The Patriots head to Buffalo this week for a Monday night matchup with the Bulls. This is New England’s second divisional game of the season. It should also be the easiest game in the first half of the season for the Patriots. Since entering the season with promise, the Bills have looked dismal on their way to a 2-5 record. That lack of success will likely continue this week.
The only real offseason move that the Bills made was to move up in the draft for quarterback Josh Allen. The raw Wyoming product has a lot of skill-based developing to do but has an absolute cannon of an arm. Outside of that, however, their moves have been minimal. They signed AJ McCarron, who is now sidelined with an injury. Offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Eric Wood each retired, and offensive guard Cordy Glenn was traded to the Bengals. The Bills also let receivers like Jordan Matthews walk. The team’s other notable addition was Vontae Davis, who quit abruptly at HALFTIME of the Bills game against the Chargers.
The Bills did, however, make a smart move when they drafted Tremaine Edmunds in the first round as well. The Virginia Tech linebacker has elite size, strength, and speed. He has been the highlight of their defense so far this season. He has recorded a team-high 39 solo tackles, as well as one sack, four QB hits, two forced fumbles, and six passes defenses. Edmunds is clearly a piece the Bills can build their defense around.
The Bills have played pretty horrifically in most of their games this season. They were decimated by the Ravens to open the season. In week four they were blanked by Green Bay. Last week they were crushed by the Colts. Somehow, in the middle of all of that terribleness, they also managed to knock off the vaunted Vikings 27-6.
The Bills rank in the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category. They have the lowest points per game offensively. They have the second lowest total yards per game and the lowest pass yards per game. They have the worst completion percentage in the NFL. Surprisingly, however, the Bills rank in the top third in the league in a number of defensive categories. They give up the fourth fewest passing yards per game. They give up only 111 rushing yards per game. Their defense is giving up an average of 25 points per game, which is actually better than New England’s. They clearly have some promise on defense and should not be easily overlooked.
The Patriots offense has been utterly dominant as of late, averaging over 39 points over the previous four weeks. Despite Buffalo’s young talent on defense, the Patriots success should continue.
The biggest concern will be the absence of Sony Michel, who was injured last Sunday against Chicago. While his injury did not end up being serious, he will likely miss time as a precaution. He had become an extremely effective runner, with the second most rushing yards in the league between weeks three and six. New England will need to find a way to replace that production. James White will likely be the focal point of the rushing attack. He is having the best year of his career rushing the football. He is not used to a heavy workload, however, so Monday night will be a real test. He will also be helped by Kenjon Barner, who looked adequate in a limited role last week.
Blocking, especially at the second level, will be crucial for the success of the team’s offense. The Bills linebackers are stacked with Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander. Shaq Mason will play an important part, as the team loves to use their athletic right guard to pull up through gaps. James Develin will also be important in kick-starting the team’s running game.
The Patriots passing game will have more difficulty this week than they have in previous weeks. They face a challenging task against the Bills secondary. Tre’Davious White, Phillip Gaines, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer are all talented players who will be able to put pressure on the Patriots receivers.
Rob Gronkowski’s status is still uncertain. While the back injury that kept him out last week isn’t considered to be serious, the team may hold him out again this week to preserve his long-term health. If that is the case, the Patriots receivers will once again be the crux of the passing offense. Josh Gordon is coming off of his first 100-yard game as a Patriot and should be able to have some success against the Bills this week. He has a significant size advantage that should allow him to create space and get jump balls.
Julian Edelman may have a little more difficulty against the combination of talented Bills linebackers and cornerbacks. Their familiarity with him may allow them to anticipate his routes. However, if he can find space, he will be able to do damage. James White will also be an integral part of the Patriots passing game. He is on pace for nearly 100 catches on the season, and will likely see a ton of targets this week as teams have still failed to find a solution for him.
Tom Brady is also back in MVP form after a slow start to the season. He is averaging over 260 yards per game with a 68% completion percentage. He’s also thrown for 16 touchdowns so far. With him playing at this level, it is hard for any defense to slow down the New England offense.
The Patriots defense is about to face their easiest matchup of the season. This is both good and bad. It means that they should be able to have a rebound performance after three poor weeks. However, it also means that there are absolutely no excuses for anything less than an elite performance.
The Bills offense just lacks talent, plain and simple. Their offensive line was decimated in the offseason with the departures of Wood, Incognito, and Glenn. With Allen out with an elbow injury, Buffalo is trying to rely on Nathan Peterman and Derek Anderson to stay afloat. Neither of those quarterbacks has a completion percentage higher than 54%.
They still have LeSean McCoy at running back, but he has been spotty due to injuries. He is also reportedly on the trading block.
The Bills receivers are horrendous overall. Kelvin Benjamin has never lived up to his potential and clearly doesn’t want to be in Buffalo. Zay Jones is a decent receiver but isn’t a true #1 or #2 option. Their best pass catcher is tight end Charles Clay, who is second on the team with 19 receptions this season. Overall, they are not an intimidating unit for a Patriots secondary that was extremely successful against the Bears wide receivers last week.
Whether it’s against LeSean McCoy or Chris Ivory, stopping the run is going to be crucial for New England. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower will play important roles. McCoy excels in outside runs where even a small amount of space will be enough for him to get yards. If the Patriots linebackers can prevent McCoy from getting to the edge, then they will have an advantage. The Patriots defensive tackles will also be important. Chris Ivory is a great runner between gaps in the line. Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, and Adam Butler need to prove that the Patriots defensive line isn’t a unit that can easily be pushed over.
The Patriots rush defense is currently in the bottom third in the league. That is not sustainable for a top-tier team in the league and needs to be improved upon.
New England’s secondary has no excuse but to be phenomenal this week. They are coming off one of their best weeks of the season. It may not seem that way considering that Mitchell Trubisky threw for 333 yards. However, 55 of those yards came on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the game, and another 195 yards went to tight end Trey Burton and running back Tarik Cohen. The Bears receivers were held to a minimal impact due to mostly flawless play by the Patriots secondary. Even Burton’s yards came almost exclusively on zone coverage plays where he just sat in the middle of the field.
There is no reason why that success shouldn’t extend into Monday night. As mentioned, the Bills’ receivers are not a talented group. Kelvin Benjamin has the physical tools, but he doesn’t have the determination or will to win. The Patriots should be able to use more man coverage than usual because of their talent advantage. Man coverage will allow New England to dial up more pressure with the front seven. Stephon Gilmore has been playing at an elite level and should be able to handle Benjamin. Eric Rowe may be out with an injury, in which case Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones will be tasked with covering Zay Jones. That should not be a problem for either of them. Most importantly, however, will be how the Patriots cover Charles Clay. The Buffalo tight end has played well against New England in the past. He has a size advantage over the Patriots safeties and has surprising speed and athleticism. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are the Patriots main coverage safeties. Their performance will be critical, especially considering how poorly McCourty has looked lately. Clay and Benjamin will be the two most important targets on third and long situations for the Bills. Preventing either of them from getting into a rhythm will be crucial for Gilmore, Chung, and McCourty.
The Bills quarterbacks are also prone to throwing interceptions, which means that tight coverage should lead to more turnovers.
The Patriots pass rush is another area that needs to show life in this game. They are currently one of the worst in the league. New England’s defense as a whole ranks second last in the league with only 1.3 sacks per game. Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wish are at a slower pace than they were in 2017. They need to start finding ways to get to the quarterback. Flowers’ in particular needs to make more pays. He has gotten to the quarterback consistently but hasn’t converted many plays into sacks. Adrian Clayborn also needs to show much improvement. His talent is obvious based on the moves he uses, but he routinely breaks containment and he is seemingly unable to tackle in the open field. They need more from their offseason pickup.
The Bills depleted offensive line should be exploitable. If the Patriots cannot come away with multiple sacks, then their issues may truly be irreparable.
Let’s face it: the Bills are not a good football team. They have a lot to work on and need to fill in a number of key spots. However, this is still a divisional game, and it could be close easily if Buffalo puts up a fight. The Patriots need to impose their will on the Bills. Beating them by just a score is not good enough. They want to be considered one of the best teams in football, which means they need to be able to destroy the worst teams. The Tom Train will keep rolling through the league, taking a nice Monday night stop in Buffalo.
New England 35 Buffalo 8
Until next time – B$