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Game breakdown: Bucs 30, Patriots 28

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  August 26, 2012 11:28 PM

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Taking a look back at how the Patriots played in their 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers. Overall, I’d say it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked, or at least what I heard from Patriots fans.

The Patriots couldn’t have been more vanilla on either side of the ball. They showed nothing to upcoming opponents.

QUARTERBACKS

Tom Brady wasn’t very sharp, and that probably had something to do with Wes Welker not being in the lineup. And the Patriots were doing a lot of new things with personnel (fullbacks, three TEs) that looked a little uncomfortable. It also didn’t help that the Bucs blitzed on nine of Brady’s 20 dropbacks, which is high. Ryan Mallett didn’t get blitzed once. … The sack/fumble on the second possession was split between RT Marcus Cannon, who was just beaten at the snap, and Brady, who held the ball for 4.06 seconds and didn’t sense the rusher like he normally does. … The Bucs rushed three and dropped eight on the INT. Brady forced the ball into really good coverage. That’s a throw he probably doesn’t attempt in the regular season. …. The hit Brady took on the pentultimate play of the first quarter (12-yard completion to Brandon Lloyd) was on Brady because he decided to throw to Lloyd on a designed screen to Danny Woodhead. Brady has that option. … There were 11 total QB pressures allowed by the Patriots, which is about average. Of those, 1.5 were on Brady and another was on the team because no one was at fault on a well-called blitz against a screen … Deion Branch really bailed out Brady on the 13-yard pass in the second quarter when Brady had a clean pocket against the blitz and threw it behind Branch. Brady opened his front shoulder early, something he’s always mindful of in practice. … Dynamite pass from Mallett – a 15-yard out in the air from the other hashmark -- on 4th-and-1 to Donte’ Stallworth. And then he missed Stallworth high on the next throw. Looking for improvement in consistency. Have to string them together. …. On the touchdown to Jesse Holley, Mallett brought the pressure on himself (holding the ball for 4.08 seconds on the initial contact on the 8-yard line), but then did very well to keep the play alive and make a strong throw against his body for the touchdown. Mallett held the ball for 7.58 seconds total on the play.

RUNNING BACKS

Thought this group performed very well as a whole. …. Stevan Ridley, who had more standout plays than struggles, continued to show a young weakness when he cut a toss-sweep back inside on the third play instead of keeping it outside. Logan Mankins was slower than he was pre-injury, but Ridley should stay with the play. … Anybody else notice Brady’s body language when Shane Vereen limped off the field near the end of the second quarter. Basically it was, “Again?” … Going to split the sack of Brady with six minutes left in the second quarter between LT Nate Solder and Ridley. I initially thought it was Ridley’s fault, but Solder probably should have blocked inside out and left the cornerback for the Ridley. … Nice job by Ridley to pick up 5 yards after Aaron Hernandez completely whiffed on a block in the second quarter. … Demps might have had the biggest hole of the preseason on his 29-yard run. RG Nick McDonald and C Ryan Wendell each cut their men, Cannon sealed the right side, LG Donald Thomas got the middle linebacker turned around and Demps was off to the races with a ridiculous fake on the safety, who didn’t appear as the first defender until 8 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. … The more I see of Brandon Bolden, the more I think the Patriots are going to have to think long and hard about whether or not he’ll pass through waivers. He reminds so much of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and if Vereen can’t be counted on to stay healthy, I think the Patriots have to keep Bolden. … The fullbacks showed nothing. I now don’t expect the Patriots to keep any of them.

RECEIVERS

Medicore showing by this group. …Good job by Lloyd getting off press coverage from Leonard Johnson for a 12-yard completion. … Check out Aaron Hernandez getting a pancake on DE George Johnson on the final play of the first quarter. That was a tough block to make, and one that Hernandez has struggled with in the past. … That being said, Hernandez had three poorly executed run blocks in the game. … Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski each took turns having trouble with George Johnson at the point of attack on the back-to-back failed 1-yard conversions midway through the second quarter. … Alex Silvestro and Donte’ Stallworth each had drops.

OFFENSIVE LINE

This unit was far better than it appeared on television, especially when you consider they had to handle nine blitzes, including four with six rushers and one with seven. Only eight of the 11 total QB pressures (sacks, hurries and knockdowns combined) were on the line. … An average game from Dan Connolly, who had to juggle playing all three interior line spots. He should have been called for holding on Jeremy Ebert’s touchdown. Connolly yielded a stuffed run, a knockdown, was penalized for a cutblock, and a half hurry. … Solder had a team-high 2.5 TQBP, which is about what an NFL LT gives up in a game, maybe a little less. Solder is at his best on the move, as he had two really nice run blocks. … Logan Mankins allowed just a half run stuff in his 11 plays. He looked OK. Definitely isn’t moving as well as he did pre-surgery. … RT Marcus Cannon (1/2 sack, one stuffed run) played very well. Probably the most important thing was the fight we saw. He really got after it. Cannon wasn’t exactly facing Lawrence Taylor, but it was a job well done. …Cannon’s cut block injured Bucs DT Gerald McCoy, but it was a clean play. … It’s a difficult block to make, but Connolly needs to cut Roy Miller on the first play of the third possession, a 1-yard loss by Shane Vereen. … Thomas was lined up a good 2 yards behind the ball when he pulled on fourth play of the second quarter, and then he predictably pulled. Teams will pick up on that kind of play tipping. … Nice combo block by Solder on the first TD run by Ridley. … Solder has to be a little bit quicker with his feet picking up that blitz that nearly got Brady cut in half on third down with 3:18 left. … One of the reasons why the Packers gave up on Nate McDonald (hurry, poor run block) – after keeping him on the roster inactive all of his rookie season – was because he never improved his pad level. He still hasn’t. He plays way too high. … Cannon showed a lot of physicality sealing the end on Ridley’s 14-yard run near the end of the third quarter. Cannon had to execute a difficult reach block and then turned DL Wallace Gilberry (who is a reserve, but it's still a good play). … Poor screen block by Donald Thomas with 3:47 left in the first half. … C Dan Koppen (knockdown, half stuff) didn’t show well in limited duty. His hands aren’t as heavy on an opponent as they used to be.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Patriots blitzed once, so it was up to the defensive line to get pressure and they did not. The Patriots had just five total QB pressures in the game, with RE Chandler Jones accounting for three of them (sack, knockdown, hurry). … That being said, the Patriots get pressure by certain techniques (like running a blitzer into a gap to free someone up) and they did absolutely none of that. Very basic stuff out there… This unit was awesome against the run. Outside of a few blown gaps because of lack of experience, they held their gaps very well. … Great job by both Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo fighting off blocks to get a stuffed run for no gain on first play of the game. … Jermaine Cunningham continues to get looks at DT in subpackages to rush the passer, and didn’t show much. … Ron Brace played solid again, but he showed his lack of experience when he went tearing up the field on Doug Martin’s 19-yard run before halftime. A veteran would have sensed draw, or at least something was up, and stayed in his gap. Brace left Hightower and Mayo out to dry. Same thing happened to Justin Francis with 8:40 left in the fourth quarter… Chandler Jones’ first two pressures came against a tight end, and when the chip from a running back pushed Jones away from LT Donald Penn. But his third, a sack, was a good display of speed and then second effort to stay after it when he beat Penn, who is a very good tackle but was a little rusty after injury. …. LDE Rob Ninkovich (one hurry) was basically invisible. Not a big concern at this point.

LINEBACKERS

On Brandon Spikes’ stuffed run on the third play of the game, DE Chandler Jones and Mayo each did an excellent job filling the proper gaps, which allowed Spikes to go unblocked. … Great job by Spikes on first play of the second series fighting off RG Davin Joseph for another stuffed run. … Spikes (two stuffed runs, 1.5 plus run tackles) was really good in this game, despite a missed tackle that cost 8 yards. … Really nice job by Hightower (knockdown) holding the point, shedding and then tackling Doug Martin early in second half. Yes, Dallas Clark is a weak opponent, but still good technique. …. Jeff Tarpinian got pancaked by a fullback, who had stopped, with 4:08 left in the fourth quarter. … The backup linebackers were not good. Niko Koutouvides missed two tackles, Bobby Carpenter was a little lost covering Sammie Stroughter on his TD, and Mike Rivera had issues.

SECONDARY

On the first pass play to Vincent Jackson, the Patriots were in Cover 2. Safety Steve Gregory had no other deep routes in his area, he should be able to recognize and get there quicker. … Good pass breakup by Marquice Cole (two total pass breakups, plus coverage play) before halftime. He’s getting a long look at the star slot corner spot. The Patriots need to have a viable backup to Kyle Arrington. … Nice work by Gregory coming up and blowing up a screen near halftime. … Dowling bit on a fake by Stroughter in the third, but the Patriots had him playing a few yards off instead of in press position. Tough spot for a corner. The Patriots do that all the time and I don’t know why. … Tavon Wilson started next to Gregory and had a penalty, one poor pass coverage and a missed tackle. … Nate Ebner got a lot of time and didn’t really show up, good or bad.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Poor team kickoff coverage on opening kick. … Shane Vereen needs to worry less about what the returner is going to decide on taking the ball out, like McCourty did on the first return, and more about blocking. … Danny Aiken’s snaps continue to be sloppy. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots start looking around elsewhere. … Sure looked like McCourty and Sterling Moore were expecting Hernandez to return the ball to the left on his punt return, and the tight end went right. … Zoltan Mesko had three really good punts with over 4.6 seconds of hangtime, and two really bad ones (3.71, 3.64). … Good special teams tackles by Cole and Hightower. … Nate Ebner missed a block on a kick return.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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