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Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Place: Wembley Stadium in London, England
Radio: 98.5 FM – The Sports Hub
New England is coming off a shellacking of the University of Tennessee…wait that was the Tennessee Titans? (Fooled me.) Now they move on to another winless foe. New England will travel across the pond to old England for a matchup against the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The showdown in Wembley Stadium will be a key matchup for the NFL’s international relations, but this matchup could be a repeat blowout if New England keeps rolling.
It’s hard to be a Bucs fans lately. Only years removed from this Super Bowl victory, they have fallen to the bottom of the league and are failing in all assets of the game. Byron Leftwich played himself out of the starting quarterback job after throwing three interceptions to four touchdowns in three games this season. He has since been replaced by Josh Johnson who has thrown five interceptions compared to three touchdowns, a vast improvement? The receivers are led by offseason acquired Kellen Winslow, who has emerged as one of the leaders for the team. Antonio Bryant is slowly getting healthy and is looking to explode any week.
However, this team is a running orientated squad. Cadillac Williams looks to be returning to his 2005 days. He currently has more yards this season then he did in 2007 or 2008, and being healthy is the key. Unable to stay in the pocket, due to an inconsistent offensive line, Josh Johnson is forced to be the team’s second leading rusher with 141 yards, ahead of Derrick Ward and the often injured Earnest Graham. Johnson has the speed to do big things against the Patriots, unless his o-line lets the New England defense get to him first.
Head Coach Raheem Morris was brought into the team as a defensive backs coach to steady the defense, within two years he was quickly given the head coach job. However, his defensive background has not helped the team at all, especially the secondary. Tampa Bay has allowed quarterbacks to average a 101 passer rating and the secondary has only hauled in six interceptions, with three coming from Aqib Talib’s Week 4 performance against the Redskins. The Bucs are also 31st in the league allowing rushing yards, with 171.7 per game. Last week against Carolina, Tampa gave away 267 rushing yards with DeAngelo Williams going for 152 and Jonathan Stewart adding 110 (Jake Delhomme had the other five rushing yards). For Tampa to have any chance whatsoever, the defense needs to return to it’s glory days.
He is not one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. Currently, Johnson is 32nd in the league in completion percentage. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. However, he can still be dangerous. Johnson has the speed to burn teams. Currently, he is second on the team in rushing yards and even has a season long run for 29 yards., which is equal to the second best for a Patriots runner. Containing him is a must for New England.
The easiest way to do that is to just push past Tampa’s offensive line. Tampa has allowed 12 sacks on the season, with ten being on Johnson, and all ten have come in the past three games. Bringing back Tully Banta-Cain should give more pressure for the Patriots, who should unleash their line this week. Sending guys like Mike Wright, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green, Derrick Burgess and, of course, Junior Seau could keep Tampa offense off the field, much like last week.
It might be mostly sunny in London this weekend, but the weather can change at the drop of a hat. The last two years the NFL played in England, it was raining and cold. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to see who that would benefit. New England is coming off this 59-0 whooping of Tennessee in a snowy October game. Tampa’s average temperature falls somewhere in the 70′s. This might be a “home game” for Tampa, but the settings will be better suited for New England.
With bad field conditions a strong possibility, running the ball is a must. Considering that Tampa Bay is one of the worst run defenses in the league, it is a given the Patriots will take a chance to see if their running game can get going. With Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor out, most of the workload will be on Laurence Maroney. Last week was Maroney’s coming out party. Against the Titans, he ran for an easy season-high 123 yards, with a 45-yard run for a touchdown. Now plug him in to face a more horrendous defense and he could really go off.
Last week against Carolina, Tampa was trampled by the combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The duo combined for 262 yards and three touchdowns. They will now see a heavy dose of Maroney and perhaps the occasional BenJarvus Green-Ellis sighting. Green-Ellis saw his first action last week, netting 67 yards on seven attempts. With the dismal run defense the Bucs have, both New England backs could have career games.
Those weapons, Cadillac Willams, Kellen Winslow and Antonio Bryant. The easiest will be Willams. With a struggling offensive line, New England defenders should have no problem filling holes and stopping Williams from breaking to the outside. These were the same things the Patriots had to do against Chris Johnson last week and he burned them for 128 yards. However, Cadillac is no Johnson. Injuries have hurt his explosiveness from season past, so by simply getting to Williams, you can bring him down.
With regards to Winslow and Bryant, it will be more difficult. Both are capable for making trapeze-esque catches and making their quarterback look stellar. However, the Bucs will be short of that third receiver to open up their star tight end and receiver. Michael Clayton is out, and although their other receivers can have a big game, it is not a given. Letting guys like Brandon McGowan, Brandon Meriweather, Shawn Springs, and Leigh Bodden loose to cover and knock around Tampa’s guys, another low passing yard-game for a New England opponent could be in the works.
Going into Week 6, every sports outlet was talking about Tom Brady’s injury; that he wasn’t the same quarterback, or on the same page with his receivers. Then he exploded for 380 passing yards, six touchdowns and was 29 for 34 passing. There has been enough coverage for that historic second quarter, but wasn’t it simply amazing? It was Brady being Brady. Include that Randy Moss went for 129 yards and three touchdowns and Wes Welker had 150 and two TD’s of his own, it appears that the New England passing game could be back on track.
Now, playing a team just as bad as Tampa could be just what New England needed. There are still those who are unwilling to say the Patriots offense, or for that matter Tom Brady, are back. New England needs to keep the passing game going. Even with Julian Edelman out with a broken arm, Brady can find another receiver to replace him. This Tampa defense can be picked apart and New England needs to look deep a lot to return to the top of power rankings. To silence his critics, Bill Belichick might need to not care about running up the score.
The record says it all. Tampa is not a good team. Although anything can happen on Sunday, Buccaneer fans shouldn’t be anticipating much. England might be subjected to a blowout similar to World Bowl XI. (You remember the NFL Europe right?). Although the running game should be the star, expect Brady to air it out to Moss and Welker for big gains. The most interesting part of this game might be how old England reacts to New England. (expect some boos) Prediction: New England 38, Tampa Bay 9.
Tags: Antonio Bryant, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bill Belichick, Byron Leftwich, Cadillac Willams, Derrick Brugess, Jarvis Green, Josh Johnson, Julien Edelman, Junior Seau, Kellen Winslow, Laurence Maroney, Mike Wright, Patriots, Raheem Morris, Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker