The Patriots will appear… ready or not, on the national stage this Sunday as they face Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs at Gillette Stadium.
The game itself has been eclipsed (at least locally in Boston), by the obsession of many with the upcoming New England Dynasty novel. However, we are deviating.
This week’s game will air on NBC and can be seen on NBC 10 Boston. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play tasks with Cris Collinsworth as color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work behind the scenes. The game will also be broadcast on Patriots’ flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on 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 meetings, this year’s game favors the Bucs who won the Super Bowl of the Year. last by blowing up 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 pitch in all three phases of the game. To add insult to injury, the team lost James White for the season with a hip subluxation.
The Bucs (2-1) lost his first game in Los Angeles to the Rams and lost TE Rob Gronkowski during the game with a rib injury. He did not train on Wednesday.
At PatsFans.com, we’re continuing our ‘Razor’s Edge’ column in 2021 to give a quick analysis of some of the game’s key matches and what you can look for in the way the game plays out.
So here’s our look at some of the key matches and who owns the Razor’s Edge.
The first is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Bucs Front Seven – Tampa Bay Razor’s Edge
The Patriots’ running game struggled to run the ball consistently, and that had little to do with running backs. Damien Harris ran hard but the holes just aren’t there because the offense has been disappointing… at best.
With James White out for the season, it paves the way for a return of Rhamondre Stevenson, inactive in the last two games, to accompany JJ Taylor and Brandon Bolden. But it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, the blocking has got to be better.
The Bucs’ top defense is outstanding, led by the big men on the inside, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and athletic linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White. Tampa is only allowing 63.7 yards per game, which is good for the 4th in the league and a tiny 3.1 yards per carry, which is the 3rd best in the league.
If things weren’t tough enough, the Patriots’ top two tackles, Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown (who missed almost all of the first three games), were both limited on Wednesday. Luge difficult to come on Sunday evening.
Patriots WRs vs Bucs Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ passing game was poorly protected by rookie QB Mac Jones. As we mentioned above, coupled with the limited availability (early in the week) of their starting tackles makes things risky. Jones has played well in his first three games but needs a better effort from the players around him.
However, Tampa’s high school is really stoned right now. Sean Murphy-Bunting is in IR with an elbow injury, Jamel Dean left Sunday’s game with a knee injury despite returning to training on Wednesday. The team hired Richard Sherman and he was also in training on Wednesday, although he said it could take a week to level him up, however, it wouldn’t be a shock if he played.
Sherman’s off-field issues led to his arrest for several misdemeanors in July, which were captured on video. But said he’s in a better place now. Little was mentioned about this incident when it was signed.
Tampa’s pass rush, which has been so defining during their season-ending and post-season run, has been largely (so far) ineffective. Jason Pierre Paul came out with a shoulder injury and will likely miss this game. Shaq Barrett only has one of three (3) Tampa sacks this season… which is surprising. The defense against the Bucs pass allows 338 yards per game (31st).
Look for the Patriots to avoid the 2-TE offense this week and spread out the defense and try to create an open space for the receivers to function. It all depends on passing protection for Jones. But the Patriots have a very slight advantage here.
Next comes the Tampa Bay offensive:
Bucs RBs vs. NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Tampa Bay
The Patriots’ run defense has struggled again this year and while it looked like they had turned a corner against the Saints, at the critical moment New Orleans ran the ball down their throats as they ate near seven minutes off the clock for a TD-stall match.
The Bucs’ running game was an afterthought for just 56.3 yards per game. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones have only seen 39 carries combined and are averaging 3.8 and 3.5 yards per carry respectively.
That will change on Sunday night. Look for the Patriots to pull out a page from their “Peyton Manning playbook” and put some extra defensive backs on the field, trying to get TB to run the ball more… Fournette should have a big game.
Bucs WR vs NE Secondary- Tampa Bay Razor’s Edge
The Patriots secondary was good, allowing just 159.7 yards per game, good for second in the league. But it was against Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson and Jameis Winston. This week the level of competition is much higher. The pass rush, however, improved a lot, with Matthew Judon (3.5) and Josh Uche (3) sacks. They will need that pressure this week.
The Bucs have an embarrassment of wealth in the passing game. Tom Brady has Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate and OJ Howard to throw the ball to. Trying to team up with anyone can be a difficult proposition.
The Patriots don’t have the speed on the outside to take on Tampa and Brady will try to pick his spots, while Bill Belichick will move the guys onto the field. This area, despite the Patriots’ ranking in the top league, will tip the scales in Tampa’s favor. Look for Brady to target Gronkowski and Brown in the red zone this week, for obvious reasons.
Special teams- Tampa Bay Razor’s Edge
The Patriots’ special teams units have been anything but, and it’s rare that we never give them the advantage in a game against an opponent. And as we wrote recently with so many players whose only ST-related contributions, this is unacceptable.
Nick Folk has been the exception here, he hasn’t missed a field goal since last year’s Seattle game in Week 2. Jake Bailey will be looking to bounce back from below-par performance. Return play and cover units should increase a few notches.
Tampa follows with kicker Ryan Succop who hasn’t been to many field goals, kicker Bradley Pinion was good, six of his 12 punts landed inside the 20 without a touchback. They have the dangerous return of Jaydon Mickens kicks.
Then, who wins and why …
This week’s game was overshadowed by the return of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and the silly “he said, she said, what was he thinking.” But it’s a big game not only for the Patriots, but also for rookie QB Mac Jones. Beating the Super Bowl champions on national television would do wonders for his confidence and that of his team.
Keys to the game from the Patriots perspective:
Spread them out and try to force the ball deeper – Expect the Bucs to cheat to take away the short areas of the pitch. They are not afraid of being beaten down. Spreading them out would give Jones better insight into the clashes and allow him to push the ball deeper into the pitch. It should also help identify where the pressure is coming from.
Additional databases required – The Patriots have done it before against Peyton Manning and it’s flooding the secondary with defensive backs removing throwing lanes and challenging the Bucs to run. They can’t match the speed and depth of Tampa. Here’s a way to shorten the game and limit Brady’s opportunities to separate them.
Win the battle of turnover and limit penalties – The Patriots hit a defensive touchdown last week for New Orleans. They could use something similar this week. But whatever, they have to be at their best and not hand the ball over to Brady and the Bucs offense with short field. And the penalties must be close to zero this week.
This one was billed as “Brady vs. Belichick” and you can watch it from any vantage point. Yes, Belichick coached Brady for twenty years and he knows his strengths and weaknesses better than anyone. On the flip side, Brady trained against the Patriots defense for 20 years. He’s seen it all… cheating on him isn’t going to be easy.
So can the Patriots stage their best game of the year and shock the world this week against the defending Super Bowl champions?
No, while anything is possible, Tampa is a better team all around …Bucs 42-13
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2021 Patriots season
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