The Buccaneers beat the Patriots on Sunday night. But in the match up that everyone was most interested in – how Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense would handle Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense – it’s fair to say New England won this side of the ball.
The Buccaneers hardly looked like the explosive team that we’ve grown accustomed to. The top scoring offense in the NFL entering Week 3 was held to just 19 points after averaging 34 coming into the night. Brady completed 51.2% of his passes for just 6.26 yards per attempt with no touchdowns and a 70.8 passer rating. Tampa also finished a mere 1 for 4 in the red zone.
Belichick’s approach to stopping Tampa wasn’t entirely a surprise. He wanted to play man coverage and disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. He didn’t want to give up any easy throws inside. And he didn’t want to sacrifice defenders in coverage for the pass rush. That’s always been the best way to have a chance against Tom Brady.
Below is what Brady was looking at when he got to the top of his drop throughout much of the night – man coverage with help defenders inside:
Brady had to try and attack on the outside. Sometimes he was able to connect:
Sometimes, he wasn’t:
The Buccaneers offense was not able to operate at the level of efficiency it wanted to throughout the night.
New England’s approach in the red zone was, surprise surprise, aimed at taking away Brady’s best options. On their first 3rd down in the red zone, you can see that the Buccaneers aligned with a trips bunch formation of Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans to the right. The Patriots responded with 4 defenders ready to handle the bunch. That left Brady looking left to his less ideal options, Leonard Fournette and Cameron Brate.
The Buccaneers settled for a field goal.
Tampa’s two other non-touchdown drives into the red zone were thwarted as a result of New England’s pass rush. The Patriots showed different fronts throughout the night, as they always do. This enabled them to generate enough pressure on Brady to keep him from sitting comfortably in the pocket until one of his receivers broke open.
Here, a double-A gap look with a down lineman and a linebacker to either side of the center led to some confusion for Tampa. New England was able to get a free runner in on Brady using just a 3-man rush:
In the 4th quarter, New England was again able to get pressure without sacrificing men in coverage. This time, it was a blitz on a 4-man rush that flushed Brady from the pocket, forcing another incompletion.
The Patriots also appeared to be ready for some of those staples we saw over the years in New England with Brady. Watch Matthew Judon and Dont’a Hightower on this play-action trap pass:
So how did the Buccaneers end up winning this game? First, their defense led the way. They forced two turnovers, sacked Mac Jones four times, got off the field on 3rd down, and didn’t allow the Patriots to run the ball (-1 yard on 8 carries).
On offense, they ran the ball well enough to stay on the field and give themselves more opportunities (122 yards, 27 attempts, 4.5 yards per carry). They leaned on some timely screens (6-6, 51 yards) with Leonard Fournette being a bigger factor in the passing game than anticipated (3 receptions, 47 yards).
And they made just enough plays at the right time.
On Tampa’s game-winning drive, they picked up 31 yards on a pass interference penalty when Kyle Van Noy was aligned on the perimeter over Leonard Fournette. Brady saw the match up and took his shot downfield.
Then, when cornerback Jonathan Jones left the game due to injury for a critical 3rd down, Brady went after his replacement, Justin Bethel. Watch Bethel over Antonio Brown here:
That completion set up a 48-yard field goal that ended up being the game winner for Tampa (ironic considering a game-winning 48-yarder from Adam Vinatieri got this whole Brady/Belichick thing started).
This was a game that, on paper, should have led to an easy Buccaneers win. New England, however, showed that it can hang with any offense in football. If its own offense can start to come together like we saw at times on Sunday night, they have the ability and the time to get this season turned around after a 1-3 start.
The best aspect of this game, though, was that the chess match between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady lived up to its billing. Hopefully, we get to see it again at some point.