Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV, radio: CBS, 98.5
When the Patriots run
It was more than a little curious that Danny Woodhead was given more carries than Stevan Ridley against the Ravens. Ridley is the type of back who thrives with an increased workload, seemingly getting stronger as the game progresses. Ridley runs with great burst and energy — and his enthusiasm rubs off on teammates. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound Ridley is a decisive, one-cut runner who always keeps his legs churning. Woodhead (5-8, 200) is more quick than fast. He has great vision and instincts but his lack of size and speed means he’ll never be an effective feature back. Rookie Brandon Bolden (5-11, 220) is a hard-charging runner with good vision who appears to love contact. Inside running lanes will be hard to find and will close quickly Sunday because Buffalo tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are big and active. Williams (6-1, 303) is powerful and athletic. He has excellent lower-body strength to anchor against the run and has the quickness to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. Dareus (6-3, 331) has a superior blend of size and strength. He moves well laterally and delivers jarring hits. Without Logan Mankins, New England’s interior, including Ryan Wendell (he’s quick) and Dan Connolly (he’s solid), will have to work hard to shed Williams and Dareus and get their hands on active linebackers Arthur Moats (he’s athletic), Kelvin Sheppard (he’s rangy), and Nick Barnett (he’s rangy).
Rushing yards per game
New England offense: 109.7 (12th)
Buffalo defense: 100.3 (14th)
When the Patriots pass
Tom Brady put up fine numbers against the Ravens, particularly considering he was under constant pressure. He’ll face constant pressure again Sunday from the likes of Mario Williams (simply put, he’s a monster), Mark Anderson (he’s strong and quick) , and Chris Kelsay (he’s strong and smart). Brady will need to get the ball out quickly and that means heavy doses of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and screen passes. Establishing a quick-strike attack early (minus those horizontal chucks to Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd, which aren’t fooling anyone) will force the Bills to play press coverage and will loosen things up for Lloyd and Branch as the game progresses. Whether it’s by design or out of necessity, Welker is back to his normal workload. He still has amazingly quick feet and gains separation quickly. He has, however, dropped some passes this season that in the past would have been unheard of. Gronkowski normally creates mismatches everywhere, but he is listed as questionable with a hip injury. He misses Aaron Hernandez more than anybody because teams will dedicate more of their resources to stopping him. Lloyd continues to build a rapport with Brady, while Branch has always had one. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, and Justin Rogers are adequate. Safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd go for the ball before the body.
Passing yards per game
New England offense: 281.3 (ninth)
Buffalo defense: 248.3 (19th)
When the Bills run
Buffalo has an excellent tailback tandem in rugged Fred Jackson and the electrifying C.J. Spiller. Unfortunately for coach Chan Gailey, neither is 100 percent, and if they play, they won’t be at their best. Jackson (sprained right knee) is a bull. He has excellent size (6 feet 1 inch, 216 pounds) and is a powerful runner. He has good vision and instincts and deceptive quickness. He hits creases with authority and won’t back down from contact. Spiller has elite speed and quickness, but he also has a sprained left shoulder. Tashard Choice could be front and center. A versatile back, Choice (5-10, 210) is thick and strong and will move the pile. He has excellent leg drive and he runs with a sense of urgency. Choice lacks burst, however, and will often get buried behind the line of scrimmage. Center Eric Wood (6-4, 310) gives a good initial pop and plays to the whistle. Right guard Kraig Urbik (6-5, 324) is big, quick, and surprisingly mobile. Left guard Andy Levitre (6-2, 305) is smart and tough but lacks power and can get overwhelmed. New England’s front seven struggled against the Ravens. Expect a huge bounce-back performance from massive tackle Vince Wilfork and active linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Rushing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 178.0 (third)
New England defense: 81.0 (seventh)
When the Bills pass
Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the more streaky quarterbacks in the NFL. When he’s on, he does a tremendous job directing a spread offense that can strike quickly and test a defense’s stamina. When rattled, Fitzpatrick will pull the trigger quickly and throw interceptions in bunches. Fitzpatrick, who has an awkward throwing motion, is more comfortable in the pocket but does have surprising foot speed and athleticism, allowing him to extend plays. Fitzpatrick does a good job spreading the ball and excels at hitting the backs on dumps and screens. Massive left tackle Cordy Glenn (6 feet 6 inches, 345 pounds) is an agile, mobile, and hostile rookie. Right tackle Erik Pears (6-8, 316) is strong but lacks athleticism and quickness. Rookie Chandler Jones leads a Patriots pass rush that was virtually nonexistent in Baltimore. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t feel some heat, he will look like an All-Pro. Stevie Johnson is Fitzpatrick’s favorite target. A well-built player, the 6-2, 207-pound Johnson has excellent strength, acceleration, and hands. Lapses in concentration and bouts of immaturity have prevented Johnson from reaching elite status. Donald Jones is an underrated receiver with decent size, strength, and hands. Rookie T.J. Graham is a burner. Tight end Scott Chandler (6-7, 260) is a huge target who has developed from a project to a legitimate threat. New England’s secondary looked horrible last week, but a lot of that was because of the lack of pressure created up front. This unit isn’t as bad as it looked.
Passing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 193.0 (26th)
New England defense: 262.0 (24th)
BILLS’ KEY PLAYER: MARIO WILLIAMS
A truly destructive defensive end, this 6-foot-6-inch, 292-pounder is a terror off the edge. Super Mario has the quickness to rush the passer, and the strength and speed to seal the edge against even the fastest running backs.
How he beats you: With intelligence and speed. Williams diagnoses plays quickly and has an explosive first step. He is rarely out of position, closes quickly, and pummels opponents.
How to shut him down: By getting rid of the ball quickly. Williams is at his best pursuing quarterbacks and running backs. When he’s constantly dropping into coverage, he tends to get lost and loses his enthusiasm.
BILLS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Let’s try Brad. Whatever happened to Brad Smith? This guy was a nightmare to defend when he was with the Jets. Get the ball in his hands on offense (QB, WR, HB) and special teams.
2. Pocket protector. Keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick comfortable and upright is imperative. If he gets skittish early, he will go into a funk. If he’s allowed to stay comfortable, he will take advantage.
3. Return engagement. Leodis McKelvin is a fearless returner (and a decent corner, too). He needs to find his lanes and follow his blockers to change field position.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Short memories. Bill Belichick’s troops can’t worry about being 1-2 (they could easily be 3-0). Forget about the last two weeks and concentrate on getting back on track.
2. Feed Ridley. Stevan Ridley was kind of the forgotten man vs. the Ravens. The Patriots need to stick with their sophomore tailback even if he struggles early. He will pay off late.
3. Gap control. The big guys up front (we mean you, Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love) have to clog the lanes to force the backs outside where the linebackers and safeties can gobble them up.
Patriots 31, Bills 21Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com.