|10 Things You Have To Know About Patriots-Bills||10.10.14 at 8:40 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Bills:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Buffalo defense: Buffalo is terrific against the run (second-best in the league, yielding an average of 71 rushing yards per game), but its overaggressive nature certainly be exploited. Given the level of offensive success they had last week against the Bengals, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots try and execute it again this week against the Bills. Colleague Ryan Hannable broke down the numbers here, but it’s interesting to note that when using play-action this season, opponents are 21-for-26 passing for 221 yards against the Bills, highlighted in Week 1 as Chicago’s Jay Cutler was 6-for-7 for 66 yards, and then in Week 4, when Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick was 7-for-9 for 75 yards. Like Bills opponents, Brady and the Patriots have also been successful when using play-action. Our numbers have Brady 26-for-37 for 353 yards and a touchdown with zero interceptions in the first five games this season. Brady’s best week using play-action was this past week when he went 6-for-9 for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals. If the quarterback can get the time, then it’ll mean good things for New England on Sunday.
2. Fullback James Develin against linebacker Brandon Spikes: Last week against the Bengals, Develin played 34 percent of the offensive snaps in New England’s thunderous win over Cincinnati, a game marked by the Patriots ease in running the ball. (Excluding end-of-game kneeldowns, New England had 43 carries for 224 yards against Cincinnati, an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Last time Develin was on the field that much? The regular-season finale last year against … you guessed it, the Bills. (It’s no coincidence that was the last time the Patriots running game topped 200 yards in the regular season.) Expect Develin and Spikes — who has played roughly half the snaps over the first five games of the season, but is still a primary reason why the Bills’ run defense has been as stout as it has — to collide in the hole on at least a couple of occasions as the Patriots try and keep the chains moving on the ground.
3. Cornerback Darrelle Revis against wide receiver Sammy Watkins: We covered most of it here, but it’s worth reiterating that the expected showdown between the rookie and Revis will mark the second straight week that Revis will face a new receiver for the first time. Last week against the Bengals, Revis appeared to play mostly man coverage — by our count, on half his snaps, he was up against the opposing receiver (usually Green) so close that he was able to get his hands on him within five yards from the line of scrimmage. Expect the same thing with Watkins, who has distinguished himself as a smart, dependable, speedy receiver with an excellent set of hands. It would seem to make sense that New England’s first priority as it relates to team defense is slowing down Buffalo’s twin backs, and assign Revis to try and shut down Watkins, with single-high safety help over the top. Regardless of how things shake out, it’ll be another compelling matchup for Revis.
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: We go through this before every Patriots-Bills game, and every time, it’s pretty much the same guy: tight end Scott Chandler. The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder out of Iowa, a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski, has set several career highs against the Patriots, including games (7), catches (21), yards (259) and touchdowns (4). He developed into a nice security blanket over the last year-plus for E.J. Manuel, and while no one is sure what sort of chemistry he’s capable of with Kyle Orton, you have to figure that he’s still capable of doing some damage against New England. (One area where Buffalo would like to see more from Chandler in 2014 is in the red zone — after catching nine touchdown passes inside the 20-yard line in 2011 and 2012, Chandler had just one red-zone catch in 2013.)
5. By the numbers: 150. Stevan Ridley’s fumble-free string in the regular season and postseason has hit 150 touches, dating back to last year’s regular-season win over the Broncos in November. In fact, Ridley (84 carries) is one of three backs who have at least 75 carries this year without a single fumble — Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell (87 carries) and San Francisco’s Frank Gore (77 carries) are the other two.
|Report: Brandon Spikes ‘absolutely’ believes IR was a suspension from Bill Belichick||10.09.14 at 4:17 pm ET|
On Thursday, Spikes gave the Boston Herald his interpretation as to why.
Spikes was placed on injured reserve in January and didn’t play in either playoff game. Spikes had a knee injury for the second half of 2013 but it did not require surgery and he believes he could have played in the playoffs with it. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that his suspension came from Belichick growing tired and annoyed with him showing up late to a team meeting. All of this led to the conclusion in Spikes’ mind that the IR designation was clearly a suspension.
“Absolutely, absolutely, but you know what I’m saying, I ain’t going to go — what’s done is done,” Spikes told the Herald. “We can’t change it. It is what it is. Everything happens for a reason. Whatever, man, I’m here with the Bills now. I’m happy. I’m loving the game. I’m loving my teammates, the entire organization, the city, your fans. It’s all great, man. It just reminds me of when I was in Gainesville with the Bills Mafia and the Gator Nation. It’s kind of the same, honestly.”
Spikes was placed on injured reserve Jan. 6, three days after he didn’t report for meetings at Gillette Stadium due to a snowstorm. Spikes admitted to not showing up, but he said that wasn’t the sole reason for being placed on injured reserve during the playoffs.
“I did miss that one day, but that wasn’t it,” Spikes said. “It was a handful of things that went on that was behind closed doors. But whatever, man. Like I said, it’s over with. I’m over it. Hopefully, they’re over it. Life goes on.”
Spikes told the Herald that he has “forgiven” Bill Belichick and would shake his hand if he gets the chance Sunday after the Bills and Patriots clash in Buffalo.
FOXBORO — When Stevan Ridley looks across the line of scrimmage on Sunday, he’ll see a familiar face.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was a teammate of Ridley’s for the last three seasons before he departed for Buffalo as a free agent this past offseason, will be facing his old mates for the first time as a member of the Bills. And Spikes, considered one of the best run-stoppers in the league, will likely have his singular focus on his old pal Ridley.
“I talked to him on the phone last week, he’s going to be excited,” Ridley said of Spikes. “It’s going to be a little bit different. I’ve seen him before and I know how he plays and what he does, but that’s not going to take anything away from him. For me, I just have to go in there and play my game.
“It’s going to be fun, just to go against somebody that you know, somebody that you’ve been with for the last three of four years and have a relationship with. It’s kind of cool.”
Sunday will mark a supreme test for Ridley and the rest of the New England running game, as the Blls enter the contest as the second-best run defense in the league, having yielded an average of just 71 rushing yards per game. Coming off a Sunday night performance against the Bengals where they finished with 224 rushing yards (minus the end-of-game kneeldowns), Ridley and the rest of the backs know that Buffalo presents a supreme challenge on the ground.
“They’re not lacking at any position,” he said. “From the line to the linebackers, they’re versatile, they’ve got some guys that will come downhill, they play aggressive, their secondary is solid. They have a solid defense, I think the numbers show that, and that’s what the stats prove. They’re playing some good football.”
Ridley, who has 84 carries for 317 yards and two touchdowns through the first five games, said that despite some early-season struggles up front, he never lost faith in the work of the offensive line.
“It’s funny — a lot of outsiders are saying that we’re starting to develop an identity and all this, but we’ve always built the offense around the o-line,” he said. “I believe in my teammates 100 percent, how we’ve gotten it done over the years. That’s not to say that we can’t go through a few growing pains or we might have to make some adjustments. No, not at all. As a whole, we’re moving in the right direction. There’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of challenges. I think last week was a step in the right direction. We just have to stay positive and keep working hard.”
|Mike Petraglia, Chris Price look ahead to Patriots, Bills and Brandon Spikes||10.08.14 at 3:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview the AFC East matchup between a pair of 3-2 teams in the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills this Sunday in Western New York. The Patriots are coming off a 43-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, a game in which they brought a high level of emotion and intensity while the Bills are entering the contest having beaten the Detroit Lions on a last-second 52-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. The game is also a reunion of sorts between Bill Belichick and his old defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Spikes was informed that Belichick called him the same player but with longer hair.
“What a pleasant surprise,” he told reporters in Buffalo. “You know how it ended.”
How it ended was the Patriots deciding the hard-hitting, run-stopping linebacker was too one-dimensional for their system, that already featured Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower.
On March 14, Spikes signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Bills for this season.
Spikes has 19 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in five games. He’s also been fined twice for illegal hits, another Spikes trademark.
Spikes asked about Belichick saying he is same player but with longer hair. “What a pleasant surprise,” he says. “You know how it ended.”
‘ Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) October 8, 2014
FOXBORO — Sunday will mark the first time that Bill Belichick has faced Pepper Johnson since the two split after last season.
Johnson spent 13 seasons as a linebacker in the NFL, the first seven of which were for the New York Giants, coached by Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants before moving onto the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and New York Jets.
After his playing career ended, Johnson began working as an assistant coach for the Patriots. In New England he was reunited with Belichick.
He spent 14 seasons with the organization, winning three Super Bowls. On Jan. 21, Johnson announced he was leaving the nest. Ten days later, he was hired by the Bills.
Johnson is now the defensive line coach of a Bills defense that is coached up by former Belichick student Jim Schwartz. Johnson steps into a situation where he has bigger names along the defensive line, names like Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.
The Bills are allowing just 71 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the NFL. Has Belichick seen any direct impact that Johnson has had on that defensive line?
“I think they’re playing well,” Belichick said. “I’m sure he does a good job with them. It looks very much like Jim’s scheme from Detroit and from Tennessee. Obviously the group is playing well. They have a very good front. They have good depth. They play the run well; they rush the passer well. They’re obviously playing good techniques and that’s a credit to all of them ‘ the players, the coaches, Jim, the defensive coordinator. They’re all doing a good job.”
Belichick will also be facing run-stopping dreadlocked linebacker Brandon Spikes for the first time, as well.
“Yeah, we know him,” Belichick said Wednesday. “I don’t think he’s changed much. Hair might be a little longer. He’s about the same.”
|Cover me: LB James Anderson could bring new dimension to Patriots defense||06.12.14 at 5:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — James Anderson — who was acquired as a free agent earlier this month by the Patriots — was given No. 55.
Digits aren’t usually that big a deal in the New England locker room. But it is worth mentioning that the guy who wore No. 55 the last four years — linebacker Brandon Spikes — had a trademark freewheeling style (both on and off the field) that’s hard to replicate. However, Spikes departed as a free agent this offseason, taking his electric playing style (and always interesting Twitter feed) to Buffalo.
And while Anderson has only been around Foxboro for a week, it’s clear the Patriots have decided to go in a completely different direction.
Both Anderson and Spikes middle/inside linebackers, but that’s where the similarities end. Anderson has only missed five regular-season games the last four years. Anderson carved out a niche as a relatively quiet and respected veteran who has worked as a mentor for several young players over the years with the Panthers and Bears. And he’s established a rep as a coverage linebacker who still has the wheels to keep up with a tight end or running back in the passing game.
The 30-year-old, who will be heading into his ninth season in the NFL, has played in 110 NFL games with 69 starts and has registered 556 total tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, 23 passes defensed, five forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. Last season in Chicago, he started all 16 games and finished with 102 total tackles and four sacks.
Still, he acknowledges he’s starting from scratch in New England.
“Everything is still new — still learning the defense, still learning about the guys around me,” Anderson said after Thursday’s OTA session outside Gillette Stadium. “Trying to work in as much as I can so when the season comes, wherever they tell me I need to be, I’ll give it everything I have.
“I feel like I’m picking it up pretty good. The coaches have done a great job of breaking things down and explaining it to me. I’m just taking it day-by-day.”
The Patriots have been lacking a coverage linebacker the last few seasons, and if he’s able to pick up the scheme, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Anderson could fill that role, working alongside a cadre of linebackers that includes Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower.
“As you know, looking at my size, I’m a little bit smaller than most of the other guys around here,” Anderson said Thursday. “So to make up for that, I’m pretty fast, and have to recover.”
Football has changed dramatically over the last decade or so — the evolution of the passing game has forced teams to invest more in defensive backs in hopes of slowing down elite quarterbacks and receivers. As a result, true coverage linebackers have become few and far between.
But Anderson doesn’t believe working as a coverage linebacker has become a dying art.