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Tampa Bay-New England Preview: Pats Prepare to Feast on Bucs London Broil-Style

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Tampa Bay-New England Preview: Pats Prepare to Feast on Bucs London Broil-Style
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

I can safely say that never in my wildest dreams did I expect my 100th article for Bleacher Report to be about the winless Bucs heading over the pond to face a New England Patriots team that just beat Tennessee 59-0.

I expected more out of this team, perhaps reading too much into the hype that was Raheem Morris. Believing the comments from guys like Michael Clayton that Jon Gruden was the root of all evils, the team was divided, and when Monte Kiffin bailed on them with a month remaining in the season it all came to a head.

I thought this would be a well coached, close knit group that would fight and go through walls for this head coach.

Boy was I wrong. (That sound you hear is my fellow Featured Columnist Tom Edrington rushing to his keyboard to type "I told ya so.")

Instead, what we've seen is a team in disarray, poorly coached, and limited in talent.

There's talent on this squad, but you have to look hard and beyond the obvious confusion of two new systems to find it. Actually, one system, the Bucs' offensive game plan under Greg Olsen, isn't much different than the old one.

Olsen has instilled much of Jon Gruden's old playbook back into the offense. It's no wonder they're struggling. It's not like the offense ever lit it up under Jon boy's watch. Heck, that was one the reasons he was bounced.

So with anarchy reigning at One Buc Palace, the Bucs are forced to go over to London in Old England to face New England.

The Patriots haven't been the Patriots until last week, when they hung a 50 burger (thanks, Steve Mariucci) on the equally winless Flaming Thumbtacks (Titans). The 59-0 whitewash ranked as one of the largest margins of victory in NFL history.

Oh boy.

The question coming into this one is do the Bucs players still care? Antonio Bryant made an interesting comment earlier in the week that could be a very bad sign for Raheem's dream team.

"All I can do is...control what I can control," he told the St. Petersburg Times, "That’s going out there, running the routes, trying to get open and being where I’m supposed to be so it shows up on film, the right people see it and something gets done about it."

Not to put words in Mr. Bryant's mouth but basically he's saying it's time to play for himself.

When that starts happening, bad things occur.

So, with that in mind, let's take a look at the London matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.

 

Series

New England is 4-2 against Tampa Bay, winning the last meeting in 2005 28-0.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Attack against New England Patriots Pass Defense

Bucs quarterback Josh Johnson regressed a little bit against the Carolina Panthers, again struggling to get the ball down field to weapons Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow, Jr.

The Bucs bring in the 22nd ranked passing offense to face the league's sixth ranked pass defense.

Johnson has been a bit turnover prone of late, fumbling five times (losing one) and throwing a costly interception at the start of the second half against Carolina.

Rookie Sammie Stroughter has begun to emerge for Tampa Bay as a weapon, making some big catches in the loss.

New England's coming off a game where they held Tennessee to minus-7 passing yards.

Oh boy.

It's no wonder the Bucs are saving Josh Freeman from the beating against New England.

Advantage: New England

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Attack vs. New England Patriots Run Defense

It was expected (at least by this columnist) that the Bucs running game would miraculously show dramatic improvement with the return of center Jeff Faine.

The Bucs did improve, finishing with 124 yards in the gut-wrenching loss to the Panthers. Still, much of that yardage came from Josh Johnson's scrambles.

The Bucs did get a good performance from Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who rushed for 77 yards on 16 carries, including a 20-yard touchdown.

Still, where is high priced free agent Derrick Ward? Ward touched the ball twice, fumbling on a toss on the first one.

The Patriots aren't very stout against the run, giving up 112.8 yards per game.

One of the main keys to this ballgame is if the Bucs can get their running game on track, consume time of possession, and keep Brady and company away from their defense.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

New England Patriots Passing Game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

After a few weeks where Tom Brady was struggling a bit to regain his Hall of Fame form, Brady broke out in a big way against the Titans. Tom Terrific threw for an NFL record five touchdown passes in the second quarter, finishing the ballgame with 386 yards and six touchdown passes.

Randy Moss is still there for the Pats, hauling in three of those scores and 129 yards. Wes Welker continues to be a dangerous weapon. Against Tennessee he hauled in 10 receptions for 150 yards and two scores.

Welker could be a crucial weapon for New England in this one as Buccaneer corner Aquib Talib has been sensational in shutting down the top receivers of the Bucs' opponents. Talib limited Carolina Pro Bowl wide out Steve Smith to just one catch for four yards and has quickly evolved into a shut down corner.

Talib isn't perfect, still getting beat every once in awhile, but as Talib has improved, so has the Bucs defense against the pass. The Bucs secondary has risen to 11th in the league after spending much of the first quarter of the season at the bottom of the league rankings in pass defense.

Tampa Bay is still giving up big plays down field, as Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles can attest after having a career day against the Bucs' secondary, but those plays aren't as frequent as they were at the start of the season.

Still, Tom Brady and company live on the big play down the field, which doesn't bode well for the Bucs.

Advantage: New England

 

New England Patriots Running Game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

The worst part of the Buccaneers defense right now is the run defense. Carolina basically ran the Bucs out of the game last week, putting together a 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed the remaining eight minutes on the clock.

They did it by running 15 of the 16 plays. The Panthers finished the game with 267 yards rushing.

The Bucs face a Patriots team that doesn't run the ball with authority, but with Tom Brady at quarterback do you blame them?

Laurence Maroney leads the rushing attack with Fred Taylor adding a little spice to the league's 13th ranked rushing attack.

Maroney does have a lot of talent and can hurt a defense, so while the Bucs try to stop Brady through the air, Maroney and Taylor could definitely do damage on the ground in this one.

If you have either player on your fantasy team—this week may be a good one to play them.

Advantage: New England

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Special Teams vs. New England Patriots Special Teams

The Buccaneers special teams took a major blow when returner Clifton Smith suffered a concussion last week against the Panthers. Smith was among the league leaders in kickoff and punt returns.

Rookie Sammie Stroughter filled in well for Smith and was actually the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Carolina.

One of the few stats New England is not among the best in the league is in their coverage units. Their kickoff coverage ranks near the bottom, while Tampa Bay remains among the league's best.

The Patriots definitely have an advantage at kicker, where Stephen Gostkowski has made 81 percent of his field goals. Bucs kicker Shane Andrus has yet to make a field goal in the NFL.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

 

Intangibles

  • While technically a Tampa Bay home game, the game will be played at Wembley Stadium in England, where Tampa Bay owners the Glazer family are not very well liked due to their purchase of Manchester United. It can be expected that the crowd will be very Pro Patriots in this one.
  • New England's Tom Brady has won 12 straight regular season games against NFC opponents.
  • New England is plus-8 in turnover margin. Tampa Bay is minus-1.

Advantage: New England

 

Coaching

Raheem Morris is in his first season as an NFL head coach and is still searching for his first win at 0-6.

Bill Belichick is in his 15th season as an NFL head coach, his 10th in New England. He has won three Super Bowl championships, four AFC titles, and seven division titles while amassing a 142-88 record.

Advantage: New England

 

Prediction

As each week passes and the Bucs continue to search for their first win, the task of getting that victory seems more and more daunting. No week could it be tougher than this one against the Patriots.

The Bucs have to break out of their routine, travel on a seven-hour flight to England and somehow figure out how to slow down Tom Brady.

All this while trying to keep the team together in the midst of a 10-game losing streak dating back to last season.

While there's no moral victories in football, I don't think the Bucs will gauge this game on a win or a loss. Do they improve? Do they stay competitive against a vastly superior opponent? Does Josh Johnson get better or continue to regress?

For Johnson, this may be his last opportunity to show the Bucs and the rest of the league what he can do. With top pick Josh Freeman hanging in the wings and a bye week to get him ready for action, the era of Freeman could be at hand.

What I want to see from the Buccaneers in this one is whether they will fight for their coach. Make no mistake, Raheem Morris is in danger of losing his team and likely his job.

A enormous upset of the Patriots would go a long way in settling the stormy seas of the Buccaneers captain. Don't laugh. The Eagles certainly aren't after their putrid performance against the horrible Raiders.

A lackluster, Titan's style, debacle could be yet another nail in Morris' proverbial coffin.

While I think the Bucs will give the Patriots a better game than Tennessee did, I don't believe they'll have what it takes to pull off the upset.

Final Score: New England 38, Tampa Bay 10.

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