (Original Photo by Rick Scuteri)

Jackson then says that it will be the Saints run defense that actually will be the main key at stopping Brady and company in just 9 more days from now at the Superdome next Sunday evening.

“Maintaining a stout run defense has been a constant for the Saints in the recent past, and their ability to do so once again this season in 2020 should hold true. They’ll be returning essentially all but one starter from 2019 along the front seven, and so things such as gap integrity and a stingy run-stopping attack will force Brady and the Bucs to be one-dimensional”, Jackson said.

“Now of course, shutting down their passing game will be the challenge. However, the Saints have the physical personnel to do it. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, his assistant defensive coaches and the players themselves have consistently referenced a focus on press man coverage. Being physical at the line of scrimmage and rerouting Brady’s receiving options will be key”, Jackson noted.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers on

And perhaps most important of all: Jackson added that the Saints secondary will be critically important in locking down the various Bucs receiving weapons at Brady’s disposal, which can allow the Black and Gold’s defensive line to get constant pressure on the 20-plus year veteran, who isn’t quite nearly as mobile in the pocket as he used to be as a younger man.

“Much like Drew Brees’ style of play, Brady relies heavily on timing and taking what is available. Eliminate the deep plays with an improved safety tandem and allow Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, and Ceedy Duce to disrupt timing and rhythm, keeping the Bucs new-look offense off-balance. Doing so successfully will also help the pass rush (which piled up 51 sacks in 2019) to get home”, Jackson concluded.

Jackson in his analysis for Canal Street Chronicles a few weeks ago, feels fairly confident that the Saints are more than capable of fielding a Top 5-caliber unit this coming season; and certainly the signing of Clowney could put the Black and Gold over-the-top in that regard.

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on (Original Credit via Brian Blanco)

And yet tonight as Saints fans throughout the entire Who Dat Nation continually hold their collective breaths over Clowney possibly coming to New Orleans, the question still remains:

Can the Saints keep up with the Buccaneers “Dream Team”, in what’s basically becoming a version of  NFC South “star wars”?

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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