Bills at Patriots
Today, 1 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 14 1/2)
When the Patriots runThe Patriots entered the season with five NFL-proven running backs on the roster. They’re down to three. Fred Taylor remains the lead horse in the stable but so far hasn’t been given the necessary carries to establish any kind of rhythm. That could change today. Taylor still shows great acceleration to the hole and the shiftiness to excel at the second level. He’s in great shape and there is no reason to think he can’t be productive if given more responsibility. BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s workload will increase with the departures of Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. Green-Ellis is tough and aggressive and likes to bang between the tackles. He has deceptive strength and will break through arm tackles. Sammy Morris will assume some of Faulk’s third-down duties. Morris has solid running, receiving, and blocking skills, but he’s not as good as Faulk in any of those areas. New England’s interior three of center Dan Koppen (smart and wily), Stephen Neal (exceptional balance), and Dan Connolly (solid and serviceable) have the skills to run-block but haven’t been asked to do it consistently, as the offense continues to rely on the pass. Buffalo nose tackle Kyle Williams doesn’t take many plays off. He has good strength and lateral movement and is relentless in pursuit. Inside linebacker Andra Davis has the power and vision to fill lanes and knock blockers and ball carriers back.
When the Patriots passAnybody else expecting a big bounce-back game from Tom Brady? After looking like, well, Tom Brady in the first half against the Jets, he looked like Joey Harrington in the second half. He looked indecisive and his passes lacked zip and accuracy. New England undoubtedly will get back to its strength, which is a ball-control, short passing attack. That starts with a healthy dose of Wes Welker (where was he in the second half at the Meadowlands?). Welker’s ability to catch the quick pass and move the chains with his quick feet and toughness allow this offense to thrive. Julian Edelman has to be involved as well. It will force the Bills to cheat toward the line and could set up the home run ball to Randy Moss. Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski need to get in the mix early. The Bills have a good corps of cover corners led by Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence. McGee is fluid and can mirror receivers’ moves. He’s not overly physical but has the speed to turn and cover deep. Florence is athletic and versatile. He has the strength to muscle slot receivers and the speed to cover outside threats. Nickel corner Reggie Corner (seriously) has exceptional quickness. Strong safety Donte Whitner is athletic and rangy. Free safety Jairus Byrd is a ball hawk.
When the Bills runBuffalo has a trio of tailbacks that any team in the league would love. The problem is, the big uglies up front have been more ugly than big. Marshawn Lynch is a rugged, north-south runner with the power to break tackles and the speed to do damage in the open field. Lynch has good size (5 feet 11 inches, 215 pounds) and excellent balance. Despite myriad injuries, Lynch still has an explosive first step and never shies away from contact. His desire has been questioned, but three-plus years in Orchard Park will do that. Fred Jackson (6-1, 215 pounds) is a no-nonsense bulldozer who excels between the tackles and thrives on contact. He doesn’t have great speed but is deceptively quick and powerful. Gang tackling is a must when it comes to bringing down Jackson. C.J. Spiller is the back of the future in Buffalo. A dynamite playmaker, the 5-10 1/2, 196-pound rookie has a rare blend of speed, quickness, and moves. Spiller has exceptional vision and burst, allowing him to exploit even the tiniest cracks in the line. If there’s no light, he’ll bounce outside and take the corner. Center Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 301) has strong hands but lacks quickness and will get eaten alive by massive and mobile nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Left guard Andy Levitre is quick but lacks strength and will wear down. Right guard Eric Wood (6-4, 315) has decent power and athleticism and is probably the Bills’ best pure blocker.
When the Bills passRyan Fitzpatrick gets a turn to guide this attack, which has been truly atrocious through the first two weeks under the direction of Trent Edwards. It’s not fair to put the blame solely on Edwards, as the offensive line has offered minimal protection (seven sacks). Fitzpatrick is smart and athletic. The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pounder showed flashes during his starting stints in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Fitzpatrick has excellent leadership and improvisational skills. He can make plays with his arm and his legs. He does have some decent weapons to work with, but the real challenge will be buying time to find those targets. Lee Evans is a tough, aggressive receiver who will fight for balls and extra yardage. Steve Johnson is a classic possession receiver with strong hands and toughness. Roscoe Parrish has tantalizing skills (speed, quickness, and moves) but has inconsistent hands. Tight ends Jonathan Stupar and David Martin need to exploit openings near the line to give Fitzpatrick some quick options. Patriots corners Devin McCourty and Darius Butler took their lumps last week and need to rely on their athleticism and instincts to bounce back. Safeties Patrick Chung, James Sanders, and Brandon Meriweather need to provide support. The Patriots should be able to pressure Fitzpatrick from all angles.
Bills' key playerRyan Fitzpatrick
Intelligence is not an issue with this Harvard grad. Today, however, he gets to decipher defenses designed by a man often described as a genius.
How he beats you: With athleticism. Fitzpatrick offsets mediocre arm strength with quick feet and surprising moves. He’s comfortable rolling out, and his accuracy actually improves when he’s outside the pocket.
How to shut him down: By getting after him early. Blitz from every angle so he doesn’t know where the hits are coming from. Pound him into submission and make his New England homecoming miserable.
Bills' keys to victory1. Control freaks: Feed Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and C.J. Spiller the ball and let this talented trio control the clock and keep Tom Brady on the sideline.
2. Pressure points: Defensive end/outside linebacker Chris Kelsay has to get into the backfield and into Brady’s face. He’s quick off the snap and tackles with enthusiasm.
3. Special delivery: Return men Roscoe Parrish and Spiller have to break some long gainers to give the Bills any chance at snapping their 13-game skid vs. New England.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Balance the books: Enough talk about trying to establish a balanced offense. It’s time to implement a plan of attack and, for the love of Mike, stick with it.
2. Full concentration: Playing only 30 solid minutes won’t cut it in the NFL — even against inferior competition. Come out with the same fire in the second half.
3. Uncomfortable feeling: Change up the looks and bring pressure on defense to prevent Ryan Fitzpatrick from getting into a groove and carving up the secondary.