The Buffalo Bills' game Sunday is more than just their first game of the 2013 season. When the Bills take the field against the New England Patriots, it will open the Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel Era. Unfortunately for them, they are taking on the winningest head coach-quarterback tandem in the history of the NFL when they face Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
This series has been severely lopsided, with the Patriots winning 23 of the last 25 games dating back to 2000. However, it is a new era and Buffalo will be fired up to win this first game against a team that has dominated the franchise for 13 years. These are a few things I expect Buffalo to focus on to secure a victory on Sunday.
Coach Marrone has primarily been known as an offensive coach, and Buffalo is sure to rack up points and yards this season. If Buffalo hopes to win Sunday, there are two things it will need to do to be successful.
The first is to rely heavily on C.J. Spiller and get the ball in his hands. The offensive line will have its work cut out for it dealing with Vince Wilfork in the middle. So instead of trying to move him, it would not surprise me to see a great deal of stretch runs to get Spiller around the corner and counter runs to create misdirection.
Buffalo should also make it a point to work Spiller in the screen game. This should create space for Spiller and give him the opportunity to pick up yardage in bunches. An effective screen game ties into the second point, which is to get EJ Manuel into a rhythm.
Manuel was named the starter after missing the last two preseason games due to minor knee surgery. He is behind in terms of on-field experience, so it will be important to call plays that will allow him to get the ball out quickly. Look for Buffalo to call screens and short routes like slants to allow Manuel to make quick decisions.
A perfect example of this is the two-minute drill run by Manuel at the end of the first half against the Colts shown here. He was quick with his decisions and made good throws to his receivers, allowing them to make a play after the catch. If Buffalo is able to be effective in these two areas, it will eat up the clock and keep New England's best weapon, Tom Brady, off the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, it isn't a big secret on how to beat Tom Brady. The successful defenses are the ones that get pressure on him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Last season Brady threw only eight interceptions, but six of those came in games when he was sacked three or more times. In those games, New England had a record of 3-2 with an average winning margin of eight points.
Buffalo will need to get pressure on Brady if it hopes to slow this offense down, because the secondary is the weak link with Stephon Gilmore's injury. If Tom Brady has time to sit in the pocket, he will pick this defense apart.
The team will need to get its best players going early in the game, C.J. Spiller on offense and Mario Williams on defense, as they will have the biggest effect on Buffalo's game plan. If these two players have big games, Buffalo should keep this game close and be in a position to start the year 1-0.