The last time the Patriots and Bills saw each other in Week 4, the Patriots had a losing record, and the Bills were on the winning side of a 2-1 mark. Things have definitely changed since then. Here are the keys for the Patriots to complete the sweep of the Bills, some of which are the same as the first meeting:
- Block Mario Williams: The Bills’ left end is starting to get a little bit more movement in the pass game, but RT Sebastian Vollmer should still be able to handle him one on one. If he doesn’t, then the Patriots are going to have trouble sustaining drives.
- Frustrate WR Stevie Johnson: The Patriots were able to limit Johnson’s effectiveness early in the first matchup, and that played a role the rest of the game. Johnson has a little bit of Randy Moss in him in that respect. If you clamp down on him early, he loses confidence in the offense and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and he can disappear for stretches. That would be optimal because he’s one of the league’s top receivers with the ball in his hands.
- Read your keys: Probably more than any other NFL team, the Bills do more with motion, play fakes and deception. It’s like watching a finely tuned college spread offense. The Patriots’ defenders, especially the linebackers and the “money” dime player (Tavon Wilson, or Nate Ebner), have been given keys to the Bills’ plays by the coaching staff. “If player X does this, then look for this.” The Patriots need to be on point and read those keys with high efficiency, or else the Bills are going to hit on some big plays in open space.
- Cover tight: If the Patriots sit in zones all day, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will find the holes if he’s having one of his hot stretches. What the Patriots need to do is junk their conservative coverages and get physical at the line of scrimmage with the Bills, something we’ve seen more of in the past few weeks. The longer Fitzpatrick has to hold onto the ball, the more it plays into the Patriots’ hands. The rush will be able to affect Fitzpatrick, and he’ll start to throw the ball into bad spots or just be his normal inconsistent self. The Bills want Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to keep him from making mistakes. Don’t give him easy, quick reads at the snap. And furthermore, the linebackers need to tee off on any crossing patterns. Don’t let them feel comfortable.
- Continue to use Bills’ line movement against them: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a very good game plan with the running game the first time around. He knew the Bills like to penetrate up front with tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, so McDaniels used that against them with a lot of counters and delayed handoffs. The Patriots let the tackles get up field, and they ran right through the gaping holes. The Bills have improved with that, but there should still be opportunities to hit some big plays. They’re still very undisciplined.
- Press the edges in the pass game: The Patriots tested first-round pick Stephon Gilmore early at RCB but quickly went away from him when he looked the part. The Bills are down to scraps elsewhere at cornerback so expect Tom Brady to test them, especially at LCB. The safeties will eventually start to cheat to the outside, which should leave room for Rob Gronkowski down the middle.
Previously in games against the Cardinals, Seahawks and Jets, I’ve said that I don’t see how the opposing offense can score enough to keep up with the Patriots. And I was wrong because I underestimated those defenses. The Bills are not good on defense. I don’t care if Fitzpatrick plays a perfect game, Buffalo is going to have a tough time getting enough stops for a win.
Patriots 40, Bills 20