Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Bills
|09.06.13 at 10:59 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork against the Buffalo running game: This is likely where it all starts for the Patriots. If they are able to consistently keep C.J. Spiller and EJ Manuel from bouncing to the perimeter and getting outside the tackles, they’ll be able to force them back inside, where — in theory — Spikes and Wilfork will be waiting for them. Spikes and Wilfork combined on one of the biggest plays of the 2012 season against the Bills in Buffalo when they kept Buffalo out of the end zone at the end of the first half in their first meeting last year.
2. The Patriots defense against quarterback EJ Manuel: Manuel will be making the first start of his professional career in his first game in the NFL, and as we wrote here, certainly faces an uphill battle. Rookie quarterbacks are 4-13 in their first career start against Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but there are some commonalities to all four of the successful performances: Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy and Russell Wilson all did an excellent job protecting the ball (none of them threw a pick in their debut against New England), they all got terrific performances from the rest of their offense, the defense held the Patriots to between seven and 18 points below their scoring average to that point in the season and they all won at home. One more thing: even though Manuel was a pretty consistent passer in college (67 perfect completion rate), the Patriots need to make him throw it. If Manuel has to pass the ball to try and get back into the game – say, throw the ball more than 30 times – that’s a bad formula for the Bills.
3. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Stevie Johnson: Call it a breakthrough moment for Talib. On Wednesday, the Patriots cornerback was asked about the comments from Johnson where the Bills receiver and noted birthday cake aficionado said he believed New England didn’t have anyone who could stop him. Talib paused for a moment, and for a second, it looked like he really wanted to say something … but he stopped, waited a beat and responded by saying, “I don’t watch NFL Network.” While Talib was quiet, you can be sure that material found its way to every single member of the New England defense this week, Talib included. (Two other things that stood out about Johnson’s comments: One, most of what he said was actually really complementary when it came to the Patriots’ secondary on an individual basis — he called Devin McCourty a Pro Bowler. And two, he included Pat Chung in his statement … despite the fact that Chung signed as a free agent this offseason with the Eagles.)
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Scott Chandler. The tight end usually posts very good numbers against New England — in two games against the Patriots last year, Chandler had nine catches for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 16 targets. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end out of Iowa actually tore his ACL last December and had surgery in January, but has been a pretty consistent presence with the Bills throughout the summer, and figures to get the start for Buffalo Sunday. (For what it’s worth, there’s no love lost between Chandler and Spikes. In last year’s game in Buffalo, Spikes blindsided Chandler after a New England interception, and the crushing hit left Spikes $21,000 lighter in the wallet. There was no flag on the play, but Chandler left the game with a concussion.)
5. By the numbers: The Patriots have won nine consecutive season openers. The NFL record for the most consecutive season opening wins since the merger is 12 by the Cowboys from 1970-81. The Patriots’ last Week 1 loss was a 31-0 defeat at Buffalo in 2003. (via STATS)
6. Quote from an opposing scout regarding this Sunday: “The big matchup for me is the Patriots secondary against a new quarterback in EJ Manuel. Can they mix up enough looks to confuse a young QB? Can they contain him defensively and not let him out of pocket? The Bills offensive line vs. the Patriots defensive line will be a big matchup. Buffalo has to protect their young quarterback when he has to throw because speed of the game changes from preseason to regular season. They need to make the kid see ghosts and be uncomfortable.” (For more from our scout’s take, CLICK HERE.)
7. Patriots fans should be worried about….. special teams, both their own and the Bills. New England’s special teams unit has looked shaky over the course of the preseason in pretty much every area. And now, with a rookie punter in Ryan Allen (who will also be responsible for holding for kicker Stephen Gostkowski) and a wide-open field when it comes to kick returner, there are some areas of uncertainty for the Patriots heading into this one. Compounding matters is the fact that the Bills kick returner Marquise Goodwin is a former Olympian in track, and returned a preseason kickoff 107 yards against the Colts. With the understanding that many of the kick and punt units had different personnel in the preseason (it is the time, after all, for trying out some different personnel combinations), Buffalo will provide a special teams test for the Patriots.
8. Bills fans should be worried about…. Stevan Ridley running for a bazillion yards. Last September, the Patriots were able to take advantage of a Bills team that stick to its guns and played the pass. An honorable move, but they didn’t adjust when Tom Brady and the New England offense realized this and downshifted to the running game. In the end, the Patriots rushed for 247 yards in a 52-28 win over Buffalo. Last season, Ridley averaged 102 yards a game in two contests against the Bills, running for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. It’s debatable how much nickel and dime Buffalo plays this time around — let’s face it, the Bills probably aren’t as intimidated by the Sudfeld/Thompkins/Amendola combo as they were by the Gronkowski/Welker/Lloyd pairing in last September’s contest. But if it’s there on the ground again, expect the Patriots to take advantage.
9. One more thing: It’s important to note that the Bills hit the reset button this offseason across the board and so you can’t necessarily blame the current regime for the sins of the past. In the last 22 games between the Patriots and Buffalo — no matter the coach, GM or quarterback — there are certain similarities to each game. One of the ones that really stands out is that maybe more than any team New England has faced on a consistent basis, the Bills panic when they have fallen behind the Patriots over the years. On frequent occasions, they will toss out the game plan when they fail to match New England score-for-score, abandoning a very good run game in order to fling the ball all over the field in hopes of getting back into the game in rapid fashion. This is a mistake. Over the year, when Buffalo has been successful, they’ve leaned on its backfield consistently, grinding out tough yardage that opens things up for receivers like Johnson. As we stated earlier, if Manuel is forced to throw the ball 30 or more times, this feels like the kind of game the Patriots will win in a rout.
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