Julio Jones has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and this film breakdown shows he still has some left in the tank.
NFL training camp is finally underway and there are moves, particularly one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that are very intriguing and may change how we view those teams in the future. Julio Jones, formerly of the Falcons and Titans, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a one-year contract. He will now be joining Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL.
You might be thinking that Jones isn’t the same receiver as he once was. While you may be right, I’m here to tell you — with the help of some film from a game against the Seattle Seahawks — that he still has some left in the tank. I’ve compiled some tape from last year that shows just how good Julio Jones was before he got hurt and battled injury throughout most of the season, and that he still can be very good in a wide receiver three or four role on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Attacking the Football
This first clip of Jones truly demonstrates that he can still attack the football at a high level. He’s on the bottom of the screen and, as the defensive back is coming off, he is prepping to run an in-breaking route. Ryan Tannehill looks his way the entire time. Jones makes a really solid break towards the ball, goes up and high-points the football, and makes a great catch. His ability to make hands-catches is rare, and Jones showed that he still has some left in the tank.
Speed and Big-Play Potential
You might not think of Julio Jones’ speed as something that can still impress this late in his career and as something he may have lost when he went to the Tennessee Titans. However, in spurts it really is still there, and here’s a prime example of it.
On this deep ball Jones is on the top of the screen. The defensive back is playing off so Jones attacks him outside stepping in and doing a little stutter step. This throws the defensive back’s footing off just enough that Jones is able to speed past him, go over the top, and catch this great throw from Ryan Tannehill. It really is that footwork right before that makes this play possible.
Here’s an example of a crossing route, which Tom Brady really loves to throw. In this instance, Tennessee runs a play-action and Jones comes from the top of the screen down. What he does really well is attack the empty spots on the field, rather than just running the route the way that it’s written down in the playbook.
He attacks the empty part of the field and comes back to attack the football as soon as Ryan Tannehill makes this throw. This could have easily been batted down or incomplete, but he comes back and attacks the football. Julio Jones’ ball skills are still some of the best in the league, and he’ll have ample opportunity to show that with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yards After the Catch
On this play we see more of Julio Jones’ running ability and how it really was still there before he went down with the injury that sidelined him several weeks. He’s really good at not only attacking the football, but attacking defensive backs and using his footwork to gain leverage.
Here he does that exact thing. It’s really a simple route, but because he didn’t give up his intentions, the defensive back has no idea where he’s going. When he makes this simple cut in it almost makes the defensive back drop to the floor. Jones is able to catch the ball in space and attacks the open grass for a big gain.
Here is another example, and really the best combination of Julio Jones not only attacking space on the field, but also attacking the football when it comes his way. From the snap, he just goes straight to his spot and makes a quick little move on the defender.
This is vintage Julio Jones if I’ve ever seen it, and if he can bring some of these plays to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he’s healthy, they’re going to be an absolutely dangerous team.
Jones’ quick feet are what’s going to keep him relevant in this game for a while — and what has done so to this point. Here, it’s really a simple route, but it puts the defensive back in a blender. Jones spins back towards the football and goes up to make a play. His foot speed is still off the charts when healthy, and he can still teach defensive backs a lesson.
The Bottom Line on Julio Jones and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This game really showed some of the vintage Julio Jones that still remains in 2022. He had 133 yards receiving and dominated just about anybody that was put in front of him. However, teams with wide receiver needs, such as the Ravens and Packers left him for Brady and the Bucs. it’s only a matter of time before they come to regret this and we see the Brady-Jones connection in action.
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared as a video on Tyler’s YouTube channel. Head over there to check out the full video!
The outlook on the Buffalo Bills season has never been lower. After sleepwalking through the easy part of their schedule and taking some bad losses, they are 7-5. They are now 1.5 games behind New England in the AFC East title race with the rematch coming in a couple weeks. They now look to turn things around on a short week against a familiar opponent, Tom Brady. This Bills vs Buccaneers matchup has the makings of an instant classic with plenty on the line.
Many of us hoped that we would be tracking scenarios for the AFC 1-seed but now the target is just getting to the playoffs. Despite feeling like the season is over, the Bills stand a good chance of getting to the postseason. The Bills current playoff odds sit around 78% according to the NY Times playoff odds calculator.
A 3-2 record through the final 5 games elevates those odds to 88%. Winning 4 games guarantees a playoff spot. The remaining opponents are: Buccaneers, Panthers, Patriots, Falcons, Jets. This week’s Bills vs Buccaneers game is not a must-win, but a win would remove a ton of pressure.
Tom Brady Effect
There is no denying that Tom Brady owns a large plot of real estate in the Buffalo Bills’ headspace. Brady is 32-3 against Buffalo, all games occurring during his 19-year Patriots tenure. He won the Super Bowl in 2020, his first year with Tampa Bay.
Brady is now playing MVP-level football in his second season with Bruce Arians. The players won’t admit it, but this game is more “Bills against Brady” than Bills vs Buccaneers.
How to Win on Offense
The Buccaneers have an elite run defense. It is not even worth testing. Vita Vea is among the best interior defenders in the league and avoiding him would be smart. Josh Allen should throw 40 or more passes to have an optimal game plan. The rest of the defensive line is excellent at generating pressure. They have a big advantage over the Bills offensive line even if Jon Feliciano is able to return.
Allen should look to distribute the ball quickly even if it means taking short gains. On the back end, the Buccaneers are looking healthy with Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back in action. They will play a lot of 2-high defense which has given Allen trouble this season. Linebacker Lavonte David is excellent in coverage and Devin White is a nasty run defender.
Diggs may see a lot of bracketed coverage so I would like to see Allen distribute the ball around. Featuring Gabe Davis outside would give him a physical advantage over Murphy-Bunting and could be our best opportunity for downfield shots. Cole Beasley has a big opportunity as our best zone-beater underneath. He should get double-digit targets as a run game replacement.
I would also make Zack Moss inactive and give either Isaiah McKenzie or Marquez Stevenson some designed plays on offense to spread the defense horizontally. Dawson Knox draws a tough matchup with David so it would be wise to keep him in-line to help protect Allen. The Bills should be able to move the ball but execution in the red-zone will be vital to success on Sunday.
How to Win on Defense
There is no sugar coating it, the Buccaneers offense is simply better than the Bills defense. Without Tre’ White, nobody on the team can stop Mike Evans. He is an elite receiver and routinely wins balls in perfect coverage. The key will be getting physical and giving his assignment safety help. Chris Godwin will primarily play the slot and will be Taron Johnson’s toughest matchup yet.
Fortunately, Antonio Brown is suspended for faking his vaccine card and will be replaced by a combo of Breshad Perriman and Tyler Johnson. At tight end, Rob Gronkowski is a familiar face who is still playing great football. Even running back Leonard Fournette has become a threat in the pass game.
This is a spectacular group of pass-catchers and Brady will find the open man more often than not. You can’t outright stop them, but you can limit explosives. That will be the biggest focus on defense.
Brady has also taken some risks this season and has thrown 7 interceptions in his last 5 games. The Bills need to attack the ball and try to force turnovers when the opportunities are there. As good as the skill players are, the Buccaneers offensive line is even better. They have no weak links and are among the best at limiting pressure.
Brady has been significantly worse when pressured so finding a way to get to him would be a huge help. The best matchup we have in the trenches is Ed Oliver against Alex Cappa. He can be the biggest catalyst to defensive success. The Buccaneers quietly have a top rushing attack as well and can attack a well-known weakness of the Bills defense. Greg Rousseau will have to be at his best at setting the edge in the run game to funnel things back inside.
This is a tough draw for the whole defense and points will be scored. Generating turnovers and pressuring Brady is easier said than done but could be the key to pulling off the upset.
I fully believe that the Bills have the ability to win this game. I expect plenty of offense and a competitive game down to the last snap. The Bills are 0-4 in one score games this season so they are due for positive regression at some point. However, I think they make too many mistakes to put together the perfect game that they need in this contest. My final score prediction is
Bills 27 Buccaneers 31
Let’s hope for Allen to step up and lead the team to a win but remember not to lose our heads if we drop this one. The playoffs are within reach either way. Regardless, this Bills vs Buccaneers matchup will be must-watch football.
There’s plenty of movement — and drama — in this week’s edition of the NFL Power Rankings
The NFL power rankings are always a fun exercise. Drama reigns supreme in the 2021 NFL season. You really can’t tell what some teams are going to do on a week-to-week basis. And even beyond the results, some of these games are simply fascinating. The New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans made the biggest jump in the rankings this week at 3 spots. The Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders look like identical teams and have an identical 4-point drop in the rankings. Let’s dig into it.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5)
Last week: 30
I thought the Jaguars were showing some progress with close games against the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals. But, after the Bengals game head coach Urban Meyer became a massive distraction, embroiling himself in controversy.
Not only was he caught on camera letting a young woman who was not his wife grind on him at a bar. But, it was his own bar in Columbus with a picture of him and his wife on the bar, and he handled the situation like a naughty first grader who just got caught throwing rocks at windows.
His players no longer respect him, he’s lost the confidence of the fanbase, he seems to have lost the confidence of ownership, AND they just got smacked 37-19 by the division rival Tennessee Titans. The Jags are in free fall.
31. Houston Texans (1-4)
Last Week: 32
The Texans did a few things worthy of inspiring the faintest hint of promise this week. First of all, not laying a stinker amid a media firestorm and an inferno of controversy like the Jaguars helps. Second of all, Davis Mills turned in an extremely efficient game against the New England Patriots. They weren’t able to hold on to a 22-9 lead early in the third quarter. But, getting there in the first place shows a bit of progress.
30. New York Jets (1-4)
Last Week: 29
The New York Jets very nearly pulled off a second win in a row this week against the always hilarious Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, they had no answer for Matt Ryan and Kyle Pitts and put themselves in a position where they needed to recover an onside kick to win the game. Zach Wilson is still struggling to show why the Jets selected him with the No. 2 overall pick. But, they feel a lot closer to some form of relevancy right now than they did after their 0-3 start.
29. Detroit Lions (0-5)
Last Week: 31
Dan Campbell is a hell of a coach. His passion was evident after the Lions’ last-second loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, this is a bad football team. That was evident when they couldn’t accomplish much of anything through 56 minutes of game time. Jared Goff is a limited quarterback who shows flashes from time to time, but on the whole is holding the Lions back from any sort of real success.
28. New York Giants (1-4)
Last Week: 27
Ouch. The Cowboys have been embarrassing a lot of teams lately, but it’s never fun when it’s your turn. In addition to getting blown out against a division rival, the Giants lost Saquon Barkley, Daniel Jones, and Kenny Golladay to injuries. Hey at least Kadarius Toney finally looks worth that first round pick.
27. Miami Dolphins (1-4)
Last Week: 26
Hopefully Tua Tagovailoa is back this coming week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But, it’s not going to matter much if the Dolphins keep putting… well… THAT around him. Truth be told, Jacoby Brissett has performed fairly well in Tua’s place. Yeah, he threw a garbage time interception and fumbled the ball late in the first half. But, the real problems for this team are a porous defense and an even worse offensive line. The way this team is trending, I could see them pushing the 30s by the end of the season.
26. Atlanta Falcons (2-3)
Last Week: 28
Those Falcons almost did it again! They put up a strong first half performance against the New York Jets and somehow forgot to continue playing football through the rest of the game. To their credit, they finally managed to (barely) hold onto a lead in the fourth quarter. But, it came against the lowly Jets. So, did you really win?
25. Washington Football Team (2-3)
Last Week: 22
I’ll give WFT this – Taylor Heinicke is fascinating to watch. He scrambles all over the field, knows how to put a drive together, and generally looks like a solid option most of the time. That is, until he starts making mistakes. The Washington Football Team had a genuine chance to be competitive this week against the Saints. But, Heinicke threw a bone headed interception just shy of the endzone on an opportunity for a touchdown. He threw another bad one on their own 26 with only a 4-point margin between the teams. You just can’t win with that.
24. Indianapolis Colts (1-4)
Last Week: 21
Tough break for the Colts. They outplayed the Ravens for the majority of the Monday Night Football game, but fell apart in the fourth quarter. If that wasn’t bad enough, Carson Wentz still managed to drive them down the field for the game winning field goal kick. But, Rodrigo Blankenship pushed it wide left from 47 yards. The Ravens’ offense was on a roll at that point, and they won the coin toss. It was pretty much a wrap from there.
23. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3)
Last Week: 25
From a neutral perspective, the Panthers and Eagles played an ugly game. From an Eagles fan’s perspective, you’re happy to return near .500. And, doing it against a team many recently considered to be one of the best teams in the NFL. However, that blocked punt at the end of the game perfectly encapsulates just the kind of craziness that needs to happen for the Eagles to look competitive right now.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3)
Last Week: 24
The Steelers finally looked like a competent team this week against a struggling Denver Broncos. Ben Roethlisberger played unspectacular, but mistake-free football. Najee Harris finally looked like the force on the ground the Steelers needed him to be. Losing JuJu Smith-Schuster for the rest of the season hurts too. The result wasn’t certain through the vast majority of the game, but they came away with the win at the end and that’s what matters.
21. Las Vegas Raiders (3-2)
Last Week: 14
I thought the Broncos were the biggest pretenders in the NFL. Boy was I wrong. The Raiders’ sloppiness has been there all season and is starting to get in their way. Their inability to get the two yards necessary for two points after their lone touchdown of the Chargers game exemplifies just how bad this team was at running the ball this week. Then there’s the coaching issue. Four years into a 10-year contract, head coach Jon Gruden is now gone. We don’t need to talk about the controversial aspects of that in this article. But, it is devastating from a football perspective. The Raiders’ season could very well fall off a cliff after this.
20. New England Patriots (2-3)
Last Week: 20
To be clear: the reason why I’m moving the Patriots down a spot is because I wasn’t all that impressed by their win, and teams around them are moving quite a bit. The Patriots looked dead in the water most of this game until a late rally beginning in the middle of the third quarter sparked a last-minute comeback. It was finished off by Nick Folk kicking the go-ahead field goal with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It’s good for Patriots fans, who were staring 1-4 in the face. But, I see more of the ugly side of this one.
19. Denver Broncos (3-2)
Last Week: 15
After being pulverized by the Ravens last week, I called the Broncos pretenders. I’m going to go ahead and double down on that statement this week. They managed to avoid being completely embarrassed this week against a downtrodden Steelers team. But, they showed massive signs of weakness. Like Roethlisberger, Teddy Bridgewater was mostly serviceable if unspectacular this week. He didn’t make too many mistakes until an absolutely gut wrenching interception with 11 seconds left in the game killed any hopes the Broncos had of tying the game and sending it to overtime. It wasn’t even a fluke thing, it was just an awful throw and the Broncos finish things out looking like the biggest pretenders after a promising 3-0 start.
18. Chicago Bears (3-2)
Last Week: 23
You have to give credit to the Bears. Despite all the drama surrounding Matt Nagy’s decision making and Justin Fields’ development, they’ve won three of their last four games. Wins over the Bengals and Lions weren’t exactly easy, but it looked pretty easy against the Raiders this week. Keep an eye on this Bears team. They could sneak their way into the playoff picture if you take your eye off of them.
17. San Francisco 49ers (2-3)
Last Week: 16
Trey Lance didn’t look particularly comfortable in his first game as a starter. He couldn’t find the endzone, was sacked twice, and threw a costly interception on his first drive of the game. If he’s to save the quality of the 2021 rookie QB class, he’s going to need to perform much better going forward. But, I will give credit to the 49ers defense. They kept a high-flying Cardinals team to only 17 points this week. Put a decent offense on the field, and this team is a contender.
16. New Orleans Saints (3-2)
Last Week: 19
I’m really starting to get sick of your antics, Saints. Particularly you – Winston. Can you make up your mind if you’re good or not? The Saints looked like a very good football team this week. The defense allowed 373 yards, but only two touchdowns. One of which came late in the fourth quarter when it would have taken a miracle for Washington to come up with the win. Jameis threw for four touchdowns and only one interception. I wonder how they’ll lose next week?
15. Seattle Seahawks (2-3)
Last Week: 13
Russell Wilson’s doctors allegedly believe he has a realistic chance to return to the lineup in four weeks. That’s huge, because I’d have to push this team down farther if they were planning on playing Geno Smith all season. He was good enough to engineer a comeback, but he still did Geno Smith things at the end by killing it with an interception.
14. Minnesota Vikings (2-3)
Last Week: 17
Barely beating the Detroit Lions isn’t necessarily worth jumping three points in the NFL power rankings. However, contextually, the Minnesota Vikings are starting to turn things around. Don’t forget, this is the same team that is literally only a handful of traditionally low-impact plays away from being 5-0 right now.
13. Tennessee Titans (3-2)
Last Week: 18
Derrick Henry. That’s all I really need to say about the Titans. In fairness to Ryan Tannehill, he was very efficient. He even threw a touchdown pass in the second quarter! But, let’s be honest. This game was about Derrick Henry going OFF for 130 yards and 18 of the Titans’ 24 offensive points. It’s just the Jaguars, but Derrick Henry stepping on the scene is never good for the rest of the NFL.
12. Carolina Panthers (3-2)
Last Week: 11
I’m not ready to leave the Panthers behind just yet, but getting beaten by a struggling Eagles team just isn’t a good look. It’s even worse when you see Sam Darnold getting sacked three times and throwing three interceptions. Are the ghosts returning? Let’s see how they do against the Vikings next week.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2)
Last Week: 12
Barely losing a strange game against the very good Green Bay Packers is not something to be terribly worried about. The season is still early and the Bengals showed a lot of fight against a Super Bowl contender. The Bengals can still make an impression with the Ravens and Browns making up two of their next four games. But, if they want to be a top-10 team, they’ll need to figure out more ways to spark the offense beyond simply chucking it deep to Ja’Marr Chase.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (2-3)
Last Week: 10
It seems kind of nuts to me to have a sub .500 team in the top 10 of the NFL power rankings. But, we all know what the Chiefs are capable of when they catch fire. Their three losses (Ravens, Chargers, Bills) have all come against teams ranked higher than them in these power rankings. Not to mention, one of their wins also came against one of those teams (Browns). I have a feeling they’ll get it turned around sooner or later, but they might fall out of the top 10 with another lackluster performance against Washington this week.
9. Cleveland Browns (3-2)
Last Week: 7
I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why people are blaming Baker Mayfield for this loss. What more do you want from him? He threw for over 300 yards, two touchdowns, only took one sack, and was extremely efficient all night. If the Browns didn’t have such a scary backfield, he probably would have thrown for more touchdowns. The defense isn’t quite ready to stop elite quarterbacks like Justin Herbert, but the Browns kept pace. They’re still a top-10 team in my eyes.
8. Baltimore Ravens (4-1)
Last Week: 9
The 1-4 Indianapolis Colts aren’t exactly a juggernaut, but you absolutely have to give it up to the Ravens for that comeback victory. Don’t get it twisted, though. I haven’t forgotten about the slow starts, and I haven’t forgotten that they lost to the Lions. Baltimore gets credit for climbing to 4-1 by climbing in the NFL power rankings, but I’m still skeptical if they can keep this up.
7. Green Bay Packers (4-1)
Last Week: 6
Credit where credit is due: The Packers survived two pivotal missed field goals by Mason Crosby and came out with a very weird win. But, this is a very injured football team. Hopefully Elgton Jenkins and Josh Meyers can return soon to put that offensive line back together. But, they’re still missing Jaire Alexander for a while. They’re still without Zadarius Smith for the rest of the season. When you have Aaron Rodgers you always have a chance, but they’re edging toward the fringes of the Super Bowl contenders.
6. Los Angeles Chargers (4-1)
Last Week: 8
If you’re still not convinced the Los Angeles Chargers are legit, I don’t know what more information you need. Justin Herbert was nearly perfect against the Browns throwing for just under 400 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. He got off to a bit of an up and down start this season, but the last three weeks he has been absolutely automatic.
5. Los Angeles Rams (4-1)
Last Week: 5
The Los Angeles Rams, right now, are a team that feels like they have no holes. The only thing they’ve kind of struggled with this year is pass coverage, and even then they make up for it with well timed interceptions. That’s what they did as Geno Smith marched the Seahawks down the field this week. It was hard to stop the Geno train, but they pulled it off with their fifth pick of the season.
4. Dallas Cowboys (4-1)
Last Week: 4
I’m a sucker for a good ol’ deep pass by a wide receiver. That’s what we got from WR Cedric Wilson this week in the fourth quarter when the Cowboys were already in clear control of this football game. At that point, they were just showboating. But, it was still fun to watch nonetheless. I’m not sure if the Cowboys are benefiting from a weak division this year, but it sure didn’t help them last year. So they must also be really good.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1)
Last Week: 3
Beating up on the poor Miami Dolphins just doesn’t seem fair. Tom Brady owned them for years in New England and now he’s moved about 200 miles northwest just to add insult to injury. The Bucs absolutely spanked them 45-17 in a game where Brady truly looked like a GOAT. Their only loss so far this season is to the Rams, but I’m confident they could win that game if they see them again in the playoffs.
2. Arizona Cardinals (5-0)
Last Week: 2
Another week, another No. 2 appearance for the only undefeated team left in football. I wasn’t terribly impressed by their 17-10 win over a struggling 49ers team. Kyler Murray was efficient but unspectacular, but their defense did look good against the rookie Trey Lance. I absolutely think they’re a dangerous team, I’m just not sure if they’re the MOST dangerous team.
1. Buffalo Bills (4-1)
Last Week: 1
The Bills ARE the most dangerous team in football right now. Josh Allen is playing lights out in the air, their ground rotation is lethal, and their defense is stifling. Week 1 is a weird stain on their season, considering the loss came to the struggling Steelers. But, I think we can safely say that game was a fluke. In the last four weeks, this Chiefs game was the only one remotely close. And they still won by 18 points.
That’s when the homecoming festivities will kick-off. Freshman Mac Jones faces incumbent Senior Tom Brady to see who will win homecoming court. Security will be on high alert to ensure class jokester Rob Gronkowski doesn’t pull off any shenanigans. Fun-loving-senior-favorite Bruce Arians is sure to get lots of love from the senior class for their favorite teacher while that grumpy old guy Bill Belichick lurks in the shadows and generally ensures no one has fun. There will be presentations and ceremonies. Fireworks and cheerleaders. Family, friends, and fans will gather to support their loved ones. And oh yeah, there will be a football game too.
The defending Super Bowl Champions visit Gillette stadium to take on the 6-time World Champion New England Patriots. The GOAT, the myth, the legend of Tom Brady returns to where it all started to face the team that it all started with and the coach who gave him his start. If you’ve listened to any sports talk, watched any sports coverage, or read any sports section you’ll have heard about this one. The RETURN. The uncomfortable family get together after the divorce. This is Brady vs. the Pats. Mano a manos. One vs. eleven. Right?
Well not really. It’s still football. Eleven on eleven. X’s and O’s. For the amount of attention Brady v. Pats is getting it still comes down to doing your job. Executing your assignment. Winning your one-on-one match up. A week after the Pats did so with little consistency, they’ll need a team effort Sunday to remain in the game and give themselves a chance at winning it.
After watching the film from the Saints game, the importance of all eleven guys executing their assignment was even more evident. A single play can become a failure because one guy made an error. Those single plays can snowball and accumulate into a poor showing for an entire game or sink a team’s chances of winning. That brand of football is foreign to fans in the Northeast and hopefully, it goes back to being an unfamiliar brand of football this Sunday.
So, let’s get to a breakdown of the game this Sunday and keep it as football and team oriented as possible. We’ve heard enough about Brady versus Belichick, and we’ll hear more before and during the game. We’re going to go with a new format this week with breakdowns in areas of the game. Each section will be presented in a “who has the advantage when the…” format.
Patriots Run the Ball
The Patriots were supposed to be a running team even before Mac Jones got the nod at quarterback. The first two weeks reflected that effort as the Pats racked up 226 yards against the Dolphins and Jets. Last week the running game was abandoned early and the team racked up only 49 rushing yards. This largely could be explained by the James White injury. Damien Harris saw a season-low in snaps (22)-fewer snaps than Brandon Bolden got (33)! Harris was embarrassed in a pass protection effort after the White injury and seemed to be faded thereafter. Bolder offers presence in the passing game which led to his increase in usage, regardless of his ineffectiveness with the ball in his hands.
Hopefully, J.J. Taylor gets a little more run this week. He offers more oomph as a runner than Bolden does but his issues in pass protection are what led him to be a healthy inactive most of last year. Harris has been a force when he gets the rock, trailing only Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and Javonte Williams in forced missed tackles. The Pats would be wise to rely on Harris in the traditional running game, Taylor when running out of the gun, and Bolden in obvious pass pro situations.
The tight ends have been unspectacular in the rushing game. Jonnu Smith adds a little as a ball-carrier but much less as a blocker. And Hunter Henry, the prototypical T tight end, has consistently been knocked backward at the point of attack. Jakob Johnson has done his job admirably thus far into the season but isn’t a dominating presence at fullback.
The offensive line is where the success of the offense will always come from. The interior three (LG Mike Onwenu, C David Andrews, and RG Shaq Mason) have been above-average players. They haven’t jelled completely as a unit or played to their usual dominant level, but they have been better than most. The problem along the o-line has been at both tackle spots. LT Isaiah Wynn has suddenly turned into a penalty machine with inconsistent results while right tackle has been a nightmare since Trent Brown went down with a calf injury in the first offensive series of the season.
The Buccaneers’ defense has been dominant against the run statistically; allowing 191 yards TOTAL in their three games. This is a misleading stat however. The Buccaneers’ secondary has been much maligned through the first three weeks leading opponents to pass against them with success. The Buccaneers tout a talented front season that features a lot of speed along the defensive line and linebacking corps. DT Vita Vea is an absolute behemoth in the center of their defensive line and routinely keeps talented linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White clean to make plays.
Despite the success passing against the Bucs defense, they are averaging a very respectable 3.1 yards per attempt against in the running game. The Pats will want to establish an honest attempt on the ground to help Mac but expecting success in this area will be short-sighted. Expect the Pats running game to be a nonfactor in this match up.
Patriots Pass the Ball
After all the opining of lack of deep passing game after the win against the Jets, Mac let loose, throwing 19 attempts over 15 yards downfield and 11 over 20 yards downfield. The problem is Mac connected on 3 attempts over 15 yards for 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions and was 1 of 11 for 27 yards in throws over 20 yards. Hopefully, the fantasy football and Madden fans are happy with the “opened-up” passing game.
The Patriots have to play a smart brand of offensive football this season. Protecting the ball and staying ahead of the chains. When you are taking deep shots at that rate with limited success, it isn’t helping the team. In fact, it was actively hurting them last week. Mac should take the shots when they are there but forcing them for the sake of forcing them isn’t the game plan for success for this offense. Mac needs to get back to the plan from the first two weeks, taking what is there, and marching down the field with smart football.
The loss of James White will be felt. White leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards by a running back since 2015.
The Buccaneers’ defense has struggled to hold up in the passing game. While they feature a talented pass-rushing tandem in DT Ndamukong Suh, LB’s Devin White, Lavonte David, and Shaq Barret, and DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the defense as a whole has been susceptible to the big passing plays. Opposing offenses average 7.3 yards per attempt against this defense with 9 touchdowns against 4 interceptions. And for all the talent they boast in the defensive front seven, they have only gotten home for three sacks as a defensive unit.
The Buccaneers added Richard Sherman this week in hopes of shoring up the defensive secondary. After confusing the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs last year, the secondary has looked like the confused party themselves. A week after being added, don’t be surprised if Sherman joins that club this weekend.
There was optimism Trent Brown would return last week before being shut down in pre-game warm-ups. His return this week would be a huge boost to the Patriots’ pass protection and keeping Mac Jones upright. The more time Jones has to survey the field, the more success he should find. Spreading out the Buccaneers defense with three-wide looks will allow Jones to identify coverages and pressure pre-snap. Jones’ had his most success last week out of three wide sets. Perhaps we see Jonnu Smith in the backfield in gun formations this week.
Advantage: Patriots (but just slightly)
Buccaneers Run the Ball
The Buccaneers have 169 total yards rushing this season despite having talented backs in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II. This is largely because they haven’t really tried running the ball, averaging four attempts a quarter thus far. They average 3.5 yards per carry, a respectable total, nonetheless.
The Patriots’ run defense has been poor thus far allowing 368 yards. Run stuffing linebacker Ja’Wuan Bentley was listed on the injury report early in the week but should be good to go against the Bucs (Bentley conducted an interview Wednesday-typically a sign a player will be active).
This is where the game will come down to in my opinion. The Pats haven’t been afraid to roll out dime packages against talented QB’s in the past, daring them to hand it off again and again. We saw it with Peyton Manning throughout the 2000s and have recently seen it when the Pats play Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. If the Pats can force the Bucs to run the ball and find success in stopping them, it will go a long way to dictating the flow of the game.
Not sure the Patriots will be able to consistently stop the running game if this is the route they choose to go. They had success against the Dolphins before the Jets and Saints both had success running the ball against the Pats. The Pats may struggle even more if they do utilize a dime package as their defensive base.
Buccaneers Pass the Ball
This is the juicy match up, where Tom Brady vs. Belichick becomes reality. This is also one of the better units on the Pats team versus one of the better units on the Buccaneers roster. The return of Antonio Brown from the COVID-19 list puts the Buccaneers receiving corps at full strength but the health of Rob Gronkowski bears watching. Gronk has been listed on the injury report with a rib injury all week and is officially questionable for his game-time status although it would be extremely shocking if he did not suit up against his former employer.
The Buccaneers run a straightforward passing game under Arians and have seamlessly incorporated concepts from the Patriots playbook to make Tom Brady more comfortable. It is about execution and not long developing crazy play design (ala the Chiefs). The Patriots run a straightforward single high man press coverage concept defensively, which also comes down to execution. Though the talent among the Buccaneers wide receivers may dictate some change of pace calls from the Pats. If Gilmore was available the Pats may be able to go one for one across the board with Gilmore on Evans, JC Jackson on Godwin, and Jonathon Jones of Brown. Without Gilmore, the Pats would be left asking Jalen Mills to cover either Godwin or Brown one on one for large portions of the game. Not sure that’s a game plan the Pats want to live with.
Belichick knows Tom Brady, his tendencies, and what makes him uncomfortable. The Pats won’t try to fool Brady all too often but will be switching up looks and movements after the snap.
The most important part of the game will come down to the Patriots’ pass rush. Brady has been sacked 6 times in three games. The Pats know Brady does fine against edge pressure but struggled against pressure up the middle. A key to success would be having the edge guys win cleanly while having Hightower or Judon coming up the middle. Rookie DT Christian Barmore has had an impressive campaign thus far but has failed to finish plays. Against a less mobile quarterback such as Brady, Barmore may a better chance at getting some sacks.
Tom Brady is going to be Tom Brady. New England fans know how seldomly a team has been able to make the man look mortal. The Pats will need to take advantage of the weaknesses along the Buccaneers’ offensive line if they hope to find success defending the pass. This week above any other, the marriage between coverage and pass rush has to be perfect.
The Patriots pride themselves in having one of the best special team units in the NFL, which makes this year’s performance such a shock. Nick Folk has been reliable (outside of a missed PAT against the Jets) but All-Pro punter Jake Bailey has been inconsistent, to say the least. He has mixed his fair share of shanks in with his usual booming punts and has also struggled on kickoffs. The last thing the Pats can do is give Brady the ball on a short field after a score.
The Bucs haven’t asked much of Ryan Succop, who has connected on two of his three field-goal attempts. Their punter, Bradley Pinion has enjoyed a strong start while averaging 41.4 net yards per punt. The Buccaneers coverage units have been so-so to date, not letting anything explosive by while also not being a suffocating unit. Sounds a lot like the Pats units.
The hope would be to see both Buccaneer specialists often Sunday night and take advantage of the hidden yards in the special teams game. With the caliber of player rostered by the Patriots for their special teams’ units versus what the Buccaneers have, the advantage here goes to the Pats.
Let’s get this straight, it’s being touted as Belichick vs. Tom Brady for a reason. Brady went to Tampa and immediately became somewhat of a coach and general manager himself. Arians is a fine coach but seemed to get a Super Bowl ring last year in spite of himself, not because of his own doing. Belichick will continue to play chess while Arians plays checkers if it comes down to it.
The match up here is Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator against Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels has drawn the ire of many around New England for his lackluster play-calling thus far. My feeling is he is still feeling the offense and how to let Mac succeed while not putting him in a position to fail. The first two games featured bland and safe play-calling (outside of one double pass against the Jets) while he was forced into passing early and often against the Saints. McDaniels didn’t “open it up” against the Saints but the plays were a bit more aggressive than the first two weeks. A caveat here; Mac Jones admitted to changing plays at the line quite a bit and needing to trust the original play call more. Perhaps the frustration with McDaniels should be shared among all involved parties.
If we look strictly at the coaching staff, the Patriots have the edge. If we include Brady into the Bucs coaching staff, the dial swings ever so slightly in their favor.
There will be plenty of emotion in this game both from Tom Brady and from the Patriots. Newcomer Matt Judon was fed up with questions about Brady and he never even played with the guy. Van Noy and Hightower have both vocalized hoping to get a hit on him. McCourty would certainly love to add a certain ball to his interception collection. The pregame festivities and inevitable record-breaking for total passing yards give a chance to the Patriots to switch things up and maybe heighten some emotions for Brady. Hoping to distract this guy seems like a shot in the dark as his “laser focus” has been on display since he got into the league. Maybe Brady peppers in a few “f*** it” chucks downfield that the Pats can take advantage of.
Advantage: The Fans
The forecast for Sunday calls for showers in the evening before steady rain throughout the night. A sloppy field with sloppy conditions would benefit the Pats, even if Brady spent 20 years in sloppy New England weather with his scuba suit. Perhaps the Pats get that added element that helped them steal a game from the Ravens last year. A slick field and a wet ball could mean some fluky plays, something the Pats might be hoping for at some point on Sunday.
Usually, rain means running the ball more. If this is the case, the Patriots might find themselves at a disadvantage as they have to play their base defense more and Brady picks them apart with short passes. Even if Tom Brady is used to the conditions, hopefully, those receivers from sunny Florida aren’t.
Based on the breakdown, the Patriots only advantages come in coaching, special teams, weather, and ever so slightly in their passing game. After last week’s performance, having to bank on the passing game to carry the team seems like a lost hope. McDaniels and Mac need to get back to efficient and safe play before they can hope to hang with Tom Brady and company. Brady will move the Bucs between the twenties before the Pats’ defense slows down their progress. A bend but don’t break defense will be in full force on Sunday night. In the end, the Pats just don’t have enough firepower to hang with TB12 as the Bucs pull away in the second half. Buccaneers win 31-21 with a late touchdown from the Pats to make the score a bit more respectable.