The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have started off 0-2, which puts them behind the curve when it comes to contending for a winning season and a playoff berth. But that all changes if they’re able to turn around after a disappointing loss to the New Orleans Saints and defeat the New England Patriots.
So what do the Bucs have to do in order to take down the AFC East favorites? Here are five keys to help the Buccaneers bring a victory back to Tampa.
1. Win the battle in the trenches on offense.
The Patriots have one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Vince Wilfork, but the rest of the defensive line is somewhat hit-or-miss. Rob Ninkovich is a relentless, hard-working player who has chipped in well against the run this year, but not against the pass. On the other side, Chandler Jones has posted a pair of sacks and has been impressive as a pass rusher from the other defensive end spot, but hasn’t stood out against the run. No other lineman has provided any meaningful contributions.
That means the Buccaneers have a chance to pave the way for the running game, and set up Josh Freeman with a decent pocket. The Patriots will mix up their front seven to create havoc, so the Buccaneers must be prepared for the exotic looks the Pats will show, and get a good push up the field to set the table for the rest of the offense.
2. Run the football, and run it as often as possible.
The New York Jets failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards against the Buccaneers during Week 1, then turned around on a short week and posted 130 rushing yards against the New England Patriots. Considering the talent advantage the Buccaneers have over the Jets at running back and on the offensive line, it’s reasonable to expect that the Bucs could have an even bigger day against the New England run defense.
Doug Martin looked great against the New Orleans Saints, especially when he was running behind fullback Erik Lorig or behind guard Davin Joseph and tackle Demar Dotson. With Lorig getting his legs under him again after an injury layoff, expect more power running behind the lead blocker to establish the tempo against New England.
3. Continue to get after the quarterback.
Last week, Tom Brady and his wide receivers were not in sync, and that got Brady visibly frustrated. But what may have affected Brady even more than that was the pass rush he was facing.
According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has been quite poor while under pressure this season. When not facing a pass rush, Brady has a QB Rating of 83.2, but when he is facing pressure that drops to 50.1. So if the Buccaneers can continue to apply pressure to the passer as they have during the first two weeks of the season, we should see Brady continue to struggle.
4. Tackle Julian Edelman.
Brady doesn’t have a good rapport with any of his receivers not named Julian Edelman. Aaron Dobson has dropped multiple passes so far this season, and Kenbrell Thompkins has allowed himself to disappear from games after a promising preseason.
So Edelman will likely be targeted heavily, and he does a great job of turning those targets into catches. But once he catches the football, he also has the quickness to turn a short throw into something more. The Bucs have to do a great job of tackling the shifty receiver before he can get into open space and show off his punt return skills against the Tampa Bay defense.
He’s already shed some defenders this season and earned extra yards, so the Bucs will have to tackle well (and tackle legally).
5. Avoid penalties. (Seriously, they have to stop.)
There have been plenty of dramatic moments for the Buccaneers during Weeks 1 and 2 that could have been avoided if the team was better disciplined.
It’s probable that the Buccaneers would have won one or both of their previous matchups if they limited the personal foul penalties that have extended drives for opposing offenses. It’s also likely that the avoidable procedure penalties on the offense over the first two weeks contributed to the frustrating lack of consistency for that unit.
Tom Brady is too good of a quarterback to give second and third chances to, and the Bucs’ offense isn’t good enough to waste good plays with bad penalties.