Tampa Bay's defense has had a rough go of it over the first few weeks of the 2021 season. The level of competition the unit has faced certainly has something to do with it, but overall, the problems have stemmed from within.
Todd Bowles' crew gets a shot to get back on track this week against rookie quarterback Mac Jones and a struggling New England offense that averages just 16.7 points per game through the first three weeks of the season.
So which Bucs can help the defense correct course? Let's take a look at this week's players to watch on defense.
3. S Antoine Winfield Jr.
The Bucs need all of their secondary players and Winfield Jr. is their best overall safety. He's also on the field for 100% of defensive snaps, so he'll literally have some kind of impact on every play.
The Bucs are going to need solid coverage on the back end and one reason why is because the Patriots are going to take some deep shots in this game. That may seem a bit counterintuitive considering the fact that Jones is an inexperienced rookie, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is one of the game's best and he will find the right time to take his shot(s).
And they'll come via Nelson Agholor. Per Sports Info Solutions, Agholor is tied for the third-most targets of 20+ air yards (7) and the ninth-most targets of 30+ air yards (3) among all receivers.
The good news is Jones isn't very good at connecting on these passes: he's completed just two of them for 46 yards. But you want the Patriots to continue to fail and not have success in this area.
A lot of that starts with Winfield, who will need to be on his game Sunday night.
2. OLB Shaquil Barrett
Per Pro Football Focus, Barrett has just five total pressures over the last two weeks after recording six pressures and one sack against the Cowboys in Week 1. That's not good, especially when you're missing Jason Pierre-Paul on the other side of the lineup.
The Bucs pass rush as a whole needs to step up, but that's a different topic for another conversation. However, a great way for the pass rush to get going is for Barrett to pick the pace back up.
There's a chance starting right tackle Trent Brown won't play. If he doesn't, Barrett will have a very good opportunity to make some plays against either Justin Herron or Yasir Durant - the two players who have taken over at right tackle since Brown was injured during the Patriots' Week 1 contest against the Dolphins.
But even if Brown does play, Barrett needs to show that he still has the ability the Bucs saw in 2019 that has led to two big pay days over the last two offseasons.
1. CB Richard Sherman
Tampa Bay's newest addition is not just playing in the Week 4 matchup. He's one of the starting corners.
How will Sherman fare during his first action in nearly 10 months? His last game was the 49ers' Week 15 contest against the Dallas Cowboys. Sherman is known to be one of the smartest players in the league and has reportedly picked up the playbook quicker than expected, but his knowledge of the Bucs defense won't be the only factor that decides his play.
What kind of game shape will he be in? How effectively will he be able to communicate with his teammates in the secondary and on the defense in general? Will he be able to play his usual aggressive game or will he be dialed back a bit due to his new surroundings?
There's plenty to more to watch for, as well. Which is what makes Sherman the top guy to pay attention to on the Bucs defense.
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