Coming off of an impressive preseason opener against the Jaguars, the Patriots will head down to Tampa to take on the Bucs in the second game of the preseason. We saw in the last game that even when Tom Brady does not play, New England can still put up 40+ points. Plus, we got to see kids like Stevan Ridley and Ryan Mallett that Patriots’ fans can watch grow as this month progresses.
Tonight, we get to take a look at the up and coming Bucs. This team has a fiery young coach in Raheem Morris and a quarterback of the future in Josh Freeman. Even in the tough NFC South, they have a team that can make the playoffs this year. In the draft, they worked on their pass rush and are improving as a defense.
On that note, here are my three keys to watch in this game:
- Growing Gostkowski: An old face returned to the Patriots last week, but it may have gone unnoticed by most. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the second half of last season with a thigh injury. Even though Patriots’ fans expect touchdowns from the offense, it is nice to know that one of the most accurate kickers in the game is back kicking field goals. He did not waste any time against the Jaguars making two 40 yard field goals. Clearly, that thigh is okay now.
- Tampa’s Young Pass Rush: The Bucs didn’t do much in free agency, but they had a very good draft on the defensive side of the ball. In the 1st round, they drafted Iowa DE Adrian Clayborne who was great at getting after the QB a couple of years ago. In the 2nd round, they got a steal in Da’quan Bowers out of Clemson. If Bowers can beat his medical issues, he will be a nice talent. With their inexperience, we will see these two guys play most of the game. Will they get after Tom Brady in this game? The Patriots’ offensive line better be ready for the young motivated Tampa defensive line.
- 3-AND-OUT: One of the huge issues for the Patriots last year was that they could not stop anybody on third down. Last Thursday, they finally were able to get the offense off the field. Yes, it is only the preseason, but when you hold a team to just 3-13 on 3rd down, it is a step in the right direction. One of the key guys on the third down defense is Mark Anderson. Even though he did not shine on the stat sheet, he commanded double teams which freed up other players to get pressure and force bad throws.