Patriots vs. Buccaneers Week 4: Which team has the advantage at each position group?

The hype surrounding the New England Patriots Week 4 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is something rarely seen for a regular-season football game. 

Most of the focus leading up to Sunday night has been centered around Tom Brady/Bill Belichick storylines, but it’s important to remember that this is a very important game for the Patriots. It would not be ideal for New England to start the season 1-3.

Despite this being a home game for the Patriots, it’s safe to say they’re the underdog, as the Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions. That said, I wanted to take a closer look at how the Patriots and Buccaneers stack up position group vs position group.

Positional matchups for Patriots vs. Buccaneers

Quarterback

Advantage: Buccaneers

I mean, is there really anything to analyze here? Tom Brady is without a doubt the best to ever do it, and he’s still playing at an extremely high level. Brady will, of course, have an even bigger chip on his shoulder than usual facing his former team. 

To make matters worse, the Buccaneers are fresh off a frustrating loss to the Rams in Week 3. Brady’s motivation to win this game will be insanely high.

For Mac Jones, this is more than just the first big prime-time game of his young career. He’s facing off against the larger-than-life football icon that he was drafted to replace. No one expects Jones to out-duel Brady on Sunday night, but how he responds to the challenge will tell us a lot about him as a player.

Running back

Advantage: Draw

I’d give the edge to the Patriots here had they not just lost team captain James White for the remainder of the 2021 season. 

While Damien Harris is the best pure runner on either team, he’s seen his snap count diminish due to concerns in pass protection. It’s often overlooked, but being reliable in pass protection is every bit as important as the ability to hit the right gaps and break tackles. 

Pass protection is especially noteworthy this week when you consider the Patriots will likely have to throw the ball a fair amount on Sunday if they hope to win. 

Behind Harris, it’s a toss-up who will see the most snaps. Both J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson have flashed tantalizing upside but are both unproven commodities. 

Brandon Bolden is best suited for a special teams role. However, the New England coaching staff did have him in the White role last week. 

On the other side of things, 2021 Leonard Fournette is less of a one-dimensional early-down banger than he’s been in the past. Fournette has notched 12 receptions through three games. He’s also been reliable in pass protection. 

Backup, Ronald Jones seems to be perpetually in Bruce Arians’ dog house and is as inconsistent as they come. He could have a monster game or he could make crucial mistakes. Further along the depth chart is second-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn may get a chance to play Sunday with Giovani Bernard out with injury.

Wide receiver

Advantage: Buccaneers 

These two groups aren’t comparable and are about as far apart in talent as you’ll find in the NFL. 

The three-headed monster of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown is the best trio in the NFL. The Bucs also have plenty of depth even with Scotty Miller being placed on IR earlier this week. Tyler Johnson and Jaelon Darden are both capable depth options. 

For the Patriots, Jakobi Meyers has been the top option through three weeks. That said, Kendrick Bourne turned in a nice performance last week against the Saints. 

New England has yet to fully utilize the abilities of Nelson Agholor. They’ll need to find a way to tap into his skill set going forward

Third-year player N’Keal Harry, who had a strong camp, has resumed practicing and is eligible to return from IR this week. Nobody should have large expectations for Harry, but theoretically, he could help out in the red zone.

Tight end

Advantage: Buccaneers  UPDATE: Gronk has been ruled out for Sunday’s game. This shifts the tight end advantage towards New England.

Up until very recently, on paper, this was a matchup I would’ve thought favored the Patriots. However, the play of the Patriots tight end group to this point simply doesn’t lend any merit to that line of thinking.

Old friend Rob Gronkowski has seemingly found the fountain of youth and looks better than he has in years. Keep in mind though, he’s officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s contest.

Cameron Brate is a dependable backup and O.J. Howard is still working his way back from an Achilles injury that ended his 2020 campaign. 

For the Patriots, Jonnu Smith hasn’t lived up to expectations and is coming off an abysmal Week 3 performance. New England would be wise to utilize Smith all over the formation, rather than in a traditional hand-in-the-dirt tight end role. 

Hunter Henry has been solid but unspectacular so far this season. The New England offense desperately needs the tight end production to increase. 

Offensive line

Advantage: Buccaneers

The group tasked with protecting the GOAT has been excellent this season. Tampa Bay has one of the best offensive lines in the league. 

Plus, Brady makes it a habit to make life easier on his offensive linemen by getting the ball out quickly when he knows pressure is coming. 

Tampa Bay’s offensive line returned all five starters from last season, and that continuity has proven to be very beneficial for their signal-caller.

On the flip side, New England’s offensive line has been a disappointment to this point in 2021. Their pass protection has been subpar, and the run blocking has become less consistent. Right tackle remains the line’s biggest weakness. The Patriots will benefit greatly from the return of Trent Brown, who has a good shot at playing this week. 

Interior defensive line

Advantage: Buccaneers 

The Buccaneers four man interior rotation of Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches is extremely talented. 

The group stifles every rushing attack they face. Plus, they have strong pass-rushing potential, particularly with Vea. Vea is one of the best interior defensive linemen that New England will face this season.

The Patriots’ interior has played well for stretches but simply needs to be more consistent. 

One of the keys to slowing down Brady over the years has been interior pressure. A breakout game from the Patriots’ most promising interior rusher, rookie Christian Barmore, would be a huge boost. 

Edge/Linebacker

Advantage: Draw

Tampa Bay has more raw talent at edge and linebacker, but the Patriots unit has been playing better to start the season. That leads me to the conclusion of a draw, simply due to the fact the Buccaneers group could turn it on at any moment.

At linebacker, Lavonte David and Devin White have the potential to be one of the top inside linebacker duos in the league. Both players are extremely fast and athletic. 

That said, White, in particular, has struggled to start the 2021 season. He’s been a liability in pass coverage. Again, he has the potential to be a top linebacker, but he isn’t currently playing at that level.  

At the edge position, Jason Pierre-Paul is considered questionable for Sunday’s game. Even if he can’t play, the Buccaneers still have talent coming off the edge in Shaq Barrett and standout rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. 

For New England, it simply cannot be understated just how good Matt Judon has begun the 2021 season. He’s been worth every penny and then some. 

After missing last week, Josh Uche should be good to go on Sunday. Uche has flashed very strong pass-rushing skills. Kyle Van Noy is another guy that’s played good football this season. His positional versatility will be key in slowing Tampa’s offensive attack. 

It’s not all perfect for New England though. The Patriots need to see more consistency out of longtime defensive leader Dont’a Hightower, and pass-rush specialist Chase Winovich.

Cornerback

Advantage: Patriots 

The Buccaneers’ injury-depleted secondary has been their Achilles heel so far this season. Starter Sean Murphy-Bunting landed on IR on opening night. Additionally, Jamel Dean left last week’s game with an injury and won’t play Sunday. 

In Dean’s absence, the Buccaneers may once again turn to Dee Delaney. Delaney figures to be targeted early and often if he sees heavy snaps this week. 

Tampa Bay did sign veteran corner Richard Sherman, who could play Sunday. However, it’s doubtful he will play a ton of snaps considering he was just acquired this week. If you’re looking for the Buccaneers’ major weakness, the corner position is it. 

The New England corner group has performed admirably without star Stephon Gilmore. Though, they haven’t yet truly been tested against a high-end passing attack. The group has mostly faced average quarterback play, along with wide receiver groups that range from sub-par to middling. 

J.C. Jackson has looked the part of a number one corner to this point in the season, and Jalen Mills has filled in nicely on the opposite boundary. Jonathan Jones also continues to be a reliable slot corner. All that said, this week’s game will be a very tough test. 

Safety

Advantage: Patriots 

While not lacking in individual talent, as a whole Tampa Bay’s group of safeties have been up and down this season. 

Antione Winfield Jr., Jordan Whitehead, and Mike Edwards form a group of young but skilled players on the backend of the Buccaneers’ defense. However, as part of a secondary that has allowed more passing yards than any other in the league, they haven’t been consistent. 

New England, on the other hand, features a high-level trio at safety. Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger are all playing excellent football.

The trio will need to bring their A-game on Sunday. Phillips and Dugger are likely to line up all over the formation as versatile chess pieces, while McCourty plays deep centerfielder. 

Special teams

Advantage: Patriots 

Ironically, the most reliable aspect of each team’s special teams unit is the kicking game. Nick Folk and Ryan Succop have been consistent. 

The same can’t be said for the punters. Jake Bailey and Bradley Pinion played poorly last week. I’m giving the edge here to the Patriots, but it’s solely due to the faith in an All-Pro like Bailey to bounce back this week. 

The advantage here is slight. If New England can dominate special teams it will really up their chances on Sunday night.

Coaching

Advantage: Patriots

I believe Belichick will have a good defensive game plan for Brady and the Buccaneer offense. Do they have the personnel to execute that plan will be the question. 

Belichick gives New England the coaching advantage but, Josh McDaniels needs to be much more creative this week than he has in weeks past.

This article was edited by Luke Ervin.

2 thoughts on “Patriots vs. Buccaneers Week 4: Which team has the advantage at each position group?

  • October 1, 2021 at 10:26 pm
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    The Patriots are going win this game, it be close, but we are winning…..

    Reply

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