Bills vs. Patriots: 9 Keys to the Game for Buffalo

Aaron LowingerContributor INovember 7, 2012

Bills vs. Patriots: 9 Keys to the Game for Buffalo

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    OK, this may be it. 

    The NFL season is short, and the Bills have entered "every game is a must-win" territory.

    If the Buffalo Bills lose to New England, as Las Vegas enthusiastically suggests they will, they'll drop to 3-6 and have the surging Dolphins (now there's an image for you) coming into Orchard Park on short rest ready to feed the Bills a steady diet of Reggie Bush

    The Bills played like a real, bona fide NFL game last Sunday in that they made some plays on offense and defense and didn't make Matt Schaub look like Alex Smith (Week 5) or Mark Sanchez (Week 1), and they managed to "contain" running back wonderboy Arian Foster to only 111 yards on 24 carries. The Bills were in this game until they inexplicably backed off and stole a page out of the Dick Jauron "play not to lose" handbook for inspirational leadership. 

    Am I the only one who thinks a culture of losing is so firmly entrenched in the psyche of the team that they just don't know how to handle themselves in important games? Either way, someone needs a shrink to sort this whole mess out. 

    When Adam Schefter, the NFL King of journalism in 140 characters, broke the news from an anonymous team source that the $100 million man had a torn ligament in his wrist,Coach Chan Gailey appeared shocked:

    "I haven't heard anything about that, I don't know where that came from, but I've heard nothing of that sort. That he had anything wrong with a ligament at all. I had heard nothing about a ligament."

    Or take the backup quarterback position, where we have an inactive player earning more money than what the Bills signed Vince Young for. Or take the situation with the punter, where the Bills replaced a proven veteran with a rookie who's struggled. Or take the face that no one outside the Bills' inner circle, not even Schefter, knows what the parameters of Gailey's contract are. 

    The Bills need some real leadership, both on and off the field, if they are to get this season turned around. And as I've suggested previously, if the Bills don't beat the Patriots, their season can really jettison right off the skids into the bottom of the lake with the quickness of Leodis McKelvin on a punt return. 

Coach with Some Chutzpah

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    For those not in the know, "chutzpah" is Yiddish for a certain kind courage that can be both stupid and admirable. It can often be substituted for "balls." 

    And that's what the Bills need from their coaching staff. What we've seen in recent weeks from the Bills has been highly discouraging. They declined the chance to go for two-point conversions, twice, against the Titans and ended up losing by a point. And against the Texans, when faced with two 4th-and-shorts in enemy territory, they froze up and chickened out. Don't believe me? Here's Gregg Easterbrook's take from his excellent weekly TMQ column on ESPN.com:

    Buck-Buck-Brawckkkkkkk: Trailing 7-0, the Bills had fourth-and-2 on the Texans' 4; amiable, bumbling Buffalo coach Chan Gailey sent in the field goal unit. For the remainder of the contest, Buffalo snapped only once in the Houston red zone. The Bills were a heavy underdog on the road, facing one of the league's top defenses. Settling for three points within view of the goal line was running up the white flag. For about the 10th consecutive season, all Bills fans have to hope for is that the head coach and general manager will be fired and yet another roster housecleaning will begin.

    The Bills will be a heavy underdog on the road again this week in a stadium they haven't won in since 2000, and with their season on the line. The New England defense is nothing like Houston's, so there should be no excuses this time around. The Bills need to roll the dice. If they come up empty, at least the coaches have sent the message to the players that they're all in and it's about winning. 

    Going for it on fourth down, blitzing from the outfield, fake punts, fake kicks, fake water bottles, whatever it takes, the Bills need to coach with a little abandon so the the players can play with that same edge. The team looks so tight and so nervous to lose again (& again & again), they need their coaches to have their best game of the year.

Take Shots Down the Field

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    OK, here's the depressing numbers on Fitzpatrick courtesy of Yahoo! Sports

    BY PASS PLAY                                    CMP

    ATT

    YDS

       CMP%  AVG   LNG TD

     

    INT

     

     Pass Thrown Behind Line of Scrimmage    45     54    302      83.3  5.59      32   2     0
    Pass Thrown 1-10 yds 60 91 582 65.9 6.40 68 6 1
    Pass Thrown 11-20 yds 24 56 428 42.9 7.64 43 5 5
    Pass Thrown 21-30 yds 3 8 89 37.5 11.13 35 2 1
    Pass Thrown 31-40 yds 1 8 34 12.5 4.25 34 0 2
    Pass Thrown 41+ yds 0 1 0 0.0 0.00 0 0 0

    The conclusion: Fitzpatrick is absolutely deadly on short passes and little else. The precipitous drop as soon as the pass is thrown over 10 yards from the line of scrimmage tells the whole story. 

    So, if you're Bill Belichick, (or Wade Phillips, for that matter) what are you worried about in terms of Fitzpatrick? Take into consideration that Fitzpatrick's longest pass play of the season came against the Patriots on a slant to Donald Jones that he broke for 68 yards.

    It's clear that defenses need to play a physical press coverage on the Bills and try to take away the short passing game as much as possible and tempt Fitzpatrick to force throws into interception land, AKA anything more than 10 yards down the field.

    The solution for the Bills is they have to find a way to connect on deep throws. T.J. Graham, Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, and company have all taken turns in getting open down field, but the two interceptions Fitzpatrick has thrown there seem to have the team scared off of the deep ball. And opposing defenses have noticed.

    Perhaps the activation of the perennial prospect Marcus Easley for Sunday's game can be the Bills' version of Bennie Bolden. The Patriots' secondary is by far the team's weakest positional area and the Bills have to try exposing it. 

Make C.J. Spiller the Feature Back

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    For years now, running back Fred Jackson has embodied the competitive heart and soul of this perpetual-underdog franchise. There's simply no end to the positive adjectives which this 31-year-old has rightfully earned. 

    But he's the second best running back on the team and the Bills can't afford to pretend otherwise. 

    That's no knock on Fred Jackson; it's an accolade for C.J. Spiller. Spiller looks like he's capable of being the most dangerous running back in the NFL if only he were given the carries. He's made good so far on his limited action, running at a ridiculous 7.2 yards per carry clip. 

    For a team that's staring its own demise squarely in the face, they need to give their best player more than the 11 touches he got in their 21-9 loss in Houston. 

Commit to the Run

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    After only rushing the ball 15 times against the Houston Texans, Coach Chan Gailey admitted he would have loved to have run the ball more. The Texans' defense was set to take away the run first and challenge Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them through the air. The Texans stared the Bills down, and Gailey blinked. 

    So here's where the first two keys to the game kind of collide into cogent strategy: the Bills need to run the ball no matter how many defenders "crowd the box." They have an athletic and mean offensive line that's seemingly just dying to knock people around. 

    It won't be an easy task—the Patriots have the seventh best run defense in the league, allowing 88.6 yards per game—but it's a task worth chasing. 

Tackle the Patriot Running Back

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    In their Week 4 game, Bennie Bolden ran for 137 yards on 16 carries. Stevan Ridley finished with a modest 106 yards on 22 carries. And the Bills' defense finished with dozens of empty handfuls. 

    But blaming that gashing on poor tackling is only half the story. The coaching from poor man's Burt Reynolds who doubles as Defensive Coordinator left a lot to be desired. The Bills' defense was so geared up to protect against the pass, that Tom Brady ran running play after play—often the same play—right into the heart of the Bills defense.

    Remember that Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams lamented after the game, that "the most discouraging thing about it is they literally ran three running plays. They ran the same thing over and over and over."

    That points to execution, of course, but it also points to the fact that Wannstedt was numb, clueless, whatever you want to call it, about making an adjustment during the game to stop the bleeding. 

Tackle the Patriot Tight End

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    It's been said before, and it will be said as long as Western New York's favorite traitor (in good fun), tight end Rob Gronkowski, continues to terrorize his hometown team. 

    In his five career games against Buffalo, Gronk has mercilessly amassed 418 yards on 27 catches, eight of those, eight, have been touchdowns. 

    Before the Week 4 game got away, we saw safety Jairus Byrd rip a ball loose from Gronk and force a turnover, and we saw rookie Stephon Gilmore break up what would have been a touchdown pass. 

    The Bills secondary will be down Terrence McGee and Aaron Williams. They'll be counting on rookies Justin Rogers and Ron Brooks to support Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin in the defensive backfield.

    This is obviously an area of weakness that Tom Brady will probe early and often. 

Tackle the Hoodie

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    Bill Belichick has to be tied with Zdeno Chara as the most-loathed figure in Buffalo sports. He's a one-man symbol of the everything the Bills are not, and he's been rubbing it into the Bills' faces twice a year for what seems like a lifetime now. 

    Has there been any moment in recent Bills history better than their first win in 15 tries against New England in 2011, when the Bills had the game by the throat, and they ran the clock all the way down so they could kick the winning field goal all while Belichick was having some whiny conniption or another presumably about having to eat his comeuppance on the Golden Rule?

    The Bills' coaching staff needs to have a special week; I don't know how many different ways I can say that. Perhaps they have it in them, perhaps they just need to get lucky.

    All I know is I would love to see this cheater walk off the field so disgruntled he fails to shake Gailey's hand. 

Get Lucky

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    Let's face it: the Patriots are a much better team than the Bills and beating them will require a few big plays from unusual spots. 

    Like Leodis McKelvin in the return game, for example.

    Like WR Marcus Easley playing in his first game of the 2012, on a sideline go route, for example.

    Like rookie CB Ron Brooks, who had a strong showing in the preseason, intercepting a pass and taking it to the house, for example.

    Like DE Mario Williams making a few plays, for example.

    Like S Jairus Byrd forcing a few more fumbles, for example.

    Like DE Alex Carrington blocking another field goal, for example.

    Like DE Kyle Moore looking like what the Bills hoped Shawne Merriman would become, for example. 

    Like QB Ryan Fitzpatrick hitting a receiver in stride, for example. 

Get to Tom Brady

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    Duh.

    It's such a cliché, that I barely feel right in writing it, but there it is. 

    The Bills spent a gazillion dollars on their defensive line in recent years just so they could emulate the New York Giants' front four's success, and it's time they had a similar impact in a game.

    There, that's all.