Their backs are against the wall, and they know it.
The New England Patriots absolutely can't afford to lose this game against the Buffalo Bills; not just because it is their first divisional game of the season, but because a loss to the Bills would mark their third consecutive loss of the season.
The Patriots will need a game plan, but luckily for them, they have one of the best game-planning head coaches in the NFL on their side.
They need only look back at the success and failure of the Bills' other opponents for an idea of what to do—and what not to do—this Sunday to come out of Buffalo with a victory.
Expose a Vulnerable Back Seven
If the Buffalo Bills secondary is improved, they have yet to prove it against any top quarterbacks.
This Sunday will be their first true test since the season began.
Let's not forget, either, that this is a secondary that was lit up by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez—who currently has the league's lowest completion percentage at 50.5—for a completion rate of 70.4 and a passer rating of 123.4.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is only eight spots and six percentage points ahead of Sanchez in the completion percentage department, but he was able to hit 62.8 percent of his passes against the Bills.
One of the Bills' biggest weaknesses in coverage is at the linebacker spot, and we saw that firsthand when they traveled to Cleveland to take on the Browns.
The Browns take the field on the 2nd-and-15 play in the 12 personnel package—one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers.
The Bills respond to the formation with their base 4-3 personnel, manning up their corners on Cleveland's receivers on the offense's left.
This is a bread-and-butter formation for the Patriots when they have both their tight ends, but with Aaron Hernandez out, they may not be in this formation as much. Still, they can learn a thing or two from this play.
The Browns used the play-action fake to freeze the linebackers, allowing tight end Jordan Cameron to streak up the seam completely open.
Weeden delivered a dart right on target (although the window was big enough that Augustus Gloop could have climbed through it without the aid of a pressurized chocolate tube), and the tight end picked up 18 yards and the first down before being brought down by Bills safety George Wilson.
The Patriots have a weapon at tight end of their own in Rob Gronkowski, who has dominated the Bills every time they have played.
With the success the Browns had targeting Cameron (five receptions, 45 yards), the Patriots will probably be looking Gronkowski's way with frequency. The Patriots could also try to get wide receiver Wes Welker matched up on a linebacker, as they often do.
Either way, the linebackers in coverage are a weak link in the Bills defense that figures to be the focal point of the Patriots' offensive attack. The play-action passing game is a great way to get it done, especially if the Bills linebackers show the lack of awareness that was on display in the above example.
Make the Bills One-Dimensional on Offense
Minus one 56-yard gain by C.J. Spiller in the first half, the Jets largely shut down the Bills' running game, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry outside of that one long run. The Patriots will have to get back on track against the run in the first half. They started out red-hot against the Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Johnson—aka CJ0K—but have cooled off slowly since then.
Even after two big plays in the passing game gave the Bills an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter, the Browns were able to climb back in it and bring it within a score before halftime.
If the Patriots can find a way to take the ball out of the hands of the running backs and force Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them with his arm, they stand a much better chance of coming out of Buffalo with a win.
The Bills have a serviceable passing game, as evidenced by their 95.2 passer rating (11th-best in the league), but make no mistake—it's their running game that's the biggest threat.
They will have Fred Jackson back, who has dominated the Patriots in eight career contests with 465 yards rushing on 93 carries (five yards per carry) and 233 receiving yards on 21 catches.
They don't have to play so cautiously with the Bills, who rarely take deep shots—only 11.6 percent of Fitzpatrick's tosses have traveled deeper than 15 yards in the air, and the quarterback currently possesses the ninth-lowest YPA average in the NFL.
The cornerbacks should be playing close to the line as a result, since the Bills lack a true deep threat outside of wide receiver T.J. Graham. That will allow them to better defend outside runs, which have become a specialty for Jackson, but it starts with the ability of the defensive line to create penetration against one of the better offensive lines in the league.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!