A short week of preparation for the Patriots after suffering an unexpected loss at home against the Carolina Panthers Sunday. A defensive breakdown by the Patriots caused a full-blown shootout between Cam Newton and Tom Brady. And it just so happened that the Panthers’ defense showed more resiliency.
There’s no doubt that the Patriots’ coaching staff this week focused solely on improving the defensive game plan. Currently, this season’s Patriots defense ranks as one of the worst since 2006. On average, in the past ten seasons the Patriots have ranked third in the league in touchdowns allowed per drive, out of every drive they have allowed six points 17% of the time. In the past four weeks that statistic for this year’s defense skyrocketed to 31.1%, ranked worst in the league. So far on goal-to-go situations this season the opposing team has scored 100% of the time, being ranked 30th in the league. Though it is early in the season, the Patriots’ defense is statistically slipping already.
Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group
This week the Patriots are tasked with another rare opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A Thursday night match-up in Tampa will be more difficult for the Patriots to prepare for than the Bucs. This will be New England’s third NFC South match-up out of four still early in the season, and have had no trouble against the Buccaneers in the past. However, the Patriots and Bucs have not met in the past four years. Since then the Buccaneers have made a great addition with Jameis Winston. Luckily for the Patriots, the Buccaneers are one of the seven teams Tom Brady is undefeated against in his career.
Stopping the Buccaneers on Offense
Unlike any team the Patriots have faced so far this season, the Buccaneers boast a two tight end set on offense. Tight ends Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard share playing time with either one blocking with the offensive line or both running routes over the middle of the field. Just last week when the Buccaneers squared up against the New York Giants, O.J. Howard burned the defense on a simple bootleg play-action pass because the corners were fixated on Brate and receiver Chris Godwin running the opposite way.
In addition to this set, the Buccaneers offense possesses a huge vertical threat in Mike Evans and speedy route-runner and returner DeSean Jackson. Rookie Chris Godwin is up-and-coming as well. At running back, the Bucs have Doug Martin, who in the past has ripped up defensive lines for huge gains. Jameis Winston is the perfect guy to sling the ball them. He has a cannon of an arm and in recent years has become more accurate. The Patriots’ defensive line will get a break this week when it comes to rushing the QB because Winstson does not scramble that often.
The most feasible way for the Patriots to stop this top-10 offense is to help each other as much as possible. Zone coverage and conservative play calling will help against the pass. Stephon Gilmore has struggled so far making mental errors, including one that cost the Patriots the game last week. If he continues to play as the team’s number-two corner, he should have someone helping in the backfield to reduce the field for him. Patrick Chung would capitalize on coverage like that and could force some turnovers. Dont’a Hightower will have to come up big on coverage in the middle of the field. Devin McCourty will have to hold down the top of the zone as well if Chung drops down.
Getting the Patriots Offense Going
Tom Brady has kept the Patriots’ offense alive, despite all the injuries plaguing his receivers. He has picked up his tempo and slinging the ball more, but there is only so much that he can do individually. Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks have been lighting up secondaries and finding the end zone without much adversity. Danny Amendola has successfully has been filling Julian Edelman’s slot-reciever role in his absence. With Rob Gronkowski the newest entry on the injury report, and Rex Burkhead continuing to be out this week, the Patriots will bring the next man up. Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes will be tough to get catches over. However, Brandin Cooks has the capacity to out-speed Grimes win in a jump ball situation against Hargreaves. This leaves the middle passing game open for Danny Amendola to get open.
In the backfield, Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis have shared reps on the team’s dismal running game. James White has gotten few targets in the backfield as well, which could be used against the Buccaneers defense. Linebacker Lavonte David is the only factor to interfere against a halfback screen. Expect this game to continue the trend of being pass-heavy for the Patriots.