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Tale of the tape: Patriots-Bills

Posted by Albert Breer  December 22, 2009 04:30 PM

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Buffalo, though, found a way to do a pretty good job, and one of their methods was obvious on Tom Brady’s first-quarter interception. The first part of the equation, that has to be mentioned on this play, was Matt Light getting beat by Aaron Schobel.

But on the play, Paul Posluzny was there because the Bills sat him down in the middle to spy on the short crossing routes. You could see Brady’s accuracy off a little bit on the play – he released the ball as Welker cleared Posluzny, but threw it too far inside to give the linebacker a shot at the ball.

On the first series of the third quarter, on a third and 5, the Bills employed the same strategy, but this time, Posluzny re-routed Welker – giving him a hard shove – as he crossed his area, which led to thrown-off timing, an incompletion, and a punt.

RE-GAINING THEIR EDGE: One area where the Patriots defenders clearly struggled in the running game early was setting the edge. Tully Banta-Cain lost outside contain on 7-yard and 6-yard runs, which allowed Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch to turn the corner. That was compounded by missed tackles and the inside linebackers struggling to get off blocks without Vince Wilfork in there to draw double teams.

The latter problem persists, but the Patriots really cleaned up their problems on the outside, which probably wasn’t an adjustment as much as it was a coaches’ emphasis. Pierre Woods and Banta-Cain got markedly better here as the game went on, and Adalius Thomas made his presence felt in this area.

On a crucial second and 7 in the third quarter, Thomas held up his blocker, which left Mike Wright singled up on tight end Shawn Nelson. Wright shed Nelson and blasted Fred Jackson, holding him to a 1-yard gain, another spot where a run stop allowed the coaches to get their “UFO” package on the field.

BIG-BOY FOOTBALL: Dan Koppen’s struggled some against the league’s bigger nose tackles, so some of his work on Sunday was pretty encouraging. On three straight plays on the Patriots first touchdown drive, it showed up clearly.

A 9-yard Laurence Maroney run was sprung off Koppen’s right side as he controlled Marcus Stroud. Then, Kevin Faulk went for 7 yards out of the I-formation with Koppen riding Kyle Williams (a nightmare for New England to deal with all day) out of the play. Then, the Patriots converted a second and 3 with a 4-yard run by Sammy Morris, made possible because Koppen neutralized linebacker Chris Draft.

I’ve suspected for a little while that Koppen was feeling the effects of some bumps and bruises. This could be a sign that he’s getting well.

KNOWING THE SITUATION: I’m not one of those people who’s been killing Brandon Meriweather of late, because even the best safeties don’t make game-turning plays every game, and this guy isn’t Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu at this point anyway. But he’s made two pretty critical mistakes in two consecutive games.

I think the one this week was tougher to swallow than the one last week, because Meriweather has to know the situation there. The Patriots sent seven rushers on a fourth and 8, so the defense had very little behind him in the way of coverage. That means, in that spot, he absolutely has to make the tackle.

And he didn’t. He went for the kill shot against a guy, in Josh Reed, who once was a college tailback, and still runs like one. So Reed keeps his feet, and 29 yards later, it’s a ballgame. Part of what makes the best safeties so good is knowing when and when not to drop the hammer. I’m pretty this was the time to wrap up and get the guy to the ground, and not to send a message.

MATCHING UP: One way that “UFO” defense really got the Patriots' rush going was by getting the defense good matchups. And it wasn’t any more clear in any spot than on the third down where Trent Edwards was injured.

On that play, seven guys rushed. Rob Ninkovich steamed into the center, leaving three rushers to his right and only two blockers to that side of the Bills formation. So the guard and tackle picked up their men, but Banta-Cain wasn’t accounted for from the edge. Fred Jackson had to come across the quarterback to pick him up, and had no chance, as Banta-Cain blew him up and sacked Edwards.

Understandably, considering the circumstances with the injuries, the Bills had some communication issues up front, too. On one play, Brace was doubled, the line didn’t slide, and Banta-Cain got a free run at the quarterback. The Patriots deserve credit for foreseeing this problems and exploiting them.

THIS AND THAT: Mike Wright had his big plays, but a two-play sequence in the fourth quarter that should get some shine. It started with an underthrow by Ryan Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans down the field, which happened because Wright collapsed the pocket and forced the quarterback off-balance. Next, on the aforementioned 29-yarder by Evans, Wright started in pass rush, peeled off with the throw and chased down the receiver, who might’ve scored otherwise. … The Bills floated rushers around the line, too. They stood Schobel up some, and one way they got him to the quarterback showed up on the play he tumbled into Brady’s knee. The Bills sent Posluzny flying into Logan Mankins – almost as a lead blocker – which got Schobel on Kevin Faulk. Schobel tried to hurdle Faulk, but didn’t quite make it, which sent him hurdling into Brady’s leg. 
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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