Tom Brady needs help. He has for a few weeks now, but this week could be even worse than last.
A dismal offensive effort against the Jets led to mass hysteria in New England, surrounding the All-Everything quarterback and his inexperienced group of receivers. With Darelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron hanging around on the opposite side of the ball this week, Brady’s job will be even tougher.
He’ll need someone to emerge alongside Julian Edelman in order to alleviate some of the pressure that seemed to build against the Jets. A more aggressive Stevan Ridley would certainly add a much-needed dimension to the offense, but the emergence of a rookie wideout might be even more important.
The defense will also be in for quite the challenge as Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson present very different but equally dangerous threats. If Martin can exploit some holes up the gut and Josh Freeman can get the passing game on track, the Patriots could be in for one heck of a surprise on D.
With that thought in mind, let’s dive into some of the keys for the Patriots against the Bucs in this week’s edition of Three and Out.
1. A rookie must emerge – Let’s just get it out there already, Brady lacks weapons. Edelman was the go-to guy in Week 2, catching 13 passes of Brady’ 19 completions, but he can’t be the only one catching passes — and likely won’t be with Revis covering him — again this week. One of the three rookie receivers, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson or Josh Boyce needs to step up big in the passing game this week and make Brady’s life at least a tad easier. Dobson got open consistently against the Jets, scoring a touchdown in his first NFL action, but struggled to actually catch the ball consistently. Thompkins seems primed for a breakout, as he has for weeks now, but just doesn’t seem as polished as he looked during the preseason. Boyce hasn’t seen much run in games thus far, making his chances even less likely. Whoever it is, Brady will need someone to step up and fill the shoes — even if only half way — of Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski for at least one more week.
2. Blanket Vincent Jackson -- Aqib Talib will likely be tasked with shadowing the 6-foot-4 receiver, and his job will be integral in keeping the Bucs off the board and maintaining a hold of time of possession for the Patriots. Jackson didn’t do much of anything during the two teams preseason meeting, as he saw very little of the field before taking a seat on the sidelines. He has been impressive so far this season, though, catching 12 passes for 231 yards in the Bucs’ two games. Freeman has struggled with accuracy this season and seems to be in the doghouse with coach Greg Schiano, but a steady connection with Jackson could change all that in Foxboro, which is why Talib and company need to keep the ball away from the versatile receiver.
3. Stop the Muscle Hamster — Martin easily has the best nickname in the game, right now. The “muscle hamster” struggled a bit against a stout Jets run defense, finishing with just 65 yards on 24 carries (2.7 yards per carry) and a score, but dominated the Saints with a 144-yard outing last week. The Patriots currently rank 26th in run defense, which is a steep drop off from their No. 9 rank at the end of last season. Martin is a dangerous runner with the capability to wear the Patriots down up front and eventually break off a big gain to the outside. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly will need to remain firm up front and close their gaps to keep Martin from running all over the Patriots as if they were a hamster wheel.