We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
INSIDE THE BILLS' OFFENSE
The Buffalo Bills' offense hasn't changed much since head coach Chan Gailey was hired in 2010. They're still what I once termed as a "full blown spread offense" and the only true difference is Gailey's playcalling, which has been questionable at times. Gailey has a tendency to get pass-happy, as most offensive coordinators do, and neglect the only consistent aspect of his offense: the running game.
Gailey and his Bills are still using 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) and 22 (2 backs, 2 tight ends) and are running them from various offensive formations. The formations include 2x2, 3x1 and 3x2, with the latter aptly termed "empty" as in no tailbacks in the backfield. The majority of these formations are coming from shotgun and sometimes pistol sets.
As noted, the strength of the Bills offense is their tailbacks, who have been very good this year, especially C.J. Spiller. Spiller, a former first-round pick from Clemson, is a very dynamic runner and is spearheading a rushing offense that averages 5.3 yards per carry and a total of 140 yards per game, which ranks seventh in the NFL.
Although Spiller and his running mates have been efficient with their touches, they haven't gotten enough of them because of Gailey's preference for passing at unusual times. Buffalo's run:pass ratio checks in at 46:54, which doesn't make much sense all things considered, but such is the case.
Conceptually speaking, the passing offense is constructed as a (very) simplified West Coast Offense. Its main goal is to attack the middle of the field and create space for yards-after-catch opportunities through screen passes and route combinations. Some of the route combinations include various forms of Hi-Lo's and several outside breaking route combinations that are used to clear out space for a threat in the seam.
INSIDE THE BILLS' DEFENSE
In New England, the motto preached is "Do Your Job," but in Buffalo, it seems like it's been the exact opposite once one starts perusing the defensive statistics.
The Buffalo Bills give up nearly 170 rushing yards per game at a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry, per Pro Football Reference. They're also tied with a league-high 14 touchdowns allowed. A big reason for this is the lack of discipline on their entire defense.
From the cornerbacks' inabilities to set the edge to the defensive ends', the Bills have truly struggled in this area, and it is my belief that it is the reason they have been limited to a static 4-3 defense that primarily features under and over fronts for most of the season. In recent games, they've tried to two-gap more with the interior defensive linemen and play with a 1-gap, 3-4 front featuring a Leo, but have not had much success.
Against the pass, the Bills haven't been much better. They rank ninth-worst in the league in yards allowed per attempt, which sits at 7.8, and are sixth worst with nearly a 97 quarterback rating allowed according to Pro Football Reference. Much of the struggles have been pinned on defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, but his players are simply not playing with strong technique whether Wannstedt has called Cover 1 (man-free), Cover 2 Man (man-under), Cover 3 or Cover 4 (quarters).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots' play action: The teams that are struggling on defense appear to struggle the most with play action, which is something that the Bills also have issues with. Their back-side defenders tend to lose their contain and crash the line of scrimmage, leaving vacant zones in the pass defense for tight ends and running backs to catch passes. This will be something to watch, especially if the Patriots can establish their running game.
Patriots' running game: Speaking of the running game, it will be important for the Patriots to run the ball. As noted earlier, the Bills are giving up a plenty of yards per carry and overall, which will give the Patriots' running backs a chance to make plays. Last week, the Bills attempted to slow down the Houston running game with eight and sometimes nine defenders in the box and still had issues.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's turnovers: The book on Ryan Fitzpatrick has been written. He simply gives the ball away way too often and the Patriots have to take advantage of it. Fitzpatrick is very loose with the ball and tends to be a poor decision maker.
C.J. Spiller: Nose tackle Vince Wilfork called Spiller a "helluva player" recently and he's right. Spiller is very dangerous with the ball in his hand, eluding would-be tacklers with ease and often outrunning angles. If Chan Gailey doesn't get in his own way, Spiller should get the ball running the ball and catching screen passes, which the Bills are adept at.
Patriots' fundamentals: A fundamental approach to the game will be key for the Patriots as they will have to be smart in taking angles and bring down ball carriers the first chance they get. The Bills' offense is designed to create yards-after-catch and the Patriots must prevent this.
Stevie Johnson: The Patriots have given up 42 plays of 20 yards or more this season and if not covered, wide receiver Stevie Johnson can add to that number. Johnson is able to attack the Patriots' defense vertically and will get isolation matchups on the back-side of the formation, where he often picks up extra yardage off of slants and square-in routes.