Bills vs. Patriots: Drawing Up a Game Plan for New England
The New England Patriots cannot overlook any opponent this year. That even holds true of the Buffalo Bills, who rode a magical carriage to a 21-7 lead in the third quarter before it turned into a 52-28 pumpkin when the clock struck midnight—erm, 0:00.
If the Patriots pull off the clean sweep, it will be the 10th time they have done so in 13 years under head coach Bill Belichick. If the Bills pull off the upset, it will put them at .500 against the Patriots over the past two years—a feat they haven't accomplished since before Belichick took the reins.
That being said, nothing is guaranteed. Not in this year's upside-down unpredictable NFL.
Belichick probably doesn't need my help, but here's a game plan the Patriots could follow to a win on Sunday.
No Need to Blitz
They should quickly get back to their conservative ways against the Bills.
Pressure has a way of rattling quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the blitz has been less effective. Thus, their best bet is to go with a four-man rush. Fitzpatrick has proven that he will make mistakes if a defense is patient enough to wait for them.
Take this poor decision, for example, which came with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter against the Titans. The Bills were clinging to a six-point lead, and the last thing they could afford was a turnover to give the Titans new life.
The three-man rush got to Fitzpatrick rather quickly. Instead of taking the sack and allowing the clock to continue running (or at least forcing Tennessee to use one of its timeouts), he threw an errant pass to a covered Stevie Johnson, allowing Titans cornerback Jason McCourty to step in front of the throw and make the pick.
The Patriots learned not to blitz Fitzpatrick in their last meeting, when he went 4-for-4 for 58 yards when the Patriots sent extra defenders after the quarterback. That being said, their best bet remains to get pressure with the front four.
The best way to do it is by disrupting the timing of his receivers. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Fitzpatrick is not only one of the best quarterbacks at getting rid of the ball quickly, but he's also highly efficient when he gets the ball out in less than 2.5 seconds. Forcing him to hang onto the ball is a good way to get pressure on him and, in turn, force mistakes.
Take Advantage of a Depleted Secondary
Injuries have ravaged the Bills secondary, with Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers and Stephon Gilmore all listed on the team's injury report. The Bills also placed cornerback Terrence McGee on injured reserve this past week.
It could be a big day for Tom Brady if he's able to expose a depleted secondary. Given the struggles the Bills have had in defending the pass this year, that may have happened regardless, but against the Patriots, it could be especially deadly.
Not just because of Brady, either, but also because the Patriots were exceedingly successful at running the ball against favorable looks in their last meeting with the Bills. If the Bills struggle to clog the passing lanes, they may be resigned to loading up in coverage and allowing the running game to go off.
Are the Bills going to load up to stop the pass, daring New England to run as they did last time? Or will they try to make New England one-dimensional in its offensive attack?
"I think they were really challenging us to run the ball. They had some little guys on the field with our big personnel groupings, so at that point you have to try to take advantage of it," Brady said after the game (according to ESPN). "You can't just keep throwing into a heavy pass defense, so we ran it."
What do the Bills need to shut down the most?
This is especially true given the constant dilemma of defending tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Will the Bills put a defensive back on the tight ends in coverage and open themselves up to potential disaster on the ground? Or will they match up their unathletic linebackers on the Patriots tight ends to mitigate the ground game, but opening themselves up to dominant performances from the Boston TE Party?
It seems to be a pick-your-poison scenario for the Bills defense, which allowed two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers for only the second time in NFL history. If there's one thing we know about the Patriots offense, besides that they can put up points, it's that they can make an opponent pay for selling out against either the run or the pass.
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.
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