Preview Review: Patriots 23, Buccaneers 3

Preview Review: Patriots 23, Buccaneers 3
September 22, 2013, 7:00 pm
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FOXBORO –- The Patriots are 3-0 and have allowed three offensive touchdowns in 12 quarters of play. As a team, they’ve allowed 34 points in three games. The 2000 Ravens and ‘86 Bears aren’t sweating the Patriots defense, but the rest of their opponents are going to have to first, because they are going to be a persistent factor and second because they are buying time for their nascent offense to start clicking.


WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

PREVIEW
If – after 10 days off – the offense it looks like it did on that Thursday night against the Jets, then it may be time for legitimate concern. But it shouldn’t. Looking at the lead-up to the Jets game – no padded practices during the three days before the game, Aaron Dobson at full-go for the first time since preseason, no Danny Amendola, Zach Sudfeld or Shane Vereen, an experienced and talented defensive coach on the Jets sideline – the ugliness of the performance was presaged by many. Now, with a legitimate chance to prepare Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, and to get Sudfeld (and possibly Rob Gronkowski) back, New England should manage more than just nine first downs. Going against Tampa’s defense, Tom Brady will be paying attention to the deployment of corner Darrelle Revis. He can take a wideout away completely and Brady in the past has kept his distance from Revis. If the Bucs put Revis on Julian Edelman – the lone weapon against the Jets – that means the onus will be on Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins to pick up the slack. Bad as the Patriots looked, a lot of the ugly was a matter of timing. Brady throwing earlier than expected, quarterback and receiver seeing different things in terms of coverage, routes that were run at different angles than expected and wide throws from Brady all contributed to the struggle. The Bucs have a talented secondary with safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Baron to go along with Revis. Up front, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Adrian Clayborn are the anchors and linebackers Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Dekoda Watson have been impressing Revis, who said, “Even though they're young, they're playing like they're seven- and eight-year veterans,. And that's good. I really appreciate what they're doing for us.'' The Patriots will again be hopeful of taking some heat off Brady with a better ground attack. Ball control issues aside, Ridley can make hard yards against a tough front. The loss of Vereen hurts in this game because the Patriots need that perimeter threat to challenge the Bucs and stop them from clogging the middle to stop Ridley. Brady and Josh McDaniels likely came up with something to throw at Tampa. But if Brady’s receivers can’t hang onto what he throws at them, the Pats will be in trouble. The Bucs are allowing 17 points per game, 37.5 conversions on third down and 3.4 yards per carry through their two games against the Saints and Jets.

REVIEW
Better. Still not good. But better. The Patriots more than doubled their first-down output against the Jets by rolling up 21 against Tampa. They figured out ways to get Dobson and Thompkins available (17 targets, 10 catches, 93 yards and two touchdowns), mostly on stuff in the middle of the field and routes that didn’t require a ton of adjustments and back-shoulder throws. Whatever factor Revis was the Patriots mitigated by finding opportunities elsewhere – running back and tight end being two of the spots. The Patriots also ran the snot out of it with 156 yards on 33 carries. Tom Brady had a C game. A few reloads and less than accurate passes. A pick he said he’ll rue for the rest of the week. A missed deep ball to Zach Sudfeld. But he showed the pity party of last week is behind him.


WHEN THE BUCS HAVE THE BALL

PREVIEW
Josh Freeman, in a contract year, has bad stats and isn’t getting much help. He’s completing just 45 percent of his passes and has been picked off twice and sacked four times. Half of the 24 passes Freeman’s completed have gone to Vincent Jackson. And while that’s a good place to go with it, Jackson has been the only guy to cover as drops have been plentiful. The dangerous Doug Martin – a Ray Rice clone – has been held mostly in check through two games with 209 yards on 53 carries but he’s a ticking time bomb for a big game. The Bucs have a lot of talent up front with Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah and Davin Joseph at RG, C and LG. Nicks is questionable with a foot injury. They are a better offense than they’ve shown so far. The Patriots, meanwhile, have allowed 24 points defensively through two games against rookie quarterbacks. They haven’t seen a wideout beast like the 6-5 Jackson yet and he, historically, has his way with the Patriots with 15 catches for 306 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games. This Patriots defense is far different from the one he cannibalized though. Even though they’ve gone against two rookie quarterbacks, the numbers can’t all be marginalized: 302 yards allowed per game, 32.3 on third-down conversions and six turnovers forced. With a more experienced quarterback like Freeman, the Patriots may get more intricate with their defense than they were when they played passive against EJ Manuel and Geno Smith in the front-seven.

REVIEW
Freeman’s receivers hurt him. And when they were done, Freeman finished himself off with what ended up looking like a mailed-in second half. The loss of Vincent Jackson before halftime was a blow, but the Bucs’ stubbornness on low-percentage throws outside the numbers eventually bit them when Aqib Talib pocked off Freeman and Stephen Gostkowski turned that into a field goal just before halftime. The Patriots had Talib on Jackson until Jackson got hurt. After that, it just didn’t feel like the Bucs were much of a threat. Tampa only had five possessions in the second half. They went punt, punt, downs, punt, downs on drives of 4, 3, 11, 3 and 8. The Patriots had three sacks and Jerod Mayo played his best game of the season.


THE KICKING GAME

PREVIEW
There’s not a lot of evidence submitted yet by the Bucs special teams except for punter Michael Koenen. Only two of his 13 punts have been returned. He’s got a net of 43.2 and he’s dropped five punts inside the 20. Kicker Rian Lindell is 1 for 2 on a pair of field goal attempts. The Bucs are bringing it back at a nice clip on kickoff returns with a 31.3 average but they’ve only returned four this year.

REVIEW
Stephen Gostkowski didn’t allow a kickoff return – five touchbacks. Julian Edelman had two punt return opportunities and took one back 16 yards. Ryan Allen punted just three times and was adequate. And Gostkowski made all three of his field goals – 53, 46, and 33 yards.


SICK BAY

PREVIEW
For the Patriots, Rob Gronkowski has edged closer to a return and that will make a big difference to the offense even in a reduced role. He’s questionable. Additionally, the availability of Zach Sudfeld will factor in to the passing game as well. He’s probable. You’re up to date on Danny Amendola, Matt Slater and Shane Vereen. Nothing else radically wrong with the Patriots and they are full-go on defense.

For Tampa, the injury to Nicks is a big one. He’s questionable. Adrian Clayborn, who’s really coming on, and linebacker Mason Foster are both probable. Tight ends Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree are both questionable with ankle and hip injuries.

REVIEW
Amendola and Gronk were no-go. Sudfeld played but was no factor. Bolden’s return was impactful with 100 yards from scrimmage. Sebastian Vollmer left with a leg injury (in a boot after the game) and he was replaced by Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

The Bucs pregame injuries weren’t an issue but the loss of Vincent Jackson was detrimental to the Tampa cause.


GAME WITHIN THE GAME

PREVIEW
Where does Revis go? The Patriots slammed it to Julian Edelman 18 times against the Jets completing 13. Put Revis in the slot to check him and then Brady will be forced to go to Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins. Alternative strategy. Put Revis on Edelman on third downs. As for the Patriots, the numbers I cited with Jackson were pre-Talib. The 6-1 Talib can at least almost look eye-to-eye with Jackson, unlike many of the corners the Patriots have had on him in recent meetings.

REVIEW
Revis was a part of the defense, not deployed in one particular spot or on one particular receiver. He checked everyone at one point or another and the Patriots mostly have him a free ride, staying away from his coverage area. Meanwhile, New England went after Jackson with Talib.


PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP

PREVIEW
Doug Martin. It’s going to start with the running game when the Patriots go up against a team with a back as talented as Martin and a quarterback as mediocre as Freeman.

REVIEW
Martin’s numbers weren’t awful – he managed 88 yards on 20 carries – but he wasn’t impactful enough on first down running for  3, 2, 1, 7, 5, and 1 yards in the first half. Once it got to 20-3 late in the third, he started to burst a few (20 on consecutive carries) on first downs but he didn’t ruin anyone’s day.


BUCS GOTTA STOP

PREVIEW
Brady. Move him. Hit him. Hurry him. Frustrate him. When the alpha dog is chewing at fleas, that’s good for the other guys.

REVIEW
Good job early. Brady got pressure, seemed to reload and not trust his receivers and take some sacks. But once he settled in and the Patriots tweaked some routes, the efficiency wore the Bucs defense down.


DON'T BE SURPRISED IF

PREVIEW
One of these teams has a “Eureka!” moment and puts together a performance wholly unlike what we’ve seen from them in the first two games.

REVIEW
The Patriots got better. The Bucs got even worse.


THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE

PREVIEW
“I’ve never played against anyone who is as good as him. He’s as good as there is that I’ve ever played against, so you just have to be careful when you throw his way because you know he’s going to be close. There’s no one that’s going to be wide open, you’ve just got to make sure you put the ball in a position where only the receiver can catch it.” – Tom Brady on going after Darrelle Revis.

REVIEW
The Patriots avoided Revis. Good way to render him mostly ineffective.


THAT SUMS IT UP BUCS STYLE
 
PREVIEW
“They are playing smart football, they are well coached and Tom Brady is a fantastic player. He is finding a way to get it done. But as you do that and win, your confidence grows when you have some young players. I have been there before when the young players start to see that, ‘Hey, we can do this,’ and I just hope it’s not Sunday that they really catch fire. But you know what? We make it a habit around here that we can’t control anybody else.” – Greg Schiano on dealing with the Patriots.

REVIEW
Brady and the offense – with all the time to prepare – put it to good use and got a much more even performance Sunday.


THE WINNER IS...

PREVIEW
Patriots 17, Buccaneers 16
 
REVIEW
Patriots 23, Bucs 3