Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat(s) of the Week

What stats are we going to talk about this week?

How about the number five; the amount of Super Bowls Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have won together.

Or, maybe we could talk about the number 14; the number of AFC East division championships the Patriots have won since Brady became the starter in 2001.

If not those, then certainly we could talk about the number 210; the amount of wins Brady has as an NFL quarterback, which is the most in league history.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick - Photo by: Getty Images
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – Photo by: Getty Images

We could talk about any of those numbers and more, if we wanted to. The Patriots and the dynasty of Brady and Belichick contains some of the greatest numbers and statistics the game of football has to offer. But we don’t have to talk about any of those numbers for the Patriots’ preview against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday. You know why? Because they don’t matter.

Regardless of how many Super Bowls your players or coaches have won or how many Pro Bowls you’ve been to, every game you play starts the same; 0-0.

And, no, I’m not undermining or taking any respect away from what is probably going to be the greatest quarterback and coach to ever grace the game of football. But, what they’ve done in the past doesn’t mean as much as what they’re doing currently, and currently the Patriots are 2-2 – not undefeated and on their way to a perfect season like some thought they would be.

The Buccaneers aren’t getting the 2001 Patriots on Thursday. They’re not getting the 2007, the 2014 or the 2016 Patriots, either.

So, what do the 2017 Patriots bring to the table?

Let’s start with their defense.

The Patriots defense is currently ranked dead last in the NFL in total yards given up per game (456, which is the most by 60 yards), passing yards given up per game (324) and most touchdowns surrendered through the air (11). They’re second to last in total points given up (128), and subsequently, points given up per game (32). They’re also the second worst team in the NFL in rushing yards given up per attempt with an average of 5.1. The team is also tied for the fifth worst total sacks on the season with eight.

So, for your “too long; didn’t read” version: The Patriots defense is really bad – or has been for the first four games.

There was quite a bit of turnover from the Patriots’ roster that led to the drop off we’re seeing now. Pass rushers Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins were both traded at different points in 2016. The team lost Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and Barkevious Mingo before the season began, and they also said goodbye to Jabaal Sheard and Logan Ryan in free agency. I don’t care how you slice it, that’s a lot of change, on the defensive line especially, which explains the inability to get the quarterback and stop the run.

The team signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to replace Ryan, but he’s having communication issues thus far. With a then-depleted defensive line after free agency, the team drafted pass rusher Derek Rivers in the third round, but he tore his ACL in early August. The Pats also traded for defensive end Kony Ealy, but once he got to New England, he wasn’t what they thought and he was cut near the end of training camp.

The Patriots have good pieces in the secondary, on paper, but if you take out Dont’a Hightower, who has been injured already this season, that New England front seven isn’t intimidating. David Harris and Kyle Van Noy aren’t very athletic at the linebacker spots, and minus a surprisingly good start from rookie Deatrich Wise, the Pats aren’t getting much control from their down linemen.

So, let’s move to the offense.

During the course of the offseason and training camp, the Patriots offense had just as powerful of a shift of preference, but it was because of a small number of key players moving out and in and not by the sheer number of moving pieces like it was on the defense. They lost tight end Martellus Bennett in free agency, but also acquired receiver Brandin Cooks from the Saints. The biggest loss, however, was when key receiver Julian Edelman tore his ACL at the end of August.

Patriots QB Tom Brady - Photo by: Getty Images
Patriots QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

With those things in mind, the average offensive numbers have shifted for the Patriots. For starters, Brady is having his best statistical season at age 40. He’s averaging the most yards per attempt in his career (9.0), the most passing yards per game in his career (349), leads the league in passing yards thus far (1,399) and currently has a 10-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Brady’s numbers are a result of a few things. First of all, his defense is terrible, so if the Patriots offense doesn’t do everything they can, they’ll lose games (we saw that last week against Carolina). Second, Brady doesn’t have the plethora of slot weapons he’s used to having, especially with his main one, Edelman, being out. Danny Amendola is doing fine as a replacement, but he’s no Edelman. Instead, they’re trying to replace the total receiver production with Cooks and Chris Hogan. Those two players aren’t the quick-hit receivers like we’re used to seeing from the Patriots. Instead, their success is farther down the field, hence the inflated numbers for Brady.

The Patriots certainly can be a quick-hit offense as they move the ball down the field, at times, but it’s not a certain as it once was – that can be a good or bad thing for an opposing defense, depending on how they play it. With receivers who do more damage down the field, Brady has also been sacked 13 times already, which puts him on pace for the most sacks he’ll take in a single season.

In conclusion, the Pats aren’t what you think they are, but they’re no pushovers, either. This is still a very talented offense with two of the most creative offensive minds, both on the headset and at the quarterback position. If you don’t play on your game, the Pats can still work you, as they did against the Saints. However, as the Chiefs, Panthers and even the Texans showed, if you attack the weaknesses they have and instead flip the tables, demanding that the Patriots’ offense be perfect, that mean there’s likely a thermal exhaust port somewhere.

If there’s a port, you can blow it up.

Click to the next page to see some film breakdowns of just where the Patriots defense fails them and the 2017 preferences of how Brady attacks through the air.


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  1. Oh, and which team did they first videotape back in the day???

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  2. The DeathStar has a weakness. It’s when they rear back to fire their primary weapon. We must get to this primary weapon to disable the DeathStar.

    “And should we win the game, Thursday night will no longer be known as color rush, but as the day the Buc Nation declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!’ Today we Siege the Day!” lol.

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  3. I’m very worried about the defense putting up enough resistance to give the offense a chance to win the game. The Texans & Panthers have two of the best defenses in the league and the Pats hung 36 & 30 on them respectively. They scored on 6 of their 9 possessions vs the Panthers. Yet they held the Pats to 2 FG’s inside the 25. Gotta find a way to force some FG’s and 2 or 3 short drives.

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  4. If the Bucs run out of a double TE formation as well as pass I think the Patriots front seven struggles.

    Their secondary is too talented to be giving up big plays downfield. But Evans, DjAx and Humprhies all are different types of players as receivers and that the Patriots haven’t seen such a combo this year.

    Defensively, if the Bucs stick with off coverage most of the game they lose. Period.

    Hargreaves and Grimes have shown they can match up with Cooks. Gronk is the mismatch the Patriots will be looking at.

    However, the Bucs D-line has more power and agility than the Patriots o-line. McCoy needs to generate some sacks in this game as well as some outside pressure from Spence, Ayers, and Smith.

    The story of the game will be Bucs running game/play action and pass rush.

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    • Gronk will always get his, and the way the Bucs play defense, it doesn’t look like they’ll be slowing him down. But, if he’s the only one beating you, you can still out-score them. Can’t let it be a full offensive boost, though.

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      • We probably can expect to see Gronk get his targets and then catch a majority of those balls. But we can put some pressure on Brady as he drops back so that he doesn’t have time to find Gronk on every play. Likewise, our very capable linebackers Beckwith and Glanton may not be able to defend the passes to Gronk, but they are very capable tacklers who can put the wood to Gronk to limit his YAC. Even VHIII, being obviously smaller than our LBs, is still a very capable tackler should Gronk get outside and downfield.

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  5. This game will obviously be a big challenge for our Bucs, even if the Pats are not destroying everybody with their Death Star so far. We have seen time and time again a team that is written off as having a poor offensive line, or a leaky defense, or a quarterback who is not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers ought to be a piece of cake to beat, only to have that element of the opponent put on a clinic against the Bucs.

    But we can still beat these guys. Jameis has to have a great game, equal to or better than last week’s performance. Doug Martin simply has to perform at his best. The pass rush simply has to get to Brady at least some of the time. Our new LBs simply have to be on top of their game, and Ward must play at 100%. That’s a lot of “musts”, but it’s also achievable.

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  6. NFL network profiled the Pats defensive woes and had a graphic on the screen showing them ranked dead last in almost every category. My first thought was that the Bucs have a tendency to be the team that gets a struggling team back on track. I’ve just seen in so many times. I hope I’m wrong this time. I just hope the Bucs don’t play scared. Positive mindset alone will not win the game. But going in with fear that these Pats are the Pats of previous dominance will doom the Bucs to a flat performance. In the end this game is going to be decided by which team’s defense has the better day. I expect the Pats to put up some points. The question is whether the Bucs offense can keep pace against their defense. If so, then it will be a shootout and it could go either way. If not, it will be a blowout for the Pats.

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  7. I believe the key to the game is the running game. Keep Brady off the field with extended drives and wear out their defense. With Doug coming back it would be a great statement if he had one of his better days

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  8. There is no team I hate more than the Patriots because of Brady and Belichik. I’ll probably feel differently about the Patriots after they retire. However, I also think Belichik is the greatest HC in NFL history and I think he’s at his greatest when the media doubts him or his team is coming off a loss. If the Pats hadn’t lost last week I would think we had a chance to win, but coming off a loss I think the Bucs offense won’t be able to keep up score for score with Brady. I also think Belichik will switch up his personnel on defense to get better matchups against our TE’s and RB’s. He may start a guy on defense who exclusively played on special teams up to this point to send a message to the rest of the LB’s on defense.

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  9. I think the Bucs should be 70% pass and 30% run in this game to exploit the New England weaknesses.
    If the Bucs are fortunate enough to get a two score lead in the second half then of course I would lean on the run game a lot more.

    Jamies is becoming a dominant player and I hope the Bucs use his skills against the Patriots defense that has struggled this year.

    Jameis is in the Top 10 in the NFL in passer rating, #3 in yards per game and #6 in yards per attempt.

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  10. I’m not worried. Tom Brady is good, but he’s no Case Keenum.

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    • haha I damn near spit my soda out reading that.

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    • Lmao

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    • LOL! Keenum is Buc’s kryptonite!

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  11. I think Doug is the key. If we can get him going early that will take a lot of pressure off of the D and Jameis early in the game and allow him to calm down and start shredding the pats D. Because I have a feeling Jameis is gunna be a little too amped up the first drive.
    Also if we get Doug going then that’s going to increase the o-lines confidence and set up our play action the rest of the game which is Jameis’ bread and butter.
    I’m predicting that we will have the most impactful quarterback and tight end on the field tomorrow night and get Tom Brady’s first int of the year. Bucs pull out the big win!
    Go Bucs!!

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  12. Well now that we know Smith is gone, I feel worse about getting sack #2. Just can’t believe that we only have 1 through 3 games. It helps on 2nd and 20 to get a sack instead of an immediate 1st down that looked way to easy for a backup QB. How about a spin move every once in a while. Long trip all the way around the outside, kust to have the QB step up into the pocket. I’m not too excited about Evans having to start at safety. I think he will be great eventually, but Brady has got to be drooling. I think GMC takling a RB is just as good as a sack though, and he has 4 or 5 of those. Doesnt help much when they can pick up 2nd or 3rd and 15 easily on the next play.
    Honestly I think whoever wins the turnover battle wins the game. Hopefully they force a few fumbles, because Brady doesnt look like he will throw any picks. Always low or high and away with placement. Lives to play another down if it isnt there and the WR cant make the catch.
    All I know os that I’m having trouble sleeping and I’m just a fan who lives in Texas.
    Imagine what must be going through Winston’s head. I just really hope we don’t get blown out.
    Also if Winston is nervous at all, it might get ugly. Hopefully his mind is sharp and he plays like I know he can. Usually the pressure of thinking he has to pass it here, or we have to come back or we need to get Jackson involved now, leads to bad decisions and interceptions. If we turn the ball over, we will be down 14 or 21 in a hurry.
    Alright, I’m done rambling. Please God GO BUCS!!!!!

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