Passing Chart - Tom Brady
For the second week in a row, Tom Brady's deep attempts were limited.
Without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, Brady was missing one of his best deep threats, but the Bucs also played a lot of quarters coverages designed to protect against big plays.
In the last two weeks, in particular, opposing defenses have game planned to prevent Tom Brady from throwing deep passes. Brady was attempting passes beyond 20 yards downfield at a career-high rate in the first three games of the season, attempting a deep pass on 20% of his pass attempts.
Over the last two weeks, that number has dropped to 9.4%.
Brady continues to hang onto the ball longer this season than last, however, as his time to throw against the Bucs was still 2.64 seconds, according to Pro Football Focus. That figure was at 2.49 seconds a year ago (8th-fastest in NFL).
Danny Amendola continues to be one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL.
Amendola has spent 86.1% of his snaps in the slot, which is the third-most in the NFL, and has gained 233 yards this season from the slot, which ranks second only behind the Giants' Sterling Shepard (244).
Amendola is on pace to have his first career 1,000-yard season, and will likely shatter his career-high in receiving yards if he can stay healthy (689 yards with Rams in 2010).
He has also been moving the sticks at a higher rate this season than ever before in his career, picking up a first down on 69.6% of his receptions, which would also be a career high.
Chris Hogan also continues to have success lining up inside, especially on his career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. Three of Hogan's five touchdown grabs this year have come in the slot, and 212 of his 288 receiving yards as well.
Pass protection continues to be a major area of concern for the Patriots offense.
Left guard Joe Thuney had his worst game of the season allowing a team-high six pressures and Nate Solder had another down game after playing well against Carolina.
It's no secret anymore that Tom Brady is taking a lot of hits this season. He has already been sacked more times this season (16) than in all of his 12 games last season (15) and is on pace to be sacked a career-high 51 times.
The Patriots offensive line has allowed over 15 pressures per game this season, and once Week 5 is complete they'll likely rank in the bottom four in terms of total pressures allowed on the season.
Offensively, pass protection is the biggest weakness on this team.
Pass Rush/Run Stops
Trey Flowers continues to lead the way in terms of rushing the passer, and the return to the lineup for Dont'a Hightower has also added a much-needed boost.
Hightower's usage is an interesting storyline to monitor. The experiment to play him more out on the edge hasn't been a complete failure, but it does feel like they need him to make a bigger impact both rushing the passer and possibly dropping into coverage.
Both Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts have struggled at linebacker for the Patriots in coverage, and neither brings much when rushing the passer either.
One of Hightower's biggest strengths is blitzing through the middle of the offensive line. In the past, he's been one of the most productive pass rush rushing inside linebackers in the NFL, and is probably better than the other options in coverage as well.
Hightower played a season-high 22 snaps at inside linebacker against the Bucs, after playing nearly exclusively on the edge in Week's 1 and 4, logging 67 of his 70 snaps at outside linebacker.
Moving Hightower back to inside the defense worked out well against the Bucs, and you'd expect that he'll continue to play there more often.
It was indeed a bounce-back game for Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore was tasked with covering Bucs WR Mike Evans for most of the game and held Evans in check as he finished with just 5 catches for 49 yards.
One of the receptions Gilmore allowed, however, was on a 3rd and 15 conversion by the Bucs late in the 4th quarter. The 29-yard connection between Jameis Winston and DeSean Jackson was a perfect example of the only consist opening the Bucs found in the Pats secondary on Thursday Night, out routes.
The Patriots played a lot of cover-3 zone against the vertical Bucs attack, and out routes are difficult to stop when you play that kind of coverage.
Other than that, Gilmore was nearly flawless in this one, allowing Evans to catch just three passes against him in coverage, and deserves a lot of credit for bouncing back after a tough game in Week 4.
The Patriots were also led by strong performances by safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty.
Chung was primarily on Bucs tight end Cameron Brate and allowed just four receptions on eight targets. Chung did allow a touchdown to Brate in the fourth quarter, but even that was decent coverage, and just a good throw and catch. Also, three of Chung's four incompletions, when targeted, were a result of a pass breakup.
The Pats did surrender over 300 yards passing for the fifth straight game, however, which happens to be an NFL record. But it was a much cleaner performance in terms of communication and something to build on going forward.
(h/t Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)