Rex Ryan wasn’t going to get emotional. Not again. That, he said, was a part of the Buffalo Bills’ downfall in their Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots.
But the Bills head coach delivered a bristly press conference Thursday, after getting probed by questions about his propensity to talk about his rivals.
Whatever Ryan’s temperament has been against the Patriots, it’s not working. The coach has suffered eight losses in nine games against the Patriots as a head coach. Something has got to change if Ryan’s going to start to rewrite the narrative between him and the Pats. Unfortunately for Ryan, Tom Brady and the Patriots have been the model of consistency. The quarterback has been relentless and brilliant this season, despite injuries to offensive linemen and skill players.
Aside from the matchup of Brady vs. Ryan’s defense (upon which Brady is likely to prey), here are the five keys for a Patriots win over the Bills.
1. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones need to set the edge
It’s the linebackers’ turn to pass rush.
Against a more static quarterback like last week’s opponent Eli Manning, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were allowed greater liberties to lock in on pressuring the quarterback.
Against Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who is just as dangerous as a rusher as he is a passer, Jones and Ninkovich should contain Taylor in the pocket. That gives linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jabaal Sheard the opportunity to tee Taylor up by blitzing the middle.
Similarly, disciplined defensive ends can upend the zone-read option, as Taylor will be forced to hand it off to the running backs. A lapse in focus could result in a keeper from Taylor, who will turn the corner and get upfield.
2. Danny Amendola needs to pick up Julian Edelman’s production, but not his offensive duties
The common adage this week has been that Danny Amendola will finally fulfill the duties for which the Patriots paid him $31 million during the 2013 offseason.
And that’s valid.
But the thought that he’ll replace Edelman in terms of offensive responsibilities is optimistic. Edelman is a more versatile receiver than Amendola and, for another point of comparison, Wes Welker. Amendola and Welker operate between the numbers as slot receivers — Edelman is capable of working inside, but he’s also proved effective lining up outside the numbers. In some ways, he’s like Rob Gronkowski, a “queen’’ of the football chess board, as Falcons coach Mike Smith calls elite tight ends. Edelman can attack from any spot on the line of scrimmage — and even the backfield.
So while Amendola will need to elevate his production with an increased role, that role will likely be quite different than Edelman’s.
3. Force Tyrod Taylor to air it out
When Taylor throws for over 200 yards, he’s lost two of three games this season. In those two losses, he was good for at least an interception (he threw three in his Week 2 loss against New England).
Sure, it’s a small sample size. But it also makes sense when put in context of the Bills’ offensive gameplan. The Bills want to run the ball, whether it be in the hands of LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, or Taylor. And Taylor can’t keep up with Brady. So far in 2015, no one has.
If the Patriots can establish an early lead, they will force the Bills to turn to Taylor — and this is what happened last time the Bills turned to Taylor against the Patriots.
4. Beware Charles Clay in the screen game
If the Bills are looking to get Taylor in rhythm, they may look first to screens with Clay. Disrupting those could derail some of the Bills’ early drives.
Clay has 408 yards on the 2015 season, 168 of which came after the catch. Against the Jets, he seemed to have found a wrinkle in the screen game, as noted by The Boston Globe. He’s a big, shifty runner that’s picking up first downs on 50 percent of his receptions.
But the Patriots are familiar with Clay, who played with the Miami Dolphins before signing with Buffalo in the 2015 offseason. In his seven games against the Patriots, he’s totalled two touchdowns, and has never caught more than 59 yards.
5. Get LeGarrette Blount going
LeGarrette Blount is, no doubt, pleased about the potential return of three offensive linemen this week.
Sebastian Vollmer should return to left tackle and Marcus Cannon to right. Tre’ Jackson will likely provide depth at guard on the bench. And while he’s played the last two games, Bryan Stork may move to guard, which is like getting another starter on the line. (Because of the injuries on the line, Stork was playing right tackle, a new NFL position for him.)
With the offensive line finally falling into place, the Patriots offense may take a more physical approach. Shifty players Edelman and Dion Lewis are lost to injury, so bigger-bodied players like Blount, Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, and Brandon LaFell may become focal points in the offense.
It’s time to bully around Ryan’s “bullies.’’
Nine times Tom Brady has silenced Rex Ryan