Tom Brady is coming back to Foxborough. This week’s Sunday Night Football game will feature the New England Patriots hosting the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. On a side note, Tom Brady will face off against his former team and the head coach Bill Belichick with whom he won six Super Bowl championships.
The Patriots enter the game at 1-2 after dropping Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium 28-13 to the New Orleans Saints. The Buccaneers meanwhile will enter at 2-1 and are coming off a 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The Patriots are 6.5 point underdogs and will have to play their best game of the young season to beat the Buccaneers.
After losing to the Rams, it is safe to say Brady will be motivated for this game. Not only is he returning to the place he called home for two decades, but he is only 68 yards away from breaking Drew Brees’s all-time NFL record for career passing yards. The Patriots will face a big test Sunday night. Let’s look at three keys that they will have to do to beat the Buccaneers.
Establish The Running Game
One of the strengths of the Patriots is their offensive line. However, so far in 2021, this group has not been at its best. That could be due to Trent Brown’s injury. He has not played since the season opener against the Miami Dolphins because of a calf injury. The loss of Brown has also caused Damien Harris to struggle early on. So far this season has rushed for 176 yards on 45 carries, for a 3.9 average. The backfield also suffered a devastating blow with the injury to James White, which appears to be a season-ending one. If Brown can come back this week, it will be a boost to the offensive line.
Regardless, running the ball against the Buccaneers will be tough. They are allowing just 63.6 yards per game, which is fourth in the NFL, and 3.1 yards per rush which is third. If the Pats can establish the run, it will keep the high-profile Tampa offense and Brady on the sidelines. Plus it would allow Mac Jones to take shots downfield to Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, and Kendrick Bourne. It will be a challenge to run on them, but that can be done. Plus, if they can run the ball it will allow them to pass. The Buccaneers have struggled with their passing defense to start the season.
Attack The Buccaneers Passing Defense
They have a great defense. Everyone saw what they did to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. So far this season, teams have been able to pass on them. On opening night, Dak Prescott passed for 403 yards and three touchdowns. In week two, Matt Ryan passed for 300 yards, and just last weekend Matthew Stafford passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
For the Patriots to have a chance they will need to pass. So far this season, Mac Jones has thrown for 737 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. The two tight ends who the Patriots invested heavily on in free agency Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, so far this season, have combined for 20 receptions (10 apiece.) Meyers is the leading receiver with 19 receptions and 176 yards, while Agholor and Bourne are the only two with a touchdown reception. The Patriots will have to make some plays in the passing game since it will be tough to run the ball. If they can pass it they will have a chance for the upset.
Slow Down The Bucs Passing Game
Of course, this is easier said than done. Tampa is tied for first in scoring with 34.3 points per game and is second in passing with 349.7 yards per game. They can score quickly and at will. Bill Belichick likes to take away an opponent’s best player and make someone else beat him. The Buccaneers have all kinds of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but who exactly is their best player? We all know about Brady, but his wide receivers are also good. Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski are threats anytime they are in the red zone. Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are dangerous also and can take it to the house from anywhere on the field.
So how can you slow down Brady? Like any other quarterback, he does not like to get hit and gets uncomfortable in the pocket when the pass rush gets to him. Belichick knows him better than anyone, plus he has come up with different game plans for great quarterbacks before. Brady, however, will be a different challenge. I think Belichick will come up with a variety of looks and coverages to try and confuse him, plus throw in some blitzes also. He will plan to slow down the Buccaneer’s aerial attack and force them to beat him by running the ball.
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