In mid-August, the New England Patriots welcomed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three days of joint practices before the teams played each other in a preseason game. Now they meet again.
“I think the work we did against them in training camp was good for our development as a team, but I’m not really sure how much carryover that will have into the game other than just the familiarity with some of the players we went up against,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week. “Scheme-wise, it’s all game planning now. It’s not just going out there and working on the things that both teams are working on. I’m sure it will be geared very specifically, both ways, toward the opponent.”
Here’s a breakdown of the matchup from both sides:
Reiss: When discussing Sunday’s matchup between the 2-0 Patriots and 0-2 Buccaneers, Belichick said he views the Buccaneers more as a 2-0 team than an 0-2 team. That might not go over well with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who once said, "You are what your record says you are." Pat, you’ve seen the Buccaneers up close in their last-second losses to the Jets and Saints, so we’ll ask you the question: What are the Buccaneers?
Yasinskas: Mike, quite simply, the Bucs are a team in disarray. Coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman aren't on the same page, and that situation seems to grow more combustible each week. If the Bucs start off 0-4, I anticipate that they'll turn things over to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon after the bye. But the problems aren't just the quarterback play. The whole team is dysfunctional and the Bucs aren't playing smart football. Schiano prides himself on having a disciplined team, but that's not what the Bucs are right now. They've had more than 100 yards in penalties in each of their first two games, and you're not going to win many games that way. Speaking of a team being what its record says it is, the Patriots haven't been dominant, but they are 2-0. How good are they?
Reiss: The story of the first two games of the season has been the struggles of the once-lethal passing game. Tom Brady’s frustrations boiled over at times in last Thursday’s 13-10 victory over the Jets. He had developed an early chemistry with Danny Amendola, but Amendola is sidelined with a groin injury. Since tight end Rob Gronkowski has also been hurt and missed the first two games, the Patriots were without two top weapons in Week 2, so Brady was throwing mostly to five-year veteran Julian Edelman and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), Aaron Dobson (second round) and Josh Boyce (fourth round). The defense has kept them in games, but it also seems fair to ask the question: Would the results would have been different if the opponents had been stronger than the Bills and Jets? From afar, it seems that the Buccaneers’ defense has some good things going. Is perception the reality on that side of the ball?
Yasinskas: Tampa Bay's defense has been a bright spot. The revamped secondary is holding up well and the Bucs are generating a pass rush. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebackers Mason Foster, Lavonte David and Dekoda Watson are playing very well. This defense is good enough to keep the Bucs in any game. But the problem has been the offense. There's been no rhythm to the passing game, and I suspect the Bucs may rely even more on Doug Martin and the running game. How is New England's run defense?
Reiss: In the season opener, New England was in its sub-defense for all but two snaps and did an excellent job on dangerous Bills running back C.J. Spiller (2.4-yard average). Last Thursday against the Jets, there was some more base defense, and I thought it was an off day for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who is the anchor of the run defense. The Jets had success. Similar to the plan against the Bills, I’d imagine the Patriots will make limiting Martin priority No. 1, and then they figure to pay extra attention to receiver Vincent Jackson. With two top-of-the-line skill-position players in Martin and Jackson, why have the Buccaneers struggled so much on offense through two games?
Yasinskas: They really miss left guard Carl Nicks, who has been out with an MRSA staph infection. But there seems to be some optimism that Nicks might be able to play this week. If he does, it will mark the first time the Bucs have had Nicks and Davin Joseph together as their starting guards. That's a scenario the Bucs dreamed of when they signed Nicks as a free agent last year. But Joseph went down with a knee injury last preseason and missed the season, and Nicks missed half of the season with a foot injury. If Nicks and Joseph are healthy and on the field together, they could be the league's best guard tandem, and that's going to help Tampa Bay's run and pass blocking.