It’s been just two months since the Patriots last saw the Bills and put 500 yards up on them, but now the Patriots are a different team, especially on offense, and must find new avenues to deal with Rex Ryan.
The good news is that Sebastian Vollmer
, Marcus Cannon
and Tre Jackson all returned to practice this week, meaning the Pats could have a healthy offensive line for the first time since losing Nate Solder in Week 5. Since Solder went down it’s been a tackle apocalypse and we certainly don’t want to keep rolling out the makeshift offensive line against a defensive front like Buffalo’s.
The Bills are coming off their biggest win of the season over the Jets and have won two-straight. They’re currently 3-1 in the division and very much in the thick of the wild card hunt, so this will be a confident team that should play loose.
Here’s the gameplan to put them down in front of a national audience.
Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis accounted for 247 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills in the first game and now the Pats have to figure out a way to replace that production. The biggest issue is that when you look back over the years at how the offense has faired against Rex Ryan’s defenses, it’s the shifty receivers, tight ends and running backs doing most of the damage in the passing game.
Outside receivers like Randy Moss, Brandon LaFell and even Aaron Dobson are just complimentary pieces in these gameplans usually. What gets it done against Rex’s scheme are the quick man-beaters and I wonder how the Pats can adjust without their most reliable man-beater.
The Bills will likely overcommit to take Gronkowski out of the game. Which means LaFell, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Keshawn Martin will have to step up and play bigger roles.
By the same token, the Pats must find some passing production with their running backs. They didn’t do much with James White or Brandon Bolden against the Giants, but this gameplan is going to require them to be involved. The Bills are 32nd in the NFL covering running backs by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. They must be attacked there.
The Pats ran the ball just 15 times in Week 2, a sign of respect for the Bills’ defense, but with reduced passing weapons will they be forced to feed LeGarrette Blount a bit more? Blount was just coming off his one week suspension in Week 2, and that could’ve been a factor as well.
Still, this is Rex Ryan and we know how he will attack Brady and it’s often effective. Their corners Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore are playing very well right now, and you have to wonder if one of them sees significant time on Gronk, likely Gilmore.
There’s no question LaFell and Amendola are the big keys if the Bills are actually able to take Gronk away. But the two guys I’m more interested in are Dobson/Martin and Scott Chandler. Dobson intrigues me with his size, but no one knows for sure if he or Martin is higher on the depth chart at the moment.
Yes, the Pats lose a significant player without Edelman, but what they’ll be forced to evolve to is a bigger lineup. This could be the game we’ve all been waiting for from Chandler.
But even if it’s not him, someone is going to have to step up and play a bigger role, especially on third down. If I was Rex I would double Amendola and Gronk on third downs and force Brady to go anywhere else.
The Bills moved the ball right down the field on their opening drive in Week 2 with the Pats playing their usual Cover-1 Man defense, but then the Pats shifted to a Cover-3 for most of the rest of the game and it shut the Bills down until they started letting Tyrod Taylorout of the pocket.
Yes, the BIlls had three touchdown drives with some explosive plays to make the game appear closer than it was. Still, those plays are concerning and should give the Bills more confidence coming into this one than they might’ve had if the Pats kept the throttle down when they were up 37-13.
The Patriots do prefer man defense, so it will be interesting to see if they start out immediately with the Cover-3 coverage that was successful for them. With mobile quarterbacks it’s often better to be in zone anyway since all the coverage defenders aren’t totally consumed with their receiver, allowing the quarterback to make a break for it when he sees an opening.
For that same reason expect a steady and disciplined pass rush designed to keep Taylor in the pocket with one spy dropping off the rush and mirroring him.
But the biggest aspect of the Bills is their run game, ranked #1 by Football Outsiders DVOA and 2nd overall in rushing yards. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ run defense has been outstanding in recent weeks after being a big question mark early in the season and are currently ranked #1 in rushing yards allowed but only 12th in DVOA. This is likely where the game is won or lost and will definitely prove whether or not the Patriots’ run defense is legitimately one of the best in the NFL.
Shut down McCoy and Williams, and force Taylor to beat you from the pocket on long third downs. That’s the recipe for success.
One other interesting area is the Bills are just behind the Pats, ranking 6th in turnover differential. The Patriots often rely on turnovers and if the Bills play as safe with the ball as they have been in recent weeks they might hang around until the end.
Points of Emphasis
1. Stop the Run: Easily a cliche that could be used every week, but this week it’s an essential key given the run game is the lifeblood of the Bills offense. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch have been outstanding in recent weeks, as have the other rotational DTs. This week we’ll see just how good they really are.
2. Brady-to-Chandler: With Gronk likely doubled and Amendola likely to be locked in a tough matchup with Darby, the Pats must find another reliable option to carry them to January. Scott Chandler has been just a bit out of sync with Brady so far, hitting a few good plays, but also missing some. Chandler could be the forgotten man in Buffalo’s gameplan, opening the door for a breakout game against his former team.
3. Jame White, Now is the Time: For similar reasons to the matchups above, and the Bills’ struggles to cover running backs in the passing game, this is a good time to see what we have with James White. He was solid in a limited role against the Giants, but I’d love to see him get thrown into the fire against the Bills. He might very well make some noise.
4. Disciplined Rush: If they’re stopping the run, the next step is to keep Tyrod Taylor in the pocket and few teams have the kind of discipline to do so like the Patriots do. The Pats shut down Taylor last time until he started getting out of the pocket and making plays downfield. Containing him is vital.
5. Win: Always the fifth key because it’s all that matters, a win here would essentially seal the AFC East title and it’s not even December yet. But most important is finding out how the offense will evolve now without Edelman. They need another threat to step up to stress the defense. Whether it’s White, Chandler, Dobson or Martin who will have Brady’s trust? Then, when Edelman gets back for the playoffs, the Pats will be even deeper and more difficult to stop.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 9