Bucs at Patriots Preview: Should Bill Belichick dust off an old Peyton Manning game plan?

Put all the hype, hype, and drama aside for a moment, and consider the following.

Tom Brady knows the Patriots know it.

The Patriots know that Tom Brady knows the Patriots know.

And vice versa. Again and again in perpetuity.

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It’s what makes the cat-and-mouse game between Brady and Bill Belichick one of the most compelling regular season Xs and Bones games in recent NFL history.

“He’s as tough as any quarterback that exists or has ever been,” Belichick said this week when asked to prepare for his former quarterback. “Enough said. I mean, his numbers are amazing. He’s on the verge of breaking the all-time record. He’s done more than any other player in this position in every action you want to take, be it yards, passes completed, touchdowns, championships. You name him, so put in whatever you want, but it doesn’t get harder than him. “

“We’re going against a guy who knows what you’re into,” Devin McCourty said of Brady this week. “He knows what you’re trying to do. He reads all the men out there. He’s seen it all, and obviously he’s seen it. [defense] more than anything because of his years in the system and going against the defense in training camps and OTAs. “

Which is why it might be a mad rush for the Patriots to try and confuse Brady. What would be the goal? But if the Patriots could force Brady – a supercomputer quarterback with all the answers – to choose the answers he wants him to choose, they could be on to something.

The Patriots put Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in a choice of your own adventure in 2013. Belichick forced the future Hall of Fame to take what was simultaneously a) the path of least resistance for the Broncos offense and b) Belichick’s preferred path. In some ways, it resembled Belichick’s Super Bowl XXV game plan, where he tried to coax Jim Kelly’s “K-Gun” offense. to be given to Thurman Thomas, which now rests in the Hall of Fame.

To open that game against Denver eight years ago, the Patriots played two sureties 13 yards from the line of scrimmage. Manning understood that Belichick was practically giving away free yards on the ground. He therefore yielded to Knowshon Moreno for 12 yards. First down.

But the Patriots stuck to their plan and did the same in the next three snaps – they deployed two high safeties with lower defenders dropping into areas.

Manning, perhaps already frustrated that Belichick was trying to take the game out of his hands, threw the ball on all three snaps. The Broncos only gained nine yards and kicked.

Ultimately, Denver did what the Patriots wanted. They have recovered time and time again. Moreno rushed for a whopping 224 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries. Manning threw for 150 yards on just 19 attempts. The Patriots won in overtime, 34-31.

“Peyton is a smart quarterback, man,” Patriots corner Aqib Talib said after the game. “We knew we were going to come out and show this two-height shell. He sees this two-height shell, he’s going to throw the ball. It was our plan, to get him to run it more than he throws it. . “

The Patriots have been among the league leaders in man-to-man defensive snap percentage for years, and that continued to be the case in 2021. According to PFF, Belichick is calling for Cover 1 – a man-to-man defense. man with unique in-depth security – at the second highest rate in the league.

But Belichick may not have the level of defensive talent to run man for man with Brady’s Buccaneers in Week 4. Without Stephon Gilmore (physically unable to play), with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate would be a tall order.

The Patriots secondary – led by McCourty, safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips and corners JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones – held out without Gilmore for three weeks. The team is seventh in points added per game allowed, according to Athletic’s Ben Baldwin, and fifth in EPA allowed dropback. They are also seventh in allowed recoil success rate and eighth in yards per allowed pass attempt.

But high school hasn’t seen a collection of talent like Tampa Bay’s in three games against the Dolphins (NFL 31st in yards per passing attempt), Jets (28th) and Saints (27th). That means a little more area, like what the Patriots showed Manning at the start of this game in 2013, can make sense. There may be bigger windows for Brady to choose from if that’s the path the Patriots choose, but if the Patriots areas are paired with “two-up” looks, it may encourage Brady to pass the baton.

It would be the easy thing to do. It might be the smartest football decision to make. But it could also be called a mini-win for Belichick and his defense. Better to allow 5.0 yards per carry and Brady pass 35 times Brady throws 40 times at 7.7 yards per attempt (his 2021 average).

If Brady can’t be patient enough to take what the Patriots give him in this scenario, if his affinity for the pass wins – especially on the night of his big comeback to Foxboro – then the Patriots would be in a better position to defend. thanks to an extra layer of in-depth help.

QB Power Week 4 Ranking: Brady, Mac Jones At Opposite Ends

That still doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop it. They will need to generate some pressure.

The blitz is probably not the best idea. There’s a good chance Brady knows this is happening. And if he does, he’s shown Tampa that he’s still adept at carving out opposing pressure patterns. He completed 71% of his passes against the blitz in 2021, per PFF, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and one interception for a 112.0 rating. In last year’s playoffs, he only managed 50 percent of his attempts in a blitz, but averaged 7.6 yards per attempt for four touchdowns and a pick for a score. 101.0.

Instead of blitzing, to achieve their goal of middle pressure, the Patriots may want to perform tackle stunts down the middle of the line, or games between their outside linebackers and defensive linemen. They might not be able to let Brady guess, but they might be able to confuse Brady’s offensive line.

“The book on Tom will always be the same – the pressure in the middle, squeeze the pocket on him because he’s got plenty of it,” former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia told Sirius XM Radio. before Brady won the Super Bowl in February. “He has 30 rushing yards all year round where [Patrick] Mahomes has 300. That’s what Tom is.

“Tom avoids rushing into the pocket within the confines of the pocket, finds the opening, takes the ball out through the seams and all the rest… This is one of Tom’s saving graces – he’s a dude from the rhythm. He gets the ball out quickly and he has a pretty good idea of ​​where he’s going to go before the ball is broken. The key for them is to make sure everyone sees it as they see it.

It is not impossible to piss off Brady before the snap. Every now and then he and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ran into a defense doing something it hadn’t shown on tape in a given season. It may take a while for the pair – maybe a streak or two, maybe a quarter or two or more – to abandon this week’s game plan and find something new.

But there’s a good chance the Patriots won’t be able to make it on Sunday. Even though Brady expects man-to-man coverage, he will be ready for the Patriots areas. If he expects an area and the Patriots choose to match Brady’s ultra-talented weapons, he’ll be happy to pick his favorite matchups.

That’s why the best path for the Patriots might be to dare Brady – the quarterback with the answers to every test – to correctly answer the same easy question over and over again.

Two high security? Put it back.

If he does, it certainly won’t guarantee a victory for the Patriots. But it might help them keep him close.


Bucs 27, Patriots 23

X factor: Patriots right tackle

There is no name listed here as it is not known at this time who will occupy this spot in front of Mac Jones. Whoever it is will have to do better than Justin Herron against the Saints in Week 3, when the Saints finish Cam Jordan has been a disruptive force throughout (nine pushes) and was a big factor in the 11 hits of the quarterback Jones absorbed.

It might be Herron again against the Bucs. It may be Yasir Durant, who replaced five snaps against New Orleans and did not allow pressure. Perhaps it is Trent Brown, who missed all but a handful of shots in the first week against the Dolphins before suffering a calf injury that has kept him out since then. Brown has been limited to training this week.

Whoever sits on the right side will see much of Tampa’s healthiest and most efficient passing thrower this season, Shaq Barrett. Only three passer have worked on the defensive left edge more often (Jordan, Sam Hubbard of Cincinnati and Maxx Crosby of Las Vegas) this season, which means finding Barrett shouldn’t be a problem. Block it could be.

The good news for the Patriots is that the Bucs have the lowest sack rate in football in three weeks, but that could change if the Patriots don’t find a way to bolster the right side of their offensive line.

Number to know: 2,250,000

That’s the number of dollars the Bucs could end up paying Richard Sherman on the contract they gave him this week. While this isn’t a bank-breaking move, it’s not a trivial amount either, and it’s an indication that the Bucs have become cornerbacks in need.

Starting corner Jamel Dean (knee) left last weekend’s game with the Rams injured. He was limited to training this week. Sean Murphy-Bunting, the team’s best nickel option, hit the injured reserve with an elbow injury after Week 1. Dee Delaney, mainly a special team, had to play 53 snaps against LA and allowed the four targets sent to complete for a total of 53 yards.

Mac Jones describes the pressure of facing Tom Brady

The Bucs secondary would be described as “opportunistic” when things are going well and “too aggressive” when they are not. They bit a variety of double hits against the Rams in Week 3 to get Matthew Stafford to pitch for 341 yards with 73 percent passing, including 149 yards after the catch. Over three games, the Bucs allow more distance in the air per game (338.3) than any other team and they are 24th in terms of allowable return success rate, according to Athletic.

The Patriots’ tight ends might struggle to find openings this week. The Bucs are 10th in the league in yards per attempt allowed to players at this position. But if Jones has enough time behind center to diagnose what’s going on in Tampa high school, he should be able to find openings.

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