There are few who believe the New England Patriots have any chance of spoiling Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro. The Buccaneers feature a barrage of talent at almost every position. The team recently acquired cornerback Richard Sherman, further adding to their arsenal of skill players.
Tom Brady continues to defy the odds at age 44; Brady currently sits at #2 in the NFL in passing yards (1,087), while leading the league in touchdowns (10). Tampa Bay’s offense is tied for first in points per game, giving the Patriots a lot on their plate. As Brady is set to return to New England for the first time since his departure, here’s how the 1-2 Patriots pull off the upset against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Attack The Buccaneers’ Secondary
While the Buccaneers have added Richard Sherman, it is unknown whether or not the 33-year-old will suit up on Sunday. Tampa Bay signed Sherman for a reason, the defense has been awfully vulnerable to the pass. The secondary has struggled since top corner, Sean Murphy-Bunting landed on IR. While Tampa has scored the most points in the NFL, the team has also given up a lot of points. For instance, the Buccaneers rank 27th in the NFL in opponents points per game, giving up an average of 29.3 points per game.
Wide Receivers, in particular, have been able to eat against this Tampa Bay secondary:
Week 1 (DAL, 29 points allowed):
- Amari Cooper – 139 yards
- CeeDee Lamb – 104 yards
Week 2 (ATL, 25 points allowed):
- Kyle Pitts – 73 yards
- Calvin Ridley – 63 yards
Week 3 (LAR, 34 points allowed):
- DeSean Jackson – 120 yards
- Cooper Kupp – 96 yards
If the Patriots want to give the Buccaneers a game, it’s going to have to be through throwing the football all night long.
Let Tampa Bay Run
It may come back to bite the Patriots, but it is a risk the defense is going to have to take. The Patriots “bend, but don’t break” defense comes down to their stout passing defense and their porous run defense. So far, the Patriots secondary has been dominant: the team leads the NFL in the least amount of completions allowed per game (16). The secondary also remains a top-5 unit in opponent completion percentage allowed, passing yards allowed per game, passing first downs allowed, and opponent average passer rating. Although Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, and Jameis Winston are not the league’s best quarterbacks, the secondary has been impressive nonetheless.
The Patriots struggle the most, however, in stopping the run. The team is giving up an average of 122.7 yards per game to running backs while also surrendering 8.7 rushing first downs per game. With a revamped front-seven, the pass rush has done well, but the defense is bottom of the league in against the run. It may seem counter-intuitive to let the Buccaneers do more of the same on Sunday, but the Patriots should let it happen. Their run defense is unlikely to improve significantly this week and the Patriots can not afford to let Tom Brady throw all day long. The Patriots are going to have to put up a lot points while not letting Brady find his rhythm. The secondary will certainly have their hands full defending these wideouts. Based off of style of play and player’s strengths, it may be best to make the following defensive matchups:
- J.C. Jackson on Chris Godwin
- Jonathan Jones on Antonio Brown
- Double Mike Evans with Joejuan Williams and Jalen Mills
- Adrian Phillips on the TEs
Win the Early Downs
The Patriots have been one of the better teams in maintaining long drives. The team is top-10 in plays per game and 14th in average time of possession. Usually, these traits would result in points and success, so why is New England only averaging 18 points per game? Red-zone and third downs. The Patriots are not scoring enough touchdowns in the red-zone and the team is playing on third down far too often. The Patriots are 1st in the NFL in field goal attempts per game, while ranking 31st in red-zone touchdowns and 32nd in red-zone touchdown percentage.
To put it shortly: the Patriots are conducting long drives with many plays only to stall out in the red-zone, settling for field goals.
Most Patriots fans could have figured that out by watching the first three games, but the numbers are certainly confirming those thoughts. Another aspect that may be sneaking beneath the eyes of viewers are the Patriots on third down. The Patriots have faced more third downs per game than any other team. To be fair, the Patriots have done well with converting those third downs, but it is not sustainable in order to put together high-scoring drives and games.
Get the Ball Out Fast
Mac Jones is a rhythm passer and the Patriots feature a rhythmic passing attack. In order to execute that style of offense, they will need to get the ball out quick. This will help reduce the amount of third downs while tiring out the opposing pass rush. The Patriots offensive line has struggled greatly. Even with Trent Brown expected to be back, there is no guarantee that New England’s pass protection problems will be solved completely. Getting the ball out quickly discourages defenses from constantly blitzing the Quarterback. Mac Jones’ best drives have been in a 2-minute style offense. It would not be surprising to see Bill Belichick take the ball first and execute an exhausting and efficient scoring drive out of the gate.
Think of when New England visited the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship game. How do you take down one of the league’s best scoring offenses? Open up the game by getting the defense tired and scoring the first touchdown. It will make the pass rush less inclined to send the house, giving everyone more time to operate. Tampa’s pass rush is filled with talent, but the defense has only recorded three sacks so far this season. New England will need those numbers to stay the same on Sunday.
Patriots vs. Buccaneers will kickoff this Sunday at 8:20 p.m. EST.
Photo/Michael DeMocker/New Orleans Saints