Tampa Bay's winless Buccaneers are ranked No. 29 in the NFL for total offense. Greg Schiano's club has netted just 523 total yards and averages just 15.5 points per game.
Surprising to no one, Bill Belichick spent nearly all of Tuesday's conference call talking about the Bucs defense. The Patriots coach attributed much of the trouble to never really knowing what Tampa's going to give you.
"I think you've got to be ready for everything and you've got to be alert, read it out. It's difficult to predict what they're going to do because they have a nice mixture," he explained. "That's one of the things that makes them so good defensively, is they have a lot of good players, they play hard, they have good technique, good scheme, and they're well coached. They definitely keep you off balance."
New England isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, either. Tom Brady and his depleted, young group of pass catchers and rushers have gained a 22nd-ranked 663 total yards. The team that led the league in points per game last season with 34.8 is now squeaking out just 18.0.
Belichick sincerely anticipates a challenge. He noted Tampa Bay has a formidable combination of talented players, good coaching and good scheme.
"If you don't do things just absolutely right against them with the offensive line, or your tackles and tight ends, or whatever combination blocks you're trying to make -- double teams blocks or zone blocks -- they end up splitting those gaps, or they eat up two guys and you can't get one of your blockers off to one of their linebackers."
Belichick added that this defense has impressive quickness from front to back. A rotation of active linemen -- Gerald McCoy, Gary Gibson, Da'Quan Bowers, and rookie Akeem Spence -- keep opponents on their toes. And the speed and pursuit of linebackers Lavonte David and Dekoda Watson have forced rushers into negative yardage.
"They don't give up a whole lot of long runs or big plays because they're so well coached and have good tacklers in the secondary so those runs, even when you hit one, they don't go very far. They get you in the backfield or they get you at line of scrimmage and before you know it, you look up and you have five runs for 12 yards or something like that."
The Jets got the better of Tampa Bay last week, but just barely. New York's ground game gained just 44 yards on 22 carries. Five of those rushes went for negative yards. It's no stretch to say Bucs defenders largely had the Jets' backfield under control.
It appears last year's No. 1 run defense is back in full force.
"If they get a half a step on a lineman, or a fullback, or a tight end who doesn't quite have position on them, and they just outrun them and track the ball carrier down," Belichick said. "Their corners are good force players -- [Darrelle] Revis is a good force player."
Ah, yes. Revis. The shutdown cornerback who, in five full seasons with the Jets, did a great job of bothering New England. Doesn't it figure that after he was traded out of the division -- out of the conference -- the Patriots still see his team on the schedule?
"At least we only have to play against him once," Belichick laughed.