- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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Offering some leftover observations following review of the second-half television copy from Friday night:
While RB Brandon Bolden has shown good aggressiveness in his running overall, there was one play on Friday night where he came to a complete stop in order to brace for a hit. Not what you're looking for from a running back, and Bolden actually broke free from the hit, but having lost his momentum, was taken down quickly thereafter. In the passing game, Bolden was solid in picking up the blitz.
The 29-yard scamper by Jeff Demps came on a broken play, where RG Nick McDonald couldn't contain 340-pound DT Frank Okam on a designed stretch play to the left. With MLB Najee Goode having bit hard to the playside, Demps was able to cut back, avoiding Okam and using his speed to break away from S Keith Tandy, who was in backside pursuit.
Speaking of Goode, the Bucs 'backer proved hard to contain in the second level. Patriots offensive linemen had trouble catching up to him, and like Saints LB Curtis Lofton two weeks ago, Goode disrupted several running plays in the second half.
Early in the third quarter, the Patriots used TE Aaron Hernandez in Wes Welker's Z-receiver spot (flanker), and Hernandez, like Welker, patrolled the short middle of the field. Possibly one reason why the Patriots may only stick with five 'true' receivers on their roster.
OT Nate Solder had an up-and-down second half in run blocking. One notable negative play came when Bucs DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim shot the gap to Solder's inside shoulder on a play action, while Solder's first move was to make a step to his outside shoulder. Solder recovered, but the inside pressure forced Brady into a quick throw down the seam that fell incomplete to Hernandez.
Two weeks ago in this space, it was mentioned that DE Chandler Jones could use his long arms to his advantage not only in the pass rush, but also to shed blockers against the run. Early in the third quarter, Jones did just that on an impressive run-stuff. Overall another solid performance by the rookie.
As a whole, the run defense was very good for the Patriots in the second half, especially in the third quarter, with the starting defense still on the field. Especially stout in shedding blocks were DE Rob Ninkovich and LB Jerod Mayo, while LB Brandon Spikes showed aggressiveness, but was caught out of position once or twice. Looking a more tentative was LB Dont'a Hightower. A good example of Hightower's play would be a run where Bucs LT Donald Penn was knocked backwards on a hit by Hightower, but the rookie linebacker was unable to then shed the block as the runner went by him to his left.
Very little, if any, of DE Jake Bequette on defense. Snaps went to Jones, Ninkovich, then Jermaine Cunningham (also DT in dime package), as well as Trevor Scott and Justin Francis, who played both sub package DT and base DE.
A very solid outing for DT Ron Brace, who showed off top-notch strength early in the third quarter, and then may have single-handedly got the ball back for the Patriots on the Bucs' final offensive drive, with back-to-back run-stuffs.
On the flip side, not a whole lot to write home about from DT Brandon Deaderick. If the Patriots keep 4 defensive tackles, it will likely be Brace as the third option, and Deaderick as the fourth option/game-day inactive.
Not the best game for LB Niko Koutouvides, who came in with the second wave of 'backers (along with Mike Rivera and Bobby Carpenter). As expected, Carpenter had the best outing of that group, while Rivera put in a few good plays himself. On the other hand, Koutouvides struggled to shed blockers and to tackle. He also had trouble corralling Bucs in coverage on two separate special teams plays.
LB Jeff Tarpinian didn't come into the game until the third wave of linebackers were on the field, alongside Rivera and Aaron Lavarias. On his first play, a run late in the fourth quarter, Tarpinian was shoved backwards about 5 yards and to the ground by FB Cody Johnson. In replacing Dane Fletcher, Tarpinian was considered the top option. Not so sure about that now.
The Bucs played most of Friday's game in between the numbers, making use of their fullback and tight end in the passing game, at least schematically, so there's less to evaluate from the Patriots cornerbacks who played late in the game. In running game, CB Marquice Cole had a pair of negative plays, including one where he appeared to leverage the wrong shoulder of a Bucs receiver on a big run by RB Mossis Madu.