Patriots vs. Buccaneers
Today, 1 p.m., at Wembley Stadium, London, Ch. 4 (Line: Patriots by 14 1/2)
When the Patriots runCancel that APB that was issued for Laurence Maroney. The tailback turned back the clock last week, rushing for 123 yards on 16 carries. Maroney showed both the power and breakaway speed he was known for before injuries and tentativeness slowed his progress the last two seasons. The news is tempered somewhat because the performance was against the abysmal Titans, but Maroney needed the confidence boost. He has a chance to build on his momentum against another shabby defense today. Maroney is at his best when he makes one cut and explodes through creases. Kevin Faulk is an effective runner when used in small doses. He has excellent vision and his legs are always churning. Faulk lacks elite speed and strength but is very shifty in the open field. BenJarvus Green-Ellis should get some carries today. A determined north-south runner, Green-Ellis lacks an explosive first step but will make yards after the first hit. New England’s interior three, center Dan Koppen (he’s tough and smart), and guards Logan Mankins (he’s a sturdy and surly beast) and Stephen Neal (he’s an athletic brawler), love to run-block, and are adept at it. Tampa Bay has a pair of solid tackles in Ryan Sims (he’s strong at the point of attack) and Chris Hovan (he’s quick and relentless). Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud has great recognition skills plus the speed and power to hunt down and punish ball carriers.
When the Patriots PassWhat can Tom Brady do for an encore? After picking apart Tennessee’s inexperienced and injury-riddled secondary for six touchdowns, Brady’s task will be tougher today because the Buccaneers have versatile and tough defensive backs. What separates Brady from most quarterbacks is his ability to read defenses and process information quickly. While many would answer the question, “Who is Tom Brady’s favorite target?’’ with “Wes Welker,’’ the true answer is “The open guy.’’ It helps that Brady’s top receivers are the sure-handed Welker and the electric Randy Moss. Teams know Welker will be targeted 10-15 times per game but they still can’t stop him. When Brady looks for the big play, he looks to Moss, who has tremendous acceleration and will hit top speed quickly. Tampa right corner Ronde Barber has excellent instincts and can mirror receiver moves. He’s quick on the backpedal and has tremendous closing burst. Just when you think he’s out of a play, he appears in a flash and knocks the ball down or picks it off. Left corner Aqib Talib has a nifty combination of size and speed and uses his long arms to knock down balls and reroute receivers. Safeties Sabby Piscitelli (he’s tough with good range) and Tanard Jackson (he’s a hard hitter with good speed) provide excellent support.
When the Buccaneers runCadillac Williams leads this struggling rushing attack. Williams is a patient, slashing-style runner with excellent vision. Leg injuries have robbed him of some of his explosiveness but he still has good stop-and-start ability and change-of-direction skills. Williams runs low and will deliver a blow on impact. He will exploit cutback lanes but is sometimes guilty of being too patient and will get buried looking for the perfect crease. Derrick Ward is among the best second-stringers in the league. A bruising, 5-foot-11-inch, 228-pounder, Ward’s best assets are strength and vision. He sets up blocks well and will slide through holes with good pad level. Ward has thick, powerful legs and will blow through arm tacklers. He’d be the starter on a lot of teams and could end up in that role on this team. Veteran center Jeff Faine is the leader of the offensive line. A hard-nosed and knowledgeable player, Faine has excellent burst off the ball and strong arms. Faine (6-3, 291) will be in constant battle with widebody nose tackle Vince Wilfork today. Wilfork, despite his girth, has excellent horizontal quickness, allowing him to slide down the line and make plays in traffic and open spaces. Wilfork and fellow linemen Ty Warren, Mike Wright, and Green excel at occupying blockers and cutting off escape routes. This allows the linebackers (the pad-thumping Jerod Mayo, in particular) a more direct path to the ball.
When the Buccaneers passThis has all the makings of a long day for young Josh Johnson, the Buccaneers starting quarterback. While he has a nifty set of physical skills, including a 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound frame, excellent mobility, and a decent arm, he doesn’t have the experience to handle a Bill Belichick defense that is coming into its own. A second-year player, Johnson was drafted as a project but has been thrust into a starting role. He can buy time in the pocket with quick feet but has yet to show he can quickly break down a defense and exploit its weaknesses. Johnson does have solid weapons in receivers Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, and tight end Kellen Winslow. Bryant explodes off the line, runs precise patterns, and has strong hands but also has a tendency to take plays off, although his concentration has improved. Clayton, though slowed by a hamstring injury, has great size and is fearless going over the middle. Stovall doesn’t have the burst to be a downfield threat. He thrives in the possession game. Winslow has the talent to be a game-breaker. He gets off the line quickly, changes directions fluidly, and will gain separation from linebackers and safeties. A key to the Patriots pass defense has been the emergence of smart, physical safeties Brandon McGowan (he has good recognition skills and range) and Brandon Meriweather. (he loves to lower the boom).
Buccaneers' keys to victory1. Double-decker: The tailback tandem of Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward has to find the holes to keep the chains moving and the clock ticking.
2. Rolling stones: Defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson and Stylez G. White must keep pushing forward to collapse the pocket and knock down Tom Brady.
3. Bangers: Safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson must make their hits count - whether it's in pass coverage or run support.
Patriots' keys to victory1. British airways: Tom Brady needs to deliver a few quick, deep hits to build an early lead and prevent the underdogs from thinking they can grab their first win.
2. Bowling end: Jekyll-and-Hyde tight end Benjamin Watson has to come up big in the passing game to give Brady (and his depleted receiving corps) another option.
3. Breaking the wicket: Linebacker Adalius Thomas has a shot at redemption. Look for him to play like a man possessed as he tries to send Bill Belichick a message.
Buccaneers' key playerKellen Winslow
One thing is for sure, he's not your father's tight end. Blessed with tremendous physical gifts, Junior is known as much for his off-fi eld rants ("I'm a soldier") and foolish behavior (remember his motorcycle stunt?) than his exploits on the gridiron.
How he beats you: With excellent burst and soft hands. Winslow gets open quickly, catches everything thrown to him, and will break tackles.
How to shut him down: By getting physical. When he takes a pounding, he gets worn down physically and mentally. Once he starts yapping, he's done for the day.