Each week, the PFF analysis team will bring you break downs of the most important matchups for each game of the NFL season.
Coverage by: Andrew Fleischer
Matchup: New England Patriots offense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense
- WR Danny Amendola vs. CB Robert McClain – Danny Amendola is not running as many routes as his teammates Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, but he’s making the most of his opportunities. His 2.71 yards per route run is the highest figure among Patriots receivers, and the third-best mark among 92 wide receivers with at least 51 snaps in route. He’ll draw the coverage of Buccaneers slot cornerback Robert McClain, whose 34.3 overall grade is the lowest mark on Tampa Bay’s defense and the second-lowest in the NFL. He’s allowed 1.64 yards per coverage snap played in slot coverage, 14th-most out of 53 cornerbacks with at least 33 snaps covering the slot.
- HB James White vs. LB Kendell Beckwith – Brady has thrown to James White 25 times through three games, a number surpassed on the Patriots only by Hogan and Rob Gronkowski. White’s 84.6 receiving grade is tied for the sixth highest among 74 running backs with at least 14 receiving snaps, and he’s caught all 22 of the catchable passes from his 25 targets. He’ll be contending with the coverage skills of Kendell Beckwith, who’s earned an 84.6 overall grade through four weeks, seventh best among all eligible linebackers.
- G Shaq Mason vs. DI Gerald McCoy – Shaq Mason has earned the highest run-blocking grade among Patriots offensive lineman through four games with an 86.5. That mark is also the third-highest among all 72 eligible guards. His pass-blocking grade of 46.1 is 52nd among the same group. His improved play as a pass-blocker will be needed to help defend Tom Brady against Gerald McCoy and his 92.4 overall grade, second among eligible defensive tackles. McCoy’s pass-rushing productivity rating of 11.5 is fifth-best among 84 eligible defensive tackles and he’s no slouch against the run either. His 8.5 run-stop percentage is tied for the 27th-highest among 94 eligible defensive tackles.
Coverage by: Bill O’Brien
Matchup: Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense vs. New England Patriots defense
- WR Mike Evans vs. CB Stephon Gilmore– Gilmore was one of the Patriots’ prized free agent additions this past offseason, but he has gotten off to a slower start than expected. Through the first month of the season, Gilmore has done a solid job in not allowing too many receptions, as he ranks 17th among corners at 16.7 coverage snaps per reception allowed. However, when he does allow a reception, receivers have had success. Gilmore has given up a 101.8 passer rating when opposing quarterbacks throw into his coverage, which leaves him ranked 55th out of 79 qualifying cornerbacks. Evans will not make it any easier on Gilmore this week. Evans is one of the premier receivers in the NFL, and has earned the 12th-highest overall grade among receivers so far this season with a grade of 81.3.
- HB Doug Martin vs. LB Dont’a Hightower– After serving a suspension for the first three games of the season, Martin will return to the lineup this week for the Buccaneers. While there are no guarantees as to what Martin’s role will be in his first game back, he should help in the running game as he led the team with 21 forced missed tackles on run plays last season, which was good for an elusive rating of 34.6. The Patriots will rely on Dont’a Hightower to try to contain Martin in his first regular season game of 2017. Hightower has gotten off to slow start, largely due to a knee injury that cost him two games already and has limited him to just 72 total snaps in the two games that he was healthy enough to play. So far in those two games, Hightower has earned a grade of just 48.9. His previous career-low overall grade was in his rookie season in 2012, when he had a much better grade of 82.2.
- T Donovan Smith vs. EDGE Deatrich Wise– Edge defender Deatrich Wise has been a bright spot on the Patriots defense so far this season. Wise was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and has produced an overall grade of 83.7, which ranks 15th out of 103 qualified edge defenders. The rookie has rushed the passer on 54 snaps from the defense’s right side, meaning he will be going up against left tackle Donovan Smith for most of the night in passing situations. Smith has had an up-and-down season so far, but plays better when pass-blocking, where he ranks 33rd among 65 qualified offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency with a mark of 94.1.