3TFO: Buccaneers @ Patriots, Week 3
It has been a tough beginning to the 2013 season in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have now lost consecutive games on game-ending field goals, and the team cannot seem to avoid negative headlines these days. It is safe to say that Josh Freeman has not had the type of start to the season that he may have hoped for. Two games into a contract year, Freeman currently ranks dead last with a 67.8 PFF QB Rating. A road win in Foxborough this Sunday would certainly help to quiet the team’s critics in the media.
The Patriots have hardly looked like contenders so far this season either, but things could be much worse after two hard-fought victories against divisional opponents. The combination of injuries to key offensive players and the ineffectiveness of their replacements have forced the team to rely more on its defense than we have seen in recent seasons. The defense has been up to the task so far, allowing just 15.5 points per game.
Vincent Jackson vs. Patriots Secondary
WR Vincent Jackson is Tampa’s best weapon in the passing game, and he will certainly be a focal point for New England’s defense this week. Jackson is one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL at this point in time. He dropped just five passes last year and only three receivers bested his 6.49 Drop Rate. He is off to a terrific start in 2013, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. Jackson has also averaged 3.98 Yards per Route Run, the second-best mark of any player at his position. Expect Tampa to continue to target Jackson this week as his 24 targets through two weeks rank him fourth among receivers.
Though they have yet to see an elite passing offense this season, New England’s secondary has looked impressive. The team currently has the second-highest cumulative pass coverage grade (+7.9), and has allowed just 170 passing yards per game. Corners Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib have been particularly impressive. They rank first and third, respectively, in our Cover Snaps per Reception metric. The pair of outside corners has combined for three interceptions, while allowing just five completions. Jackson will provide these two with the most difficult test they have faced during this young season.
Patriots Running Offense vs. Bucs Run Defense
HB Stevan Ridley has endured a difficult start to the season. He was benched for fumbling in the season opener, and gained just 40 yards (2.5 yards per carry) last week. On the bright side, Ridley has forced an impressive six missed tackles on just 25 attempts. The team’s rushing attack would greatly benefit from some improved blocking. New England’s offensive line has done a nice job protecting the quarterback, but has been mediocre when run blocking. Only guard Dan Connolly (+1.3) has a grade above 1.0 in that area.
Tampa’s run defense was the NFL’s best in 2012, as the unit allowed 82.5 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The Bucs caught a break this week when punishing safety Dashon Goldson had his suspension overturned, meaning that he will be able to play this week. While Goldson has drawn some negative headlines recently for his illegal hits, he is still one of the league’s best safeties, especially against the run. His 10.0 Run Stop Percentage is seventh among safeties this year. Defensive tackles Akeem Spence (+1.5) and Gerald McCoy (+2.8) have been strong in the run game as well, combining for five Run Stops.
Patriots Wide Receivers vs. Darrelle Revis
New England’s rookie class of wide receivers has struggled mightily to get on the same page as Tom Brady. Kenbrell Thompkins has not lived up to the preseason hype, and ranks near the bottom of all receivers in nearly all of our advanced statistics. He has caught just 6 of 20 passes in his direction, and Brady has a passer rating of 45.6 on those passes. Second-rounder Aaron Dobson has not been much better, catching 3 of 10 passes including three drops. With Danny Amendola still ailing, Julian Edelman (+2.5 passing grade) is Brady’s only reliable target. The Patriots have had extra time to prepare for this game after playing last Thursday, and the team’s passing attack will have to be more efficient this week if they are to beat this talented team.
Darrelle Revis appears to have fully recovered after tearing his ACL in 2012. He is in a three-way tie for first among corners with a +4.5 overall grade, and played all but three snaps last week after being limited in Week 1. Revis is in the Top 10 of all corners in our Cover Snaps per Target, Yards per Cover Snap and Cover Snaps per Reception metrics this season. Revis has shown the ability to shut down receivers on the outside and in the slot throughout his career, so it will be interesting to see how he is deployed on Sunday. Tampa could choose to have Revis shadow Edelman, and force New England’s rookie receivers to beat them.