Week 3 Preview: Bills vs. Patriots
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 23, 2011 @ 10:00am
The prevailing notion this week has been: “sure, the Bills are 2-0, but just wait until they get a dose of reality from the Pats.” Fair enough, naysayers of the world, but don’t expect the game to be a painful blowout.
Buffalo hosts the Patriots at 1 p.m. Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium—the game has been sold out, so it will be televised on CBS (Channel 4). New England is nine point favorites, according to Bodog.com, and that’s not too surprising considering how invincible Brady & co. have looked.
Although the Bills were able to compete in a shootout with the Raiders—not a high-powered offense by any means—they can’t afford to be as leaky in the secondary (McKelvin, George Wilson) against a near-1,000 yard passer after two weeks. Brady will be able to carve up Buffalo’s underwhelming legion of defensive backs—the true task will keeping the damage to a minimum.
Part of Brady’s success is due to the Pats’ pass protection excellence—at times it feels like Brady has an eternity in the pocket—and Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters and Matt Light have graded out exceptionally at Profootballfocus.com, allowing three sacks in two games. Only center Dan Connolly has struggled in his role protecting Brady, and Buffalo’s nose tackle, Kyle Williams, should take advantage and notch his first sack of the season at the least. Don’t expect much from Shawne Merriman again on Sunday.
New England’s front four has the potential to be dominant, with “nimble” Vince Wilfork and talented drama-queen Albert Haynesworth clogging the middle in the Pats’ new-look 4-3. Journeyman Mark Anderson (two sacks) has taken advantage of the attention paid to the two interior linemen, while Jerod Mayo has been his usual exceptional self at middle linebacker. With the Patriots weaker on the edge, this could be a breakout game for C.J. Spiller on screens/pitches, while Fred Jackson will probably bounce his runs outside to dodge Mayo, Wilfork and Haynesworth.
The trio of cornerbacks—second year stalwart Devin McCourty, veteran Leigh Bodden and rookie Ras-I Dowling are capable if inconsistent, and the Patriots’ band of defensive coaches (they have no true defensive coordinator) will try to avoid leaving safety Josh Barrett and burnable corner Kyle Arrington on islands. With Buffalo’s frequent four-wide sets in the spread, however, weaknesses will be tough to hide.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is in line for another big offensive day, assuming that the Bills’ offensive line continues to play beyond expectations. Andy Levitre (+3.7), Demetrius Bell (+2.0) and Eric Wood (+1.4) were solid against a stout Oakland defensive line, but the Wilfork/Haynesworth combo marks the first true interior challenge. Naaman Roosevelt, recently recalled from the practice squad, will hopefully see action in four-wide sets, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he was inactive—the Bills probably won’t dress both Martin and Roosevelt.
Interestingly, Brady and the no-huddle attack has thrived without a deep threat—the retirement of Randy Moss and the release of Brandon Tate leaves Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman as possession receivers. Aaron Hernandez, out for the game against Buffalo, allows NE to stretch the field, and his absence is noteworthy for Week 3.
Prediction: New England, 30-20.
— The top-rated Buffalo Bills defender in Week 2? Not Kyle Williams, not Nick Barnett, not Marcell Dareus. It was none other than Chris Kelsay, who posted a (+4.7) rating—equally adept in stopping the run (+2.6) and rushing the passer (+2.2) (he was a negative in coverage, though).
— Stevie Johnson practiced today! Great news. Terrence McGee, Kirk Morrison and Kraig Urbik are the only non-participants.
— Snap counts of interest vs. the Raiders (totals= 65 defensive snaps): Aaron Williams: 18, Shawne Merriman: 41, Alex Carrington: 13, Kellen Heard: 16, Marcell Dareus: 52.
— Snap counts (cont. for offense, 78 total): Scott Chandler: 36, David Nelson: 65, C.J. Spiller: 15, Brad Smith: 9, Ruvell Martin: 30.