Whoever should win this game has a high percentage chance of winning the division. Both teams could still make the playoffs with a loss this Sunday, though that eventuality becomes more complex as any semblance of control that team has dissipates. With a win, or a loss, the Bills’ likelihood of winning the AFC East division can swing by nearly 70%, which is utterly overwhelming. The New England Patriots are an expertly coached team that can shapeshift into virtually any identity it needs to (except a pass-centric offense) and then demonstrate that identity through performance.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills also have expert coaching (albeit inconsistent and questionable), but have difficulty showing flexibility and altering their identity. It shows on both sides of the ball, as well. In their first matchup of this season, the Patriots exploited the Bills’ insufficiencies. Say what you will regarding the superlatives, but the fact is quite simple. That being said, New England exploited a known weakness with ruthless efficiency.
The Patriots threw the ball only three times and pounded the Bills into submission. Conversely, the Bills had no suitable solution to employ to do what they do best: put up points. While weather played a role in the first matchup in Buffalo, that is not a consistent metric to measure football performance. Weather is one of the most variance-ridden factors that affect football games. Nonetheless, according to Google Weather Services, Sunday’s gametime weather should be milder than two weeks ago.
What is not broke does not require fixing, as the old adage goes. Therefore, there is little reason to suspect that The Hood or his Patriots make any stark changes to their gameplan, considering what success that approach yielded in the most recent matchup. The more interesting concerns are what (if anything) is different about this Patriots team just a few weeks later? Similarly, what can the Bills do differently or better to combat the Patriots this time?
In the spirit of the holidays, the Spy aims to give you one of the great gifts of them all, knowledge!
PS: You are all on my “nice list,” and to the entire world I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
SPY 1: All the Run with All the Rage
The Patriots have proven their ability to run the ball at will versus teams that have a diminished, inferior, or outright incapability defending the run. This is the case for the Buffalo Bills, primarily because the defense is what I call FAD (Fast-Attack-Defense). This defense relies on the fundamental principles of speed, flexibility, finesse, and rotational depth. The FAD defense applies pressure, not necessarily to finish with sacks. When sacks occur, they are usually a result of solid secondary and intermediate level pass coverage. The FAD defense defends against pass-focused offenses featuring explosive players; the type of offenses that can only be countered by defensive players of the same type.
The problem that the Patriots run game presents is that it can – quite literally – pound defenses like the Bills into submission. The Bills are a defense highly dependent upon the rotation of players. The Patriots can and do mitigate this by deliberate and quick running. There comes a point where the rotation is neutralized because any player rotating in and out is beat, put in disadvantageous positions, or is simply not a player that specializes in run stopping. Due to the current makeup and tactics of the Bills, there is no conceivable way to correct this issue in any meaningful way this season.
Currently, all three of New England’s main RBs are injured. Depth RB Brandon Bolden has been limited all week with a knee injury. Starter Damien Harris is limited with a hamstring injury, which he suffered in the previous matchup with the Bills. Co-starter and rookie sensation Rhamondre Stevenson has been OUT of practice all week with an unspecified “illness”. Do please take all of that with a massive grain of salt. We know all too well how “The Hood” uses the injury report as a weapon of deception. Nevertheless, these key injuries do and will wound the NE run game to some degree. All three RBs run very differently and defending them with an (AGAIN) Star Lotulelei-less defense, will be a tall task. Even if one RB is out, the defensive solution response is simplified.
Versus the Indianapolis Colts, the Patriots encountered increased resistance to their run tactics borne from the Indy counterstrategy. Primarily, the Colts accomplished this in two ways. One is Linebacker pressure in the backfield from the edge area. The other is dual gap pressure from the interior of the defensive line. The Bills can replicate this tactic, but it will not be without risk, as doing so leaves the middle of the field open, or at least more vulnerable, particularly in the short and intermediate areas.
The Bills MUST achieve and sustain interior and edge pressure, particularly on early downs. Doing so will neutralize the run. The Bills linebackers MUST maintain both eye and gap discipline. Stopping runs that gash through the defensive line is the difference between a short gain and an endzone house call. The Bills would be wise to utilize the blitz from the nickel and safety position as these players (Taron Johnson, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer) have the speed to penetrate the backfield before a run play can develop into its most critical state.
The bottom-line here is… make Mac Jones beat you AS A QUARTERBACK. Sell the farm to stop the run. With Pats WR N’Keal Harry on the mend after a devastating hit last week, and with other receivers hurt as well, the Bills should DISRESPECT the Patriots’ passing game even more than the Patriots disrespect the Bills’ run defense.
SPY 2: Dreaded Defense
The Patriots defense is elite, only less so than the Bills by two ranking spots. It is expertly coached and just as adaptable as the Bills. One could argue that the Bills have more talent than the Patriots do. Meanwhile, one could say the Patriots are more balanced in their defensive approach.
My assertion is that the Patriots greatest defensive strength is its ability to deceive and take away the opponent’s greatest strength.
The Bills need to be dynamic. They need to unleash their entire offense. Focusing on just running or focusing on just passing is a veritable suicide tactic against the Patriots. The best quarterbacks can pass on the Patriots, and even middlingly talented run teams can gash the Patriots’ less-than-stellar run defense (despite the contrary verbal diarrhea the national pundits spew at a pyroclastic rate and volume). The Bills need to knock the Patriots back onto their heels early and often with a blitzkrieg of Brian Daboll’s best recipes on the ground and in the air.
CAPABILITIES & LIMITATIONS (Capes & Lims)
- Flexibility to adjust
- Running game
- Variance in play selection
- Passing game
- Inability to play from behind (Score effects)
- Limited weapons
- Susceptibility to the QB run
- Deep passing game
DARK HORSE BONUS POINT
Bills DT Ed Oliver is tied for the league lead in third down stop efficiency. This could be crucial against a Patriots team that is poor in the red zone and in third and medium/long situations.
Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. On this scale, the higher the number = The greater the threat to the Bills specifically.
Patriots Threat Rating = 10
In closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process and go Bills.
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