The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots (2-0) in hopes of getting their first win against a Patriots team lacking its usual offensive starpower aside from Tom Brady.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had a 104-yard receiving performance in Week 1 against the Bills, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who underwent multiple arm surgeries and had back procedure performed this offseason, are both officially ruled out.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who had two touchdowns in Week 1 and is tied for a league-leading 20 receptions through two weeks, will be the key weapon the Buccaneer defense must stop. Edelman was targeted 18 times last week by Brady, who completed less than 48% of his passes due to several drops from his receivers.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is likely to face Edelman, although he wasn’t matched up against Saints No. 1 receiver Marques Colston, who caught a 31-yard pass to set up the Saints’ game-winning field goal last week.
“We just need to be more consistent in those last minutes, in four-minute and two-minute situations,” said Revis. “I think Coach [Schiano] has addressed and Coach has been harping on it, so we just really need to really focus and have good detail in those situations.”
The good news is, Revis certainly has some familiarity with Brady. “He’s a tough sucker, man. He’s a tough sucker to play against,” Revis joked about his old former AFC East foe. “He’s a tough competitor. He really is. We had our battles, back in my New York days.”
Brady showed mutual sentiment. “He’s an all-around player; he tackles…he covers big guys, small guys, he’s quick, he’s fast, he’s patient, he’s strong. He doesn’t have any weaknesses…I don’t think I’ve completed many balls on his side of the field very often. He’s not a guy that you want to test and see how well you’re going to do.”
In order to stop Brady, Tampa Bay will need a heavy dose of pressure from the front seven. The Bucs are tied for second in the league with 9 sacks through two games (the Kansas City Chiefs, who already played on Thursday night, currently lead the league with 15). Of those 9 sacks, 5.5 have come from the linebacking corps, led by Lavonte David (2.5 sacks) and Mason Foster (2.0). Foster also had a pick-6 off Drew Brees last week to nearly win the game.
The biggest concern on defense for the Bucs will be accounting for Brady’s quick tempo, hurry-up offense, particularly because there have been struggles with communication and substitutions, including having just 10 men on the field at the goal line last week.
“We’ve had several of them in the first two weeks – we just refer to them as communication breakdowns,” said defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. “There was some disconnect either a guy, or two guys, or three guys and it’s happened more than you would like.”
Sheridan added, “In many plays it hasn’t affected us that the average guy watching the game wouldn’t know it, but that was very glaring.”
On offense, the Bucs say they are coming off their strongest week of practice this season and look to help struggling quarterback Josh Freeman rebound from two rocky performances to start the season.
The Patriots operate a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense but in the last two weeks, they’ve shown primarily four-down fronts.
“They mix it up and they have a very talented front even across the board, D-line, linebackers, and they like to play man coverage and they’re really good at it,” said Freeman.
In terms of coverage, Bucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who had his 20th career 100-yard receiving performance against the Jets two weeks ago, is expected to draw coverage by former Bucs teammate Aqib Talib. Jackson’s also added a new element to his game this year by lining up in the slot on three-receiver sets.
“Getting in one on one match-ups is what they really thrive on and not really allowing you to – they try to keep everything under a shell, they want to keep it all in tight and they’re banking on their guys being able to match up and play man,” said Freeman, who feels a certain level of familiarity with the Patriots give he’s practiced against them during the preseason two years in a row now.
He understands what types of things to look for and how a safety may disguise coverage downfield.
“Getting to practice with them early on, getting to kind of get a feel for them as a defense definitely is going to help from a familiarity level. I’m definitely excited about the opportunity.”
Of course Freeman could use another big rushing performance from Doug Martin, who rushed for 145 yards last week and faces a Patriots defense that has given up the fifth-most rushing yards through two games (132.5).
Martin finally gets to line up with Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph together for the first time in a regular season game.
Joseph sustained a ruptured patellar tendon against the Patriots in the preseason last year and missed the entire season, while Nicks underwent surgery to repair a torn plantar plate in his foot before contracting MRSA. Ironically, his diagnosis came when the Bucs traveled to Foxborough earlier this year.
Nicks’ arrival comes at the perfect time. His replacement at left guard, Gabe Carimi has been battling an illness and missed all of practice this week.
It should be quite the battle with the Bucs’ offensive line, finally at full-strength, going head-to-head against the likes of Chandler Jones, who had 2 sacks against the Jets and has been lining up as an interior rusher on third down.
The Bucs will be without a pair of tight ends in Tom Crabtree (ankle) and Luke Stocker (hip). The Bucs called up Danny Noble yesterday from the practice squad to help fill the void. Nate Byham and Tim Wright are the team’s two other tight ends.