The Buffalo Bills come to New England this Sunday at 3-5 and in a tie for last place in the AFC East with the New York Jets. To prevent being buried even more, they must leave Foxboro with a win this weekend. The Patriots will be welcoming in a desperate team looking to get their second win against them in as many seasons.
For the Patriots to prevent that from happening and put their foot on the gas to open their second half of the season following their bye week, there are some key things they must do this Sunday. Here are some of the major aspects of this matchup that would help it lean the Patriots' way.
Mario Williams was the absolute prize to be had this March on the free agent market. The Buffalo Bills made a statement, signing him to a six-year contract with a maximum value of $100 million.
Thus far in his Buffalo career, he has shown little of the special talent that the Bills thought they were getting when they made that huge financial commitment to him. However, he does now have three sacks in his last three games, putting him back on the right track. He now has 4.5 through the Bills' first eight games.
The Patriots need to make sure he does not get into a groove early, and a lot of that will fall squarely on the shoulders of their young tackle duo of Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. If they struggle with Williams, tight end Rob Gronkowski will have to reduce his role in the passing game and stay back to chip in, something the Patriots do not want to always have to do.
Williams is still an elite talent and at some point he will show it more consistently. The Patriots just need to hope they do not help wake up the sleeping giant completely.
This has been a major issue for a number of years with the Patriots. The middle of the field continues to be one of the most exposed zones that opens up in the New England coverage. The Bills attacked it as well as anyone in their September loss to the Patriots.
Donald Jones and Scott Chandler both exposed the starting safeties, Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory, in this area and capitalized with touchdowns. That duo may or may not be back again this week after injuries have held both out of the lineup. They have both been limited in practice this week.
Regardless if it is Gregory, Chung, Tavon Wilson or Devin McCourty back deep, they need to at least be competitive in pass defense. To this point in the year they have not been.
In the Patriots' 52-28 victory over Buffalo in Week 4, both Stevan Rildey and Brandon Bolden crossed the 100-yard mark. That kind of success may be unreasonable to expect again from the backfield, but the New England offensive line still has the ability to dominate this high-profile Bills' defensive line featuring names like Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus.
For the Patriots to continue to run as well as they have been, the O-line needs to once again win the battle against the Buffalo front seven that they demoralized so harshly in September.
The possible return of Logan Mankins (limited in practice, calf/hip) would be an incredible spark and further propel the team to another successful day on the ground.
Every player on every defense in the NFL knows that the Patriots want to get the ball in the hands of Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. Despite that, they are both once again having Pro Bowl caliber seasons.
In Week 4, the Bills allowed each of them to cross the 100-yard mark. Until Buffalo shows that they can stop his two top options, Tom Brady should continually put the ball into their hands and take advantage of these two talents.
At some points this year Brady has spread the ball around too much, although he has seemed to be going back to their old Gronkowski-Welker attack as of late. Whether that is based on Josh McDaniels' play-calling or Brady's decision-making, they should continue this until the Bills show any glimmer of hope in shutting these two down in the middle of the field.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger like Brett Favre, just without that high-end talent. He constantly gives defenses a chance to make plays on the ball. His September 30 loss to New England was a perfect example of this as he threw three interceptions against a team whose chief problem is pass defense.
If Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and company can make him uncomfortable sitting back in the pocket and force him to make split-second calls, they just may be able to draw even more turnovers out of him.
I am sure I am the 1000th person to say this, but for a man educated at a school as prestigious as Harvard, you would expect him to make better decisions.
Brandon Lloyd is an interesting player. He will make incredible catches, often he has to because he has trouble getting open a lot of the time. There is no denying he has talent, sometimes it just seems like something is missing.
In London two weeks ago, as the Patriots defeated the Rams, Lloyd had two touchdowns, but only two catches overall. Josh McDaniels should try to get him a reception on a quick hitter early on Sunday to get him into the flow of the game.
He is not a bust, he is not Chad Johnson, but he is not the player to this point that most fans thought the team was signing in free agency. With so many other options, he is almost an afterthought at times, something that could be a growing storyline to watch in the long run if it keeps up.
The Bills' porous defense could be taken advantage of to bring Lloyd a big day.
The Patriots lost to the Buffalo Bills last season for the first time since their 31-0 loss in the "Lawyer Milloy" game to open the 2003 regular season. Though they have won each of the two match-ups since, the Patriots have still dangerously trailed early in both games.
The Patriots need to change it up and play a complete game against the Bills. For a team that has Super Bowl aspirations like New England, this should not be an issue. Look for the Patriots to attack furiously the first time they touch the ball Sunday and kick the trend back in the other direction.
If they are off to a slow start once again Sunday, do not count out the Bills. You can only have ridiculous come from behind wins against the same team so many times before that team stands up and fights back.
The Patriots currently have the 5th leading rusher (yards per game) in the NFL with Stevan Ridley. Going into the season though, many thought Ridley could be due for a breakout year.
What has been extremely impressive is what the Patriots have been able to get from everyone else. Sunday against Buffalo they will likely be without rookie back Brandon Bolden (knee) once again, leaving Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead as the lone backups.
They have both had shining moments this season and Sunday if they can be successful again it will be a big help to allow Ridley to catch a breather every now and again and help aid him in having another huge afternoon.
Stevie Johnson is once again the Buffalo Bills' leading receiver this season and in no part is it because of what he was able to do against the New England Patriots.
The Patriots took him almost completely out of the game in their first meeting this season, holding him to just two catches for 23 yards. If the Patriots just scheme similarly around him again, they will force Ryan Fitzpatrick to turn it loose to his less dynamic options on the outside.
The strong point of the Patriot defense without a doubt, has been the run defense. Ranked 7 in the league with 88.6 rushing yards allowed per game, the Patriots have shut down some very talented backs.
Chris Johnson, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch; none of these backs had impressive days against New England. Two of the names above you will notice are Buffalo runners in Spiller and Fred Jackson. The Patriots have a front seven that is capable of shutting down these players without help coming from the secondary.
As long as they continue to hold their own Sunday, they will force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw all day long and everyone knows what Fitzpatrick will inevitably do if he needs to throw the ball 40+ times.
Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork have let loose some bone-jarring hits this season. If the defense can continue to remain that physical, few players are even going to want to run into the teeth of this defense.