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Five keys: Patriots at Bills

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  September 24, 2011 09:00 PM

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The Patriots have beaten the Bills 15-straight times. Will that change tomorrow? Not if the Patriots hit on these five points:

Key 1: Be sound in run fits

The Patriots have struggled at times this season getting the defensive line and the linebacker to fit correctly to stop the run. Fortunately the Patriots have been so far ahead in these games that the run has been an afterthought. It won’t be for the Bills, who will want to run the ball, if they can remain close. If the defensive line gets out of their gaps, Bills RB Fred Jackson is one of the best at exploiting that weakness. He has great vision and will fit through small holes, and then is very dangerous at the second level and tough to bring down. RB C.J. Spiller is a home run threat. Give him a lane, and he’ll take it 70 yards. Expect the Bills to put both RBs on the field together more in this game to give the Patriots more to think about pre-snap. If the Bills can run the ball, it will keep them in the ballgame longer than they should be.

Key 2: Take advantage of speed mismatch vs. Bills LBs

The Bills’ LBs – Chris Kelsay, Andra Davis, Nick Barnett and Shawne Merriman – are good football players or once were, but as a group, they are not fast and not quick laterally. The Patriots should be able to run underneath crossing routes against them all day. Expect the Patriots to have even more emphasis on the short passing game. Of Brady’s 42 attempts last week, 18 (42.9 percent) were thrown 5 yards or less. Wouldn’t be surprised to see that climb over 50 percent, with RB Danny Woodhead getting involved more.

Key 3: Line must generate pressure

The Patriots’ defensive line, outside of Vince Wilfork, didn’t do much against a good Chargers offensive line. The Patriots’ secondary has as much or more to worry about this week with the Bills’ multiple weapons, especially WR Stevie Johnson, who is a tough matchup for New England. The Patriots can cover, but only for so long. Not having Albert Haynesworth (ruled out with a back injury) really hurts. The Patriots will need big days from Andre Carter and Mark Anderson on the outside, and Wilfork, Shaun Ellis, Kyle Love and Landon Cohen inside if the game stays close. Make Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick feel uncomfortable and he’ll start throwing off his back foot and fluttering balls, which could lead to interceptions. If Fitzpatrick can step into his throws, he’s going to make use of his weapons against a still-learning Patriots secondary.

Key 4: Keep the pressure on offensively

Not only does the opposing offense have to deal with the Patriots’ defense (no, that wasn’t a joke), but as soon as the Patriots put the first touchdown on the board, the other quarterback starts to feel the pressure to match Tom Brady score for score. Good luck with that.

Key 5: Stay strong in special teams

The Patriots have had excellent kick and punt coverage, led by LB Tracy White and WR Matthew Slater. They can’t let the Bills get a cheap touchdown, which would give them life. Brad Smith is dangerous as a kickoff returner, and could swing field position if afforded the opportunity. C.J. Spiller will likely return punts. He’s a little shaky on those, so the ball could pop loose if the Patriots can spook him. Bills P Brian Moorman is one of the league’s best. It would help if a gimpy Zoltan Mesko could match him – if the Patriots ever have to punt.

THE PICK

For the paper, I picked the Bills to cover the 8.5-point spread. Not sure if I still believe that or not (still thinking my way through it as I type). With the injury situation on the Patriots’ defense (no Patrick Chung or Haynesworth) and P Zoltan Mesko, I just think that is a lot of points to lay on the road. There’s no doubt I think the Patriots will win, but the Bills are exactly the type of team that could score once or twice in garbage time to make things look good. OK, now I’ve decided…

Patriots 38, Bills 30

P.S.: The Bills put down a new turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium in late July, and it still hasn't been broken in yet. There was a lot of slipping in the Raiders-Bills game. The Patriots will likely be trying to combat that with their choice of footwear.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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