Patriots vs. Buccaneers: 5 Keys to Victory

It’s only Week 4 in the 2021 season, but the New England Patriots are about to play in one of the most anticipated regular-season games in NFL history. 

The Patriots will take on the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will be Brady’s first game back in Gillette Stadium since leaving the Patriots in the 2020 offseason. Rob Gronkowski will also be returning to his old stomping grounds. The game will be televised on Sunday, October 3rd at 8:20 PM. EDT on NBC. 

Beating the reigning Super Bowl champions will be no easy task. Tampa Bay is an immensely talented team. That said, on any given Sunday anyone can beat anyone. Here are the Patriots’ five keys to victory in their Week 4 clash.

Patriots Keys to Victory

Play smart fundamentally sound football

The Patriots have had too many costly mistakes to start the 2021 season. 

Typically New England is a team that limits their mistakes and plays fundamentally sound football, but this season that hasn’t yet been the case. It may be a side effect of replacing half the team’s starters from 2020, but it needs to change in a hurry.

When it comes to playing fundamentally sound football it starts with limiting penalties and turnovers. 

Through three games, New England has been penalized 18 times for a loss of 168 yards. That’s not nearly the worst in the NFL, but it’s notably more sloppy than past Belichick-coached teams.

As for turnovers, the Patriots have lost the turnover battle twice this season. New England lost two fumbles in Week 1 and Jones threw three interceptions in Week 3. 

The Patriots will have a very slim chance to beat the Buccaneers if they lose the turnover battle. It’s crucial that New England not only holds onto the ball but that they also force some Tampa Bay turnovers. 

Win the special teams battle

The Buccaneers special teams unit is pretty up and down. Ryan Succop has been reliable for the most part, but punter Bradley Pinion has had some real struggles. The punt and kick coverages haven’t always been great either. 

Unfortunately for New England, their special teams unit, which is usually a strength, has also struggled to this point in the season. The only exception to that is Nick Folk, who’s been brilliant once again this season.

Jake Bailey, in particular, had a very poor game against the Saints. That said, because he’s an All-Pro he deserves some benefit of the doubt. Bottom line though: The Patriots have way too many special teams specific players on the roster to be this bad on special teams.

Create explosive plays through the air 

Through the first three weeks of the season, the Patriots have struggled to throw the ball downfield. That’s due to a multitude of reasons. The protection hasn’t always allowed for time to sit in the pocket, the playcalling has been on the conservative side, and Mac Jones has sometimes been gun shy throwing it deep.

Sunday night would be a good time for the Patriots to be more aggressive and attack the Buccaneers secondary. Tampa Bay has allowed the most passing yards and passing touchdowns in the league. 

To exploit the Buccaneer secondary, the Patriots will need to be aggressive on early downs. Why? Because it will help protect against the blitz. 

New England likely won’t be able to successfully run the ball with Damien Harris on first and second down. The Buccaneer’s run defense is one of the best in the NFL. If the Patriots get into third and long situations on Sunday night, Todd Bowles’ exotic blitz packages will amplify the Patriots’ offensive line problems. Josh McDaniels will need to keep the defense guessing if they want to have time to create downfield chunk plays.

It’s also important to note that the Patriots should be getting Trent Brown back this week. Ideally, that will help sure up some of the issues at right tackle. 

All in all, the Patriots’ pass catchers should be able to get open deep on the Tampa secondary. The question is, how well do Jones and the New England offensive line handle the Tampa Bay blitz packages?

Generate interior pressure

The best chance to beat great pocket passers like Brady is to move them off their spot and force them to be uncomfortable in the pocket. 

The way to do that is through interior pressure. It’s easier said than done when facing Brady though because he gets the ball out so quickly. The New England interior defensive line must play disruptive football on Sunday night.

Getting to the quarterback without blitzing will be important. Brady is the best in the league at sniffing out blitzes. The Patriots need to get home rushing four. Throwing a ton of blitzes at Brady will leave the secondary exposed. 

It’s fair to expect edge rushers like Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy to put some heat on Brady, but as previously mentioned the interior pass rush will be crucial. Getting pressure up the middle will prevent Brady from being able to step up in the pocket and avoid the pressure on the edge. 

Rookie Christian Barmore, who’s coming off a good pass-rushing performance in Week 3, is going to play a huge role in penetrating the interior offensive line of the Buccaneers.

It should be a good test for the New England front, as the Buccaneers have a good offensive line.

Control time of possession

The Patriots will need to keep Brady and the Buccaneer’s explosive offense off the field as much as possible if they want to win this game.

That doesn’t mean running the ball all game, but more so avoiding turnovers and quick three and outs.

Ideally, the Patriots’ offense Sunday night would consist of quality runs, quick passes, and some successful downfield chunk plays. A combination of those three would give New England a good shot to score a lot of points while controlling the time of possession.

This article was edited by Luke Ervin.

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