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10 things you have to know about Bucs-Patriots

09.21.13 at 9:00 am ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Buccaneers game.

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:

1. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Vincent Jackson Talib was not necessarily brought in to shut down the opposing team’€™s No. 1 receiver — it was more to match up in man coverage on the longest and most physical of the pass catchers — but this is one of the those occasions where Jackson fits both descriptions. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is one of the best and most versatile receivers the Patriots have faced over the last few years. (Remember how he scalded Devin McCourty early in the 2011 season when he was with the Chargers? In that one, he had 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns.) Part of his brilliance comes in the fact that he can line up in multiple spots, including the slot. Earlier in the week, Talib did an excellent job breaking down Jackson’€™s vast array of talents, saying Jackson ‘€œruns routes like a smaller guy, and he runs deep balls like a 6-foot-4 guy. He has the best of both worlds as a wideout [and is] real hard to defend. He brings that quickness to the table, so he can get in the slot and still get open. He definitely brings both sides to the table.’€

2. Quarterback Tom Brady against cornerback Darrelle Revis We’€™re not going to fully commit to the idea of Revis manning up on Julian Edelman — Revis himself reportedly has voiced displeasure over the fact that the Bucs aren’€™t playing enough man-to-man — but the the all-world corner matching skills with Brady certainly will provide some compelling theatre. Since 2009, Revis has faced Brady and the Patriots on seven occasions, and according to Pro Football Focus, the quarterback has done pretty well against the corner. In all, Brady has completed 20-of-39 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns with one interception with Revis in coverage. Revis will get his shot at bettering those numbers when the two meet again Sunday.

3. The Bucs against themselves – The Buccaneers have a world of individual talent on both sides of the ball, but through the first two games of the year they’€™ve have done a good job of self-destructing. Through two games, no team had more penalties (23) and more penalty yardage assessed against it than Tampa Bay (220). The Bucs have lost a pair of field goal games at the buzzer, one in the season opener to the Jets (when a late flag — the third of three personal fouls assessed to Tampa Bay) allowed New York to get into field goal range as time expired) and last week vs. the Saints, when Drew Brees led New Orleans to a 16-14 last-second win. Toss in the various reports of team unrest, a case of MRSA, and a reported trade request made by Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman, and it’€™s shaping up to be a long year for the Bucs. Not saying they won’€™t give you everything they have, but to this point, Tampa has come up short in the biggest moments of the 2013 season.

4. Under-the-radar opponent Patriots fans need to know – He’€™s not a household name, but Dashon Goldson is one of the more underrated defensive backs out there, and he will present problems for the Patriots for several reasons, not the least of which being he’€™s developed a rep as a headhunter. Goldson, who appealed and won the decision after a one-game suspension for an incident against the Saints last week, will play on Sunday, with a track record of recklessness. He’€™s committed a whopping 15 personal fouls since the start of the 2010 season, the most in the league, and while his latest violation didn’€™t get him suspended, it was Goldson’€™s fifth for unnecessary roughness since 2011 and his second in the first two weeks of the 2013 season.

5. By the numbers: Percentage-wise, no receiver accounts for more of his team’€™s total receptions through the first two games of the season than Jackson. He’€™s caught 12 of the 24 passes Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman has completed over the course of his first two games, a 50 percent rate. The only two receivers who were close to Jackson in terms of percentage over the first two weeks were Edelman and Philly’€™s DeSean Jackson, both of whom accounted for 42 percent of their teams receptions in that same span.

(One more for good measure: through two weeks, the Patriots offense has gone no-huddle on 13 plays, or 11.8 percent of time. For comparison, the Pats went no-huddle an average of 25 percent per game over the last two years.)

6. Quote of note –
‘€œI just assume he’€™s not playing until they tell me that he’€™s going to play. We’€™ve dealt with him injured for a lot of last season too, so you just don’€™t want to ‘€¦ I think we know how to play without him. It’€™ll be a nice little influx of really rare talent when he gets back. I love having him on the field with me, I love working with him. He’€™s been great to work with since the day he got here, so whenever he’€™s back on the game field it’€™ll be exciting for all of us.’€ -- Brady on the potential return of Rob Gronkowski

After being listed as doubtful for the first two games of the regular season, the tight end was upgraded to questionable when the final injury report of the week came out on Friday.

7. Patriots fans should be worried about ‘€¦
Freeman and the Bucs hitting on the deep ball. This clearly was a talking point this week in Foxboro — by my count, no fewer than three defensive players referenced separately the fact that Tampa led the league in big plays last year. (The Bucs actually were first in the NFL in pass plays of 40-plus yards in 2012 with 16.) Another talking point that was likely referenced this week, although one not for media consumption, was GTFB. It’€™s a simple, four-word philosophy ‘€“ not repeatable in polite company — for New England defensive backs that drives home the danger of allowing the big play.

8. Bucs fans should be worried about ‘€¦
another excellent performance from the New England defense. Yes, the first two games came at the expense of rookie quarterbacks, but the numbers are undeniably impressive. The defense yielded three touchdowns on 29 offensive drives, allowed an average of 15.5 points per game, forced six turnovers and has held opponents to a 32.3 conversion rate when it comes to third down (eighth-best in the league). Again, the numbers were against occasionally ragged offenses, but still need to be singled out as exemplary.

9. One more thing –
The rookie receivers will again be in the spotlight Sunday, as the Patriots will continue to force-feed them in an attempt to see if they can join Edelman in helping move the chains. We wrote about this earlier in the week, but it certainly bears repeating: Over the first two weeks of the 2013 season, New England has relied on its rookie receivers in a way no other Tom Brady-offense has done in the past. While targets can occasionally be an imperfect stat, the fact that Kenbrell Thompkins has been targeted 21 times through two games (and is on pace for 168 targets over the course of the regular season) gives you a good idea of what’€™s going on. Thompkins is already almost halfway to the rookie receiving record for targets in New England, established by Edelman in 2009 (54). There was some marked improvement for Thompkins between Week 1 and Week 2, and Aaron Dobson was really in a no-win situation last week — he made his first start during a short week with no padded practices — and so any sort of progression this week should be taken as a good sign. The Patriots and Brady will need them to step their collective game up this week against the Bucs.

10. Prediction:

Read More: Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson, Josh Freeman
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