The Patriots will be appearing… ready or not, on the national stage this Sunday as they take on the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs at Gillette Stadium.
The game itself has been overshadowed (at least locally in Boston), by the obsession with many with the upcoming novel of the New England dynasty. However, we digress.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots and Bucs have only met 9 times since Tampa entered the league in 1976 but unlike the vast majority of the meetings, this year’s matchup favors the Bucs who took last year’s Super Bowl by blowing out the Chiefs while the Patriots missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
The Patriots (1-2) lost to the Saints 28-13 as they were dominated on the field in all three phases of the game. To add insult to injury, the team lost James White for the season with a subluxation of his hip.
The Bucs (2-1) dropped their first game in Los Angeles against the Rams and lost TE Rob Gronkowski during the game with a rib injury. He didn’t practice on Wednesday.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2021 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Bucs Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay
The Patriots’ running game has struggled to run the ball consistently, and that has little to do with the running backs. Damien Harris has run hard but the holes just aren’t there as the offensive has been underwhelming…at best.
With James White out for the season, that sets the stage for a return by Rhamondre Stevenson who has been inactive the past two games to go along with J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden. But regardless of who is in the lineup, the blocking has to be better.
The Bucs rush defense is outstanding, led by the big men inside, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, and athletic linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White. Tampa allows just 63.7 yards per game which is good for 4th in the league and a minuscule 3.1 yards per rush, which is 3rd best in the league.
If things weren’t already hard enough, the Patriots’ top two tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown (who has missed nearly the entire first three games), were both limited on Wednesday. Tough sledding ahead on Sunday night.
Patriots WRs vs Bucs Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ passing game has been victimized by poor protection for rookie QB Mac Jones. As we mentioned above, coupled with the limited availability (early in the week) of their starting tackles makes things dicey. Jones has played well in his first three games but needs a better effort from those players around him.
However, Tampa’s secondary is really banged up right now. Sean Murphy-Bunting is on IR with an elbow injury, Jamel Dean left Sunday’s game with a knee injury although he was back at practice Wednesday. The team signed Richard Sherman and he was at practice as well on Wednesday, although he said it may take a week to get him up to speed, however, it wouldn’t be a shock if he did play.
Sherman’s off-field issues resulted in his arrest for several misdemeanors back in July, which was captured on video. But said he’s in a better place now. Little was mentioned about that incident at his signing.
Tampa’s pass rush, which was so instrumental during their late and post-season run has been largely (up to now) ineffective. Jason Pierre Paul has been out with a shoulder injury and will probably miss this game. Shaq Barrett has only one of Tampa’s three (3) sacks on the season… which is surprising. The Bucs’ pass defense allows 338 yards per game (31st).
Look for the Patriots to eschew the 2-TE offense this week and spread out the defense and try to create some open space for the receivers to operate. It all hinges on pass protection for Jones. But the Patriots get a very slight edge here.
Next up is the Tampa Bay offense:
Bucs RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay
The Patriots’ run defense has still had issues this year and although it looked like they’d turned a corner against the Saints, at crunch time, New Orleans ran the ball right down their throat eating up nearly seven minutes of the clock for a game-clinching TD.
The Bucs’ running game has been an afterthought rushing for just 56.3 yards per game. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones have seen only 39 carries combined, and are averaging 3.8 and 3.5 yards per carry respectively.
That will change Sunday night. Look for the Patriots to take a page out of their “Peyton Manning playbook” and put extra defensive backs on the field, trying to entice TB to run the ball more…Fournette should have a big game.
Bucs WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay
The Patriots’ secondary has been good, allowing just 159.7 yards per game, good for 2nd overall in the league. But that was against Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, and Jameis Winston. This week, the level of competition is much higher. The pass rush, however, has been much improved, with Matthew Judon (3.5), and Josh Uche (3) sacks. They’ll need that pressure this week.
The Bucs have an embarrassment of riches in the passing game. Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard to throw the ball to. Trying to double-team anyone can be a difficult proposition.
The Patriots don’t have the speed outside to match up with Tampa and Brady will try to pick his spots, while Bill Belichick will be moving guys around the field. This area, despite the Patriots’ high league ranking, will tip in Tampa’s favor big time. Look for Brady to target Gronkowski and Brown in the red zone this week, for obvious reasons.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay
The Patriots Special Teams’ Units have been anything but and it is rare that we ever don’t give them the advantage in a match-up with any opponent. And as we’ve written recently with so many players whose only contributions tied to STs it is unacceptable.
Nick Folk has been the exception here, he hasn’t missed a field goal since the Seattle game last year in Week 2. Jake Bailey will look to rebound from a subpar performance. The return game and coverage units need to step it up a couple of notches.
Tampa follows with kicker Ryan Succop, who hasn’t been to kick many field goals, punter Bradley Pinion has been good, six of his 12 punts have landed inside the 20 with no touchbacks. They have the dangerous Jaydon Mickens returning kicks.
Next up, who wins and why…
This week’s game has been overshadowed by the return of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and the silly “he said, she said, what was he thinking” narrative. But this is a big game for not just the Patriots but for rookie QB Mac Jones as well. Beating the Super Bowl champs on national television would do wonders for his confidence and that of his team.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Spread Them Out and Try to Force the Ball Deeper – Expect the Bucs to cheat up to take away the short areas of the field. They don’t fear getting beat deep. Spreading them out would give Jones a better look at the matchups and allow him to push the ball deeper down the field. It should also help to identify where the pressure is coming from.
Extra DBs A Must – The Patriots have done this before against Peyton Manning and that’s flooding the secondary with defensive backs taking away throwing lanes and daring the Bucs to run. They can’t match Tampa’s speed and depth. Here’s one way to shorten the game and limit Brady’s opportunities to pick them apart.
Win the Turnover Battle and Limit Penalties – The Patriots gifted wrapped a defensive touchdown last week for New Orleans. They could use something similar this week. But regardless, they have to be at their ball-hawking best and not hand the ball to Brady and the Bucs offense with a short field. And penalties have to be near zero this week.
This one has been billed as “Brady vs Belichick” and you could look at it from either point of view. Yes, Belichick coached Brady for twenty years and he knows his strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. On the flipside, Brady practiced against the Patriots defense for 20 years. He’s seen it all…fooling him isn’t going to be easy.
So, can the Patriots put together their best game of the year and shock the world this week against the defending Super Bowl champs?
No, while anything is possible, Tampa is a better team across the board…Bucs 42-13
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season
Tags: Antonio Brown Bill Belichick Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower James White Mac Jones Matthew Judon Mike Evan New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady