FOXBORO, Mass. — As Bill Belichick says nearly every week he steps to the podium for a press conference, it’s nice to be back on a normal schedule.
Getting on a routine is important for NFL players (and writers). Last week’s Thursday night game was tough on the Patriots for a number of reasons, but a lack of practice was chief among them. They had zero padded practice and were forced to move from the Bills to the Jets extremely quickly after having just started the season. It was fortunate both teams knew each other well, so preparation was less of a concern. But the sloppy play displayed by both teams was likely due to the short week.
This week, the team was even able to get some rest in during the weekend. They reviewed Thursday’s game on Friday, took Saturday and Sunday off and were able to get an extra day to prepare for the Buccaneers on Monday. The team had their normal off day on Tuesday and got back into it on Wednesday.
So now the Buccaneers will be coming in to Foxboro facing a team with extra rest and extra preparation. That’s rough. Especially for a team coming off two tough losses in the first two weeks of the season.
In this week’s No-Huddle Offense, I’ll be shooting off 11 thoughts on the Patriots and their Week 3 matchup against the Buccaneers.
1. It seems continuity along the defense is helping out the entire unit, but especially the secondary. Steve Gregory is playing much better than he did last season and did a great job of limiting Kellen Winslow against the Jets. Winslow had become Geno Smith‘s safety blanket in Week 1, catching seven passes on eight targets for 79 yards and a touchdown.
Gregory, with some help from the Patriots’ linebackers, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, limited Winslow to three catches on six targets for 16 yards. The tight end probably could have scored midway through the third quarter when Gregory got tangled up with Kyle Arrington in his attempt to guard Winslow in the red zone. Fortunately for the Patriots, Winslow slipped before he could get into the end zone.
2. For the most part on Sunday, Gregory and McCourty had distinct roles. McCourty was back playing centerfield as the free safety in a Cover 1, while Gregory would cheat up and take either Winslow or a running back coming out of the backfield. It was an effective strategy at limiting the Jets. Last season, when the Patriots would play a Cover 2, tight ends were able to slip into the middle of the field to get open too often.
The Patriots are able to run a Cover 1 because they have faith in their cornerbacks to take on wide receivers in man.
3. The Patriots’ secondary, and defense as a whole, has looked good the first two weeks, but they have been facing rookie quarterbacks with middling receivers. Tampa Bay has two very good starting wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Their third-stringer, Kevin Ogletree, had some very strong moments in Dallas last season.
Oddly, Jackson has been the team’s primary slot receiver through two games, according to Pro Football Focus. He has 34 snaps in the slot versus 13 from Ogletree and four from Williams. The Patriots will have to make a decision whether to shadow Jackson with Aqib Talib or let the Buccaneers dictate coverage matchups by moving Jackson around the field. Talib usually locks on the left side of the field, Alfonzo Dennard is on the right side and Kyle Arrington is in the slot. Talib matches up best with the big 6-foot-5, 230-pound target.
4. The Buccaneers spend more than half their time in three-receiver sets. That means the Patriots will likely once again spend the majority of the time in their nickel defense with Talib, Dennard and Arrington all on the field together at once. It’s been effective so far.
5. Much was made throughout the offseason, and especially during the week of joint practices, about how many former Greg Schiano players were on the Patriots’ roster. At this point, it’s down to three former Buccaneers — LeGarrette Blount, Chris Jones and Talib and five Rutgers products — Steve Beauharnais, Logan Ryan, McCourty, Harmon and Mark Harrison, who is on the NFI list.
6. Whenever I hear of players, like Darrelle Revis or Josh Freeman having issues with Schiano, it always brings me back to a Winslow interview from last season after he had been traded from the Buccaneers to the Seahawks. Winslow didn’t like going from noted players coach Raheem Morris to Schiano, who Winslow felt was hard on the players.
Check out Winslow’s comments below at the 4:19 mark.
Typically, if one player has an issue with Schiano, like Winslow did, many more than that will, too. It’s a lot easier for Schiano to mold players as he wants to when they’re coming out of high school with a scholarship on the line — like he did at Rutgers — than trying to coach a bunch of millionaires that same hard-nosed way.
Obviously Schiano has rubbed some players, like Winslow and Revis, the wrong way.
7. Schiano’s coaching style may be why Belichick likes signing and drafting players who succeeded under Schiano so much. He might have the mindset of “if they could handle Schiano, they can handle me.” Winslow, obviously, could handle neither, while McCourty has excelled with that type of coaching.
8. The Patriots worked out linebackers Tavares Gooden, Jamar Chaney, Austin Spitler, Josh Hull, Orie Lemon and Sean Progar and defensive ends Jeremy Beal and Louis Nzegwu this week, according to Aaron Wilson of The National Football Post. Notice, there are no wide receivers in that group.
9. On Tuesday, I wrote about some of the common misconceptions about the Patriots. I forgot one that I didn’t even feel was worth mentioning, but it popped up a lot in comments to that post. For some reason, people think the Patriots are “cheap” because they have $10.4 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com. No. The Patriots are not cheap. They’re smart. They can carry that $10.4 million into next season, when they may have to eat $4.8 million of Aaron Hernandez‘s salary.
10. Newly acquired defensive tackle Chris Jones is an interesting player. He had 12 1/2 sacks his senior season at Bowling Green, which is an accomplishment for an interior defensive lineman at any level. The Patriots could start mixing him in with Joe Vellano in passing situations. Vellano was a nice run defender in Week 2, but has struggled getting a push in the passing game so far. Jones obviously has some skills at getting after the quarterback.
11. Once Brandon Bolden is healthy enough to come back, we could start seeing him take some snaps on third down. He’s certainly not Shane Vereen in the passing game, but he’s an adequate pass blocker and he’s got some decent hands. He could take some pressure off Stevan Ridley.