Greg Schiano and Bill Belichick have shared a lot over the last few years. They have shared Bill's son Steve, who spent time on the Rutgers football team before joining the Patriots as a coaching assistant. They've shared the practice field during training camp. They've shared a number of players that graduated from Rutgers and are now on the Patriots roster.
After two weeks in the NFL season, the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also have the shared experience of having played two close games. The outcomes, however, couldn't have been more different.
Schiano's Buccaneers have seemingly found ways to lose—a Lavonte David penalty against the Jets and a missed field goal against the Saints—while the Patriots have overcome poor play and uncharacteristic turnovers to start with two wins.
Patriots Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense
Darrelle Revis is really good at football, no matter which jersey he is wearing. However, he can't play five positions. As talented as Tampa Bay is in its defensive backfield—Leonard Johnson, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron all have played at a high level at times in Tampa Bay—communication has been an issue.
If the Buccaneers continue to play a lot of zone—where Revis is less comfortable and communication is at a premium—expect Tom Brady and the New England offense to exploit holes down the field. Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman could both have big days finding soft spots and waiting for Brady to lock on.
However, if Adrian Clayborn and the Buccaneers defensive line don't allow the Patriots to get their ground game going, things might get a bit uncomfortable for Brady in the pocket. The threat of the play-action pass only works if the defense respects the run game—something that the New York Jets didn't allow in Week 2.
If Rob Gronkowski returns from his back injury, the whole makeup of this game changes. Gronkowski's ability to stretch the middle of the field is unparalleled on the Patriots team right now.
Patriots Defense vs. Buccaneers Offense
The Patriots were perhaps a couple of errant passes away from facing three rookie quarterbacks to start the season. Josh Freeman hasn't looked great, but he has so far done enough to avoid being pulled for rookie Mike Glennon.
Stopping Vincent Jackson is the No. 1 priority for the Patriots. Doug Martin is a fine player and he is going to get some yards, but Jackson is incredibly tough to check—even with double coverage. I expect Aqib Talib and perhaps Alfonzo Dennard to see some time covering Jackson, with plenty of help from safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory.
Mike Williams and Kevin Ogletree are no slouches either. Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington is going to need to play well to keep them in check.
If the Patriots defensive backs can take away the big play, the front seven has shown that it will make enough plays to win the game. Rob Ninkovich is a walking turnover machine, and the tandem of Chandler Jones and Michael Buchanan is starting to work its magic on third down. Jones has played very well inside at defensive tackle.
What They're Saying
I’ve never played against anyone who is as good as him. He’s as good as there is that I’ve ever played against, so you just have to be careful when you throw his way because you know he’s going to be close. There’s no one that’s going to be wide open, you’ve just got to make sure you put the ball in a position where only the receiver can catch it
-Tom Brady to Doug Kyed of NESN.com
Tale of the Tape
Quarterback: This isn't a competition. Unless the Patriots are facing Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, they have a distinct advantage. Josh Freeman is in the bottom tier of quarterbacks in the NFL.
Running Backs: A healthy Shane Vereen might have flipped this in the Patriots' favor, but Doug Martin is too reliable and explosive.
Wide Receivers: Vincent Jackson runs phenomenal routes and has physical talent to burn. Despite my fondness for the promise of the Patriots receivers, Jackson's ability trumps them all at this point.
Tight Ends: Unless Rob Gronkowski sees his first action of the 2013 season, there isn't much firepower between these two groups. Luke Stocker hasn't been great in the run or pass game, and the Patriots tight ends failed to receive a target against the Jets.
Offensive Line: The Buccaneers have one of the most expensive offensive lines in the league. Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph and Donald Penn's contracts total $141.7 million—an astronomical figure. The Patriots offensive line has given up 34 pressures according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) compared to the Buccaneers 18.
Defensive Line: Both teams have talented defensive lines. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Michael Buchanan have all had good starts to 2013, while Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are always a tough assignment. Adrian Clayborn, Akeem Spence and Gerald McCoy are going to make things tough for Stevan Ridley on Sunday.
Linebackers: Mason Foster and Lavonte David are having good seasons—save for David's penalty against the Jets—but the three-headed monster of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes is just too much.
Defensive Backs: With Darrelle Revis on your team, this should be a win. However, the less-talented Patriots have had very few communication breakdowns. Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty have played especially well this year and Steve Gregory has been very solid.
Special Teams: Both kickers have been slightly erratic this year, but I'll take Stephen Gostkowski over Rian Lindell or Michael Koenen any day of the week.
The tale of the tape ends in an overall push, which indicates that this could be a closer game than many expect.
Wednesday's Injury Report Analysis
Did Not Participate: Marquice Cole, Matthew Slater
Limited Participation: Danny Amendola, Brandon Bolden, Dan Connolly, Nate Ebner, Rob Gronkowski, Will Svitek, Leon Washington
Full Participation: Zach Sudfeld
Don't count on either Gronkowski or Amendola to give it a go on Sunday. If Sudfeld is fully healthy, however, look for the rookie tight end to get a couple of balls thrown his way.
The Patriots dodged a bullet with Aqib Talib. After missing practice earlier this week for a non-injury-related situation, he was not listed on the injury report provided by Patriots.com on Wednesday. Talib was feared to be injured after Jets center Nick Mangold rolled up on his left leg after Talib made the game-clinching interception.
The Buccaneers had three key contributors listed on their injury report: Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster, and Carl Nicks. All were limited on Wednesday, but I would be shocked if they aren't suited up this Sunday.