Analysis

3 things Patriots fans should know about Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense

Tom Brady will lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the New England Patriots on Sunday. But there's more to know about the Bucs offense than that.

Tom Brady Buccaneers Patriots
Tom Brady. AP Photo/Kyusung Gong
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So what’s it like watching your team go up against a Tom Brady-led offense — like the fanbases of 31 other franchises have witnessed over the last 22 seasons? New England Patriots fans are about to find out.

As you may or may not have heard, Brady returns to Foxboro on Sunday hoping to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 NFL teams.

Naturally, the Patriots’ defense is intent on not allowing the all-time great quarterback to have his way with them. But with the talent at Brady’s fingertips, from Mike Evans to Rob Gronkowski, it’s hard to imagine how they intend to stop him for four quarters, especially when he knows almost everything Bill Belichick’s defense could ever dream of throwing at him.

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Still, it’s not as if the Buccaneers’ offense is completely invincible. In fact, Bill Belichick’s defense might see a few things that they recognize from going against its own offense in practice.

Here are a few less-Brady-centric things to know about Tampa Bay’s offense.

It is similar to the Patriots offense.

Bill Belichick and Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians threw a couple of jabs at one another after Belichick claimed the Buccaneers offense he’s preparing his team for is “the offense [Brady’s] run his whole career” in New England.

“The running game’s different, but the passing game’s the passing game. It’s pretty similar,” Belichick said. “I mean, you could call almost every play, from the flare control to the protection, similar to the way we do it.”

Arians — the typically aggressive coach of “no risk it, no biscuit” fame — fired back, saying the Patriots have “copied a lot” of his own offense over the years as well.

But the tape does seem to suggest the Patriots will see Brady run some pretty familiar stuff.

One play in particular you’ll probably see the Bucs running Sunday? The Patriots’ patented trap-play action pass over the middle.

The Patriots made this play a staple of their playbook with Brady at the helm, often with Gronkowski running a seam route to stress the middle of the defense.

Here, New England pulls left guard Michael Onwenu to the right side to help sell the play-action run fake and get the linebackers to hold their position or bite on the misdirection for a moment. Hunter Henry runs the traditional “Gronk” route up the middle, which clears space for Jones to fire to Kendrick Bourne on a short comeback.

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In the Super Bowl, the Bucs ran a version of this play out of shotgun but flipped it so that the right guard pulls to the left. The Chiefs defense completely loses sight of Gronkowski, who rips off a big gain up the middle.

Though the Bucs do still test the deep parts of the field more downfield route combinations than the Patriots did with Brady, Belichick’s assertion isn’t untrue. Brady did seem to implement more of the Patriots’ offense into Arians’s system last year, and, as evidenced by the Super Bowl title, it worked.

Whether or not the Patriots’s defense can stop these familiar plays is another matter.

They don’t run the ball well.

If there’s one thing Tampa Bay doesn’t do well, it’s run the football. Like, they’re really bad at it.

Heading into Sunday’s game, the Buccaneers rank 31st in rushing yards (169) and 26th in yards per attempt (3.5) across the NFL.

Lest you think it’s simply a matter of preferring to pass the ball — the Bucs are indeed 32nd in rushing attempts, for what’s worth — they’re also just not very efficient at it.

Leonard Fournette, Tampa’s lead back, is the third-worst back in the league in terms of running yards over expected per rushing attempt, per NextGen Stats.

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That comes despite Fournette facing eight-man boxes on only 12.5 percent of his attempts, which is well below the league median of about 21 percent.

Though the Patriots haven’t been great at stopping the run over the first three weeks, giving up more than 140 yards on the ground the last two games, the Buccaneers’ running game hasn’t been too hard to stop so far.

With that in mind, New England might simply put two safeties deep and worry about stopping the pass as they did once upon a time with Peyton Manning.

https://twitter.com/BobSocci/status/1443655197411188745

Of course, this could also mean the Bucs won’t trouble too much about running and will just operate the quick-passing game Brady has always excelled at to bleed the Patriots defense by a thousand cuts.

But if New England’s defense can limit big plays in the passing game and do a passable job against the lackluster Buccaneers running game, they can keep their team in this game.

“Gronk” is the man to stop.

This statement hinges largely on whether or not he does end up playing on Sunday after a rib injury hampered him against the LA Rams. Gronkowski reportedly has not practiced the last two days leading up to Sunday’s game.

Also, there’s no truly ironclad right answer to the “Who do you take away?” question where the Bucs offense is concerned.

They have two possible Hall-of-Fame receivers on their squad in Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, plus solid backup options in Chris Godwin and tight end Cameron Brate.

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But the most dangerous man of the bunch may well be the “rejuvenated” Gronkowski.

His four receiving touchdowns lead NFL tight ends while his 184 receiving yards are fifth in the league at his position. Gronk also grades out as the best tight end in football in intermediate areas (10-19 yards) of the field with a 99.5 grade and is the second-most productive tight end grade-wise on short throws (96.4) according to Pro Football Focus.

Now that he’s moving closer to his pre-retirement speed in 2018, he’s once again a matchup problem wherever you put him on the field.

The Patriots’ safety group of Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger have played arguably the most solid, stable football of any position group on the defense.

But we’re not talking about Juwan Johnson or Mike Gesicki anymore. We’re talking about arguably the greatest tight end who’s ever played: a 6-foot-7-inch monster who’s too big for safeties and too fast for linebackers.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Patriots had one of those…

So far, New England’s corners have done a solid job against opposing receivers, ranking second in passing yards allowed (479) and touchdowns surrendered (three). Miami’s DeVante Parker holds the high mark for receiving yards they’ve allowed this year at 81. As such, it’s reasonable to think Patriots corners could at least hold their own on the outside.

But if Gronkowski (assuming he plays) can gash them in the middle of the field and then finish drives off in the red zone as he did so many times in a Patriots uniform, things could get tough for New England Sunday night.

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