By: Steve Balestrieri
The Patriots take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon and it is a pivotal game for the both teams, this is a game the Patriots feel they should win. The Bucs coming in at a surprising 0-2, need the win to keep from going 0-3 where in the stacked NFC would slash thoughts of a playoff berth already.
In the “Razor’s Edge” column we put down tight end Zach Sudfeld as one of the players to watch in this game. On the flip side, for the defense another player to watch from a Patriots perspective will be defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.
Kelly the big (6’6, 310) body in the interior of the line lines up next to Vince Wilfork and the two of them have already teamed up to make a dynamic pair for the Patriots.
This week they’ll be needed to slow down the running game of the Bucs, most notably the ‘Muscle Hamster’, Doug Martin who gashed the Saints to the tune of 144 yards on Sunday. But perhaps more importantly, Kelly will be an important cog in pushing the pocket back in Quarterback Josh Freeman and not allowing him to step up to throw.
Freeman is known as someone who can hold the ball too long and an interior pocket push would allow the edge rushers, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and rookie subrusher Michael Buchanan to force Freeman and the Bucs into making mistakes.
As for the 0-2 Bucs, Kelly isn’t taking them lightly, “I mean, you know they’re desperate, but you also know they’re a good team,” Kelly said. “In another circumstance, they could easily be 2-0, so you can’t take this team lightly at all.”
Kelly will be a key contributor especially on early downs to help keep Martin in check but also keep Freeman from looking deep with Vincent Jackson. Watching the NFL Rewind tape of the Bucs – Saints game, something that stood out was that Freeman used play-action to take deep shots downfield to Jackson and that when given time, was very accurate with those throws.
“He’s a beast,” Kelly said earlier this week. “I just remember from playing against him when he was in San Diego, he’s a big-time player down the field.” The Patriots front seven will be responsible for giving Freeman a lot of different looks and bringing the pressure and Kelly will be a big part of that plan.
One key matchup to watch will be Kelly against G Carl Nicks who may return for this game after suffering a MRSA staph infection in August. Nicks was a much sought after free agent in 2012 and signed a $47.5 million contract with Tampa Bay after coming over from the Saints.
One of the things Bill Belichick stresses about defense is that playing in a successful one is where all the pieces work in concert. When looking at the stat sheets on Sunday night, Kelly’s numbers might not jump off the page at you, but he may be a valuable piece in being able to limit the yards and points of a potentially explosive Bucs offense.