First Impressions – Patriots @ Buccaneers

| August 19, 2011

The first quarter brought back memories of the 2007 Patriots team that had ESPN clamoring about whether or not they were running up the score. Tampa Bay could muster but a single first down while Tom Brady drove the Patriots to three touchdown drives of 50 yards or more.
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The second quarter wasn’t the runaway that the first was – which is to say that Tampa Bay had a drive with two first downs – but, by the end of the half, the Buccaneers were trailing 28-0 and probably wondering what had changed from the last preseason game which they won handily.
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In case you’re curious how each team’s collection of non-starters affected the score of the game, the Patriots won 31-14.
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A final general note before jumping into the team observations, there were nine kickoffs and only two were returned. Attention kick return specialists, you could be out of a job.
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Patriots – Three Things of Note:
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● The Patriots continued to play strictly a 4-3 defense, and though Haynesworth has yet to make his debut, Andre Carter came in looking like the guy who had 13 sacks in 2009. He gave Donald Penn a world of trouble, drawing a pair of holding calls and had him so turned around at one point, it looked like Carter might force Penn to make the sack. It wasn’t just Carter, however, the entire Patriots defense was generating so much pressure it was hard to believe that this was the same team who couldn’t sniff the QB to save their life last year. Jerod Mayo, who has been playing the weakside outside linebacker in the 4-3, seems to have been freed-up by the new assignment getting two sacks in his first 15 defensive snaps … by comparison, he had two sacks all of last season in 1,132 defensive plays.
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● Another player making his debut for the Patriots, though a less impressive one, was Chad Ochocinco. After nearly having his head taken off on his first target, Brady hit Ochocinco for a quick 8-yard touchdown a few plays later. No.85 was found in the back of the endzone after the entire defensive backfield bit on a play-action fake. What this game highlighted – and as Khaled wrote immediately after the signing – Ochocinco will be another weapon for the Patriots and not the weapon. As the Patriots carved a hole in the Bucs’ defense (and ego), Ochocinco was only targeted five times for two receptions. He is clearly happy to be in New England (aka “Heaven”), but it will be interesting to see if he ever does have a problem not being the guy.
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● Last year’s “little engine that could” story, Danny Woodhead also had a solid display. He continued to show his great instincts for finding running lanes and being able to hide behind his lineman to gain big chunks at a time. Today he rushed the ball five times for 63 yards (12.6 YPC) with runs of 29, 14, and 12 yards. (Patriots’ fans just better cross their fingers that the shot he took covering a punt late in the fourth quarter wasn’t as devastating as it looked … which does bring up the question, “Why was he covering a punt late in the fourth quarter?”). Green-Ellis also ran the ball well with 51 yards and two touchdowns, but the catalyst to both runners’ success was the performance of the offensive line. Everyone on the line played extremely well, particularly rookie tackle Nate Solder who continued his solid play from last week.
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Buccaneers – Three Things of Note:
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● My guess is that it was an earlier exit for Josh Freeman than expected after the O-line struggled to keep him upright. Donald Penn had his problems as highlighted earlier, but the interior had their fair share of issues as well. If you weren’t watching closely you may have thought Haynesworth had arrived the way the Ted Larsen and Jeff Faine made Gerard Warren look on a few plays. On the plus side (or negative depending on how you look at it), some of the pressures were due to mental or communication errors and not simply a result of being physically outmatched.
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● It was a matchup of first round picks on the outside with Tampa Bay’s defensive end Adrian Clayborn and New England’s tackle Solder. Clayborn was neutralized for all of the first quarter by the Patriots rookie, and it seemed that after that point, the Buc’s tried moving Clayborn to defensive tackle for a few snaps. Clayborn played much better from the inside, showing good strength and effort to power through a double-team and pressure Brady into an incompletion on one of his snaps and spinning free on another before losing his balance, preventing another pressure or sack. It was too small a sample size, but the combination of Clayborn and Gerald McCoy as defensive tackles at first glance was formidable.
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● Speaking of McCoy, he was easily the best player for the Bucs in this game. I didn’t catch it the first time through, but as I was re-watching some plays for specific matchups, I was surprised it had escaped me. Other than a few times when Mankins locked him down, he was consistently disrupting running plays and breaking through on passing plays. His most notable effort was when in beating Dan Connolly right off the line and knocking Brady down to force an incompletion; it was one of the only plays I heard the fans cheer. McCoy will probably always be overshadowed by Ndamukong Suh who was drafted a pick earlier than him, but I think McCoy is every bit the player that Suh is.
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It was Brady’s debut for the 2011 season and he looked as he always does – using his myriad of weapons to devastate a defense, a defense who probably came in to this game feeling pretty good about themselves after pitching a shutout last week. The Buccaneers would probably be better off forgetting this game ever happened.

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  • motorcycle

    Gerald McCoy was amazing I thought. I was looking forward to see him against Logan Mankins (he switched between DLT & DRT a bit though). On the first drive he repeatedly broke through the Patriots offensive line and even on that Danny Woodhead long run, he almost had him down for a loss.

    I look forward to watching him a lot more during the season (:

    • Rodney Hart

      He definitely was impressive..you’re right he broke right through on the Woodhead run but couldn’t make the tackle and then the whole backside of the line gave up contain letting him break it out to the opposite side. On a play in the next series he broke through the exact same way but was able to make the tackle on Green-Ellis. Mankins seemed to be able to control him pretty well, but he wasn’t matched up on Mankins as frequently as he was on other lineman.

  • naim15

    Brady gets too much credit for his team’s offensive success. The offence is very simple to run. His line gives him all day to throw. And he keeps dumping it off to his receivers who break tackles.

    All proved by Matt Cassel (in 08) and the QB performance last week, Ponder and the other guy(i forgot his name).

    • Rodney Hart

      The quarterback position will always be one that gets too much credit and blame, but I think that it is inaccurate to try and write off Brady’s success. Yes, many of the throws are short and his receivers run for many of the yards, but the offense is predicated on his quick decision-making and it is hard to argue that there are few quarterbacks in the NFL who make as few mistakes as Brady does.

      On that point, Brady’s offensive line regularly gives him all day to throw and that coupled with Brady’s decision-making has proved pretty lethal over the years.