Preview Review: Patriots-Bucs

Preview Review: Patriots-Bucs
August 17, 2013, 1:45 am
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FOXBORO – Two days after people were ready to break out the black bunting for the Patriots 2013 season because of Tom Brady’s knee bruise, the Patriots quarterback came out and – wearing a knee brace – delivered his second straight outstanding performance of the preseason. The defense showed up early as well, harrying the Bucs’ passing game and passing another preseason checkpoint.
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
 
Despite Tom Brady’s bruised knee, the fact he indicated he’d be speaking Friday night is a clue he’s probably playing. Last week, he went two series against the Eagles, this week the Patriots may have him bite off a little more. If Brady’s in there, it will be hard to top the efficiency of the Patriots offense a week ago during his stint. And Tampa figures to give a better battle because they’ve shown well this week. One doubts we’ll see Darrelle Revis, but the Patriots young receiver corps will get a test from rookie Johnathan Banks and safety Mark Barron. Hard-hitting Dashon Goldson is also a step up at safety from what the Pats saw last week. The Patriots should try to keep upping the pace to make sure the newer players can adjust on the fly. Stevan Ridley gave way last week to LeGarrette Blount. Curious to see this week if Brandon Bolden gets some early reps to show his progress. The Bucs have a very good front with Da’Quan Bowersand Adrian Clayborn in the mix. They’ll provide a stiffer test than the Eagles did as well, a defense against which the Patriots ran with impunity. Ryan Mallett, to my eyes, wasn’t as godawful as some reviews believed. His composure and footwork need to be a bit smoother though. He seemed to show some nerves – or at least anxiousness – early on in his time last week. Tim Tebow needs to show more decisiveness when he gets in there. Accuracy is also a good idea.
 
Brady went 11-for-12 for 107 yards and a touchdown. He directed an 80-yard opening drive for a touchdown (actually, it covered 95 thanks to a 15-yard penalty on Logan Mankins that set the Patriots back) and pounded it to Danny Amendola who showed his ability to adjust to the ball, run after the catch and get deep. The latter is what he did on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brady down the middle of the field. Brady played the entire first quarter and while the Patriots didn’t score on his second (and final) drive of the night, he did hit Amendola two more times to finish off a six-catch, 71-yard performance with his new slot guy. Brady also hit Zach Sudfeld for a two-point conversion. The running back combo of Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley had 57 yards on 12 carries and Vereen also caught four passes for 46 yards in his second strong performance of the preseason. Mallett was pretty solid. Tim Tebow labored mightily going 1 for 7, losing a yard on his only completion and throwing a pick. The Patriots offensive line didn’t allow a sack.
 
WHEN THE BUCS HAVE THE BALL
 
A very good lead back in Doug Martin should challenge the Patriots run defense early. Josh Freeman, the quarterback, will put pressure on the Patriots secondary with his complement of big receivers. The Patriots could afford to be a little better on third down with their first group on the field this week. Philly took advantage there against the Patriots on their early drives. I’m curious to see the safety rotation this week with Adrian Wilson, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory working out there. Devin McCourty may not play again this week as he still is coming back from his shoulder injury. Dane Fletcher and Justin Francis looked good against the Eagles 2s last week. Would like to see them play a little more against the Bucs’ 1s to get a better gauge.
 
Propped up early by the offense holding the ball for 15 plays on the opening drive, the New England defense didn’t allow a point until 6:32 left in the half when the backups had begun to enter the game. The Patriots allowed Tampa just 11 plays on three drives when it was 1s and against 1s. Brandon Spikes, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were all outstanding in the early going with Jones coming up with a sack and a 4-yard tackle behind the line of scrimmage, Spikes having a sack on Tampa’s first offensive snap and another one on a third-and-10. Ninkovich added a sack in the second quarter on a third-and-13. The second defense wasn’t as sharp as backup Tampa quarterback Mike Glennon started 7 for 10 for 88 yards and a score before halftime. Marcus Fortson and Jamie Collins looked sharp later in the game. Tavon Wilson was in the crosshairs on one Tampa scoring drive, coming up with a pass breakup on the sideline, getting called for defensive holding in the end zone, breaking up a pass in the end zone then yielding a back-shoulder touchdown pass that was actually well-defended.  
 
 THE KICKING GAME
 
Disappointing miss from Stephen Gostkowski last week from 44 yards away. His kickoffs, though, were boomed. Zoltan Mesko still needs to close out rookie upstart Ryan Allen in the punting competition. Julian Edelman had a muff last week. He needs to play well in that punt return role to give the team that extra reason to stick by him as he slips down the receiver depth chart.
 
Not a great night for special teams. Stephen Gostkowski doinked one off the upright from 50 yards. He also made one from 39. The Patriots kickoff return team allowed returns of 63 and 40 yards and the field goal team had consecutive penalties which pushed Gostkowski back from the 38 to the 50 on his missed field goal.
 
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
 
Vincent Jackson. The Bucs big wideout is a far different look for, presumably, Aqib Talib. Last week, Talib got turned by DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard touchdown pass that was a speed/quickness route by Jackson. Vincent Jackson is an outside guy who relies more on size and strength.
 
Limited action for Jackson who wasn’t targeted with a pass all night.
 
BUCS GOTTA STOP …
 
Stevan Ridley. Ridley is a tone-setter for the Patriots offense. He’s so quick to the second-level that – if he gets a crease – he’s going for 6 or more. The Patriots know what they have in Ridley but running against the Tampa front-four is very good prep for the regular season.
 
Ridley had limited reps as well, gaining 18 yards on five carries.

DON'T BE SURPRISED IF
 
The Patriots stub their toe a bit this week. After two weeks of intersquad practices, the team has really been challenged. This will be a good mental and physical test for them with the Bucs 1s trying to extend their stay on the field Friday after being in for just the first two series last week against Baltimore.
 
Not yet. The Patriots were sharp. And although the young receivers weren’t as prominently featured this week, the physical challenge the Bucs defense figured to provide never emerged.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“There’s no first team. We just, we work a lot of people together in different combinations. There’s no first team, at least none that I’m aware of.” – Bill Belichick on his depth chart and who’ll play when on Friday.
 
Tellingly, Aaron Dobson – a starter last week – played much less this week. That could just as easily be a function of the Patriots’ script which included varied formations and a quick pace early in the game.

THAT SUMS IT UP BUCS STYLE
 
 “Is this an interview or an interrogation?” – Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, while being asked how exactly Tom Brady came to be holding his knee after Clayborn ran left tackle Nate Solder into Brady.
 
Brady made it through fine and Clayborn dodged the label as Patriots Enemy No. 1.

THE WINNER IS...

Buccaneers 24, Patriots 20
 
Patriots 25, Buccaneers 20.