By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return to Gillette Stadium to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The Patriots come in at 2-0 but have struggled offensively in both games to consistently move the football. Tampa comes in at 0-2 and could easily be undefeated; they’ve been snake bit by undisciplined penalties especially at key times and now are having clubhouse dissension with Head Coach Greg Schiano having a rift with QB Josh Freeman now being called out by Darrelle Revis on being ill-used.
We here at PatsFans.com are going to try something a little bit different this season. We’re going to run a column, the “Razor’s Edge” to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
Series History: The teams have only met seven times in their history with the Patriots holding a 5-2 advantage overall and a 2-1 advantage at home. The last meeting was on October 25, 2009 in London with the Patriots winning in a blowout 35-7. The teams also met this preseason in Foxboro as well as three days of joint practices.
Patriots Offense- The Patriots have had their struggles with both the Jets and the Bills defenses so far this season and the Bucs have arguably a better defense than either of those teams. Injuries have taken their toll thus far as Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski and Zach Sudfeld have all missed time in 2013.
The loss of those players and the struggles of the rookie WRs in the passing game have had a ‘trickle-down’ effect on the Patriots running game. Tom Brady will have to play better than he did against the Jets if they plan on beating Tampa on Sunday.
Patriots RBs vs Bucs Front Seven- Edge Buccaneers Tampa Bay has a very good and tough front four with Adrian Clayborn, Akeem Spence, Gerald McCoy and Daniel Te’o Nesheim. They’re solid and plug the gaps well in the running game which allows an active group of linebackers to shoot the gaps and make plays. The Jets RBs had only 44 yards rushing in Week 1, the Saints crew could only muster 75 more last week.
The Patriots ran the ball well against Buffalo but with the struggles of the passing offense against the Jets, the running game dried up when the Jets, not respecting the pass, flooded the short routes and the Jets front seven had their way with the run blocking of the Pats offensive line. This week will be another tough test for Stevan Ridley and LaGarrette Blount. The Bucs are tough and they won’t give much room to run. The Patriots in this one may have to pass first to open up the run.
Patriots WRs vs Bucs Secondary- Edge Bucs With no Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski and Zach Sudfeld, the Patriots passing attack had a rough evening against the Jets. Brady and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce had issues getting in sync. Julian Edelman was a bright spot as he made a career high 13 catches and helped Brady move the chains.
With the return of Sudfeld this week, it will go a long way to opening things up for the WRs as he can attack the seams. The Bucs brought in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson to bolster the 32nd pass defense in 2012. Their pass rush will have a lot to say with how this ultimately plays out. But until the rookies step up their play for the Pats, they will struggle to move the ball consistently, at least until Gronkowski and Amendola return.
Patriots Defense- The Bucs offense has been scuffling worse than the Patriots have and are averaging only 15.5 points per game. They are going to try to run the football to set up the passing game and while Doug Martin had a fantastic game against New Orleans, the Patriots front seven is much stouter. I would expect the Patriots to give Josh Freeman all he can handle this week. The Patriots confused him in August with different looks and he looked lost at times.
Bucs RB vs NE Front Seven- Edge Patriots The Patriots have been running a lot of 4-2-5 nickel this season but with Tampa coming in, I would expect to see more of a base 4-3 defense and that means more of MLB Brandon Spikes in this one. Doug Martin will find tough sledding with Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly backed by Spikes shooting the gaps in this one. I like the Patriots to limit him and force the game into Josh Freeman’s hands.
Bucs WRs vs NE Secondary-Edge Patriots Josh Freeman is having his issues throwing the football even with Mike Williams and the ever dangerous Vincent Jackson, who has given the Patriots issues in the past. Freeman is in Schiano’s doghouse and we could conceivably see him pulled if he struggles for long in this one.
The Patriots dialed up the pressure a little against the Jets and look for more against Freeman who has a penchant for holding the ball too long. The Patriots will match Aqib Talib on Jackson and try to force Freeman into making mistakes.
Special Teams- Edge Push The Patriots coverage units have stepped up their play since the season started but have lost All-Pro STs player Matthew Slater for 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist. Stephen Gostkowski missed a key FG badly at the end of the first half last week but Ryan Allen had a much better game last week.
Julian Edelman has provided a big boost in the punt return game and could once again have a big role in this game. Kickoff returns have been handled by Blount but now that Leon Washington is healthy, he may be pushed into surface.
The Bucs brought in former Bills kicker Rian Lindell who missed a 47 yard FG that could have iced the game last week. Michael Koenen has done a great job with a 43.2 net punting average and they use Eric Page for both punt and kickoff returns.
Player to Watch- Zach Sudfeld Sudfeld is now back to a full participant at Patriots practice after suffering a hamstring injury in the Bills game. During the joint practices against Tampa and the pre-season game in August, Sudfeld was a thorn in Tampa’s side and should be a big target in this one on Sunday.
One of the things lacking with all the injuries has been the tight ends in the passing game, with Sudfeld back and Gronkowski soon to return this should take a lot of pressure off the rookie wide receivers. Look for Brady to attack the seams of the Tampa defense deep with Sudfeld, targeting Mark Barron who has struggled a bit thus far.