The Patriots (1-1) look to bounce back after a tough loss in the Meadowlands when they host the Buffalo Bills (0-2) Sunday. Some seem to think that Buffalo is the perfect “bounce-back” team for the Patriots, but nothing is ever easy when divisional rivals face off. The Patriots struggled with the Bills last year, nearly losing the home opener on Monday night. If the Pats look past the Bills to the division-leading Dolphins (2-0) next week, they will lose. Thankfully, Bill Belichick has established the “One game at a time,” philosophy that has become entrenched in the Patriots’ locker room. They will be focused on Buffalo Sunday, but focus won’t be enough. Despite their struggles, the Bills possess a strong running game, some playmakers on defense and a WR who is a vertical threat in Lee Evans.
Here are 5 keys to victory on Sunday for the Pats.
1. Commitment to the run. The Patriots got away from the run too soon last Sunday and became a predictable passing team. The Pats have had the most success on drives when they mixed in running plays with their passing attack. They should not run for running’s sake, but they can use the run to set up play action, eat up clock, and establish a physical presence in the game. Fred Taylor has shown he can get the job done , and BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been effective as a supplement runner. Sammy Morris provides a thumper out of the backfield. The unknown is Danny Woodhead. It will be interesting to see what (if any) he can contribute.
2. Spread the ball around!! Tom Brady needs to use ALL of his weapons on offense and not rely so heavily on Randy Moss. Moss is a great weapon but the Pats also need to diversify how they use him. Deep-to-Moss is great, but not when it’s used multiple times in a game. As evidenced by the Bengals game Week One and the first half of last week’s Jets game, the more pass catchers involved in the offense, the more successful it is. The Pats need get their offensive diversity back, and can establish it against a weaker defense than what they will see next week. Now is the time to get it going.
3. Eat up the clock. Last week, we saw what happens when the defense is constantly out on the field. Therefore, offensively, the Patriots need to stay on the field and eat up the clock. It’s not so much a fear of the Buffalo offense, but a fear in what their own defense will surrender. That means long drives, including the running game, and not trying for the big play every time it’s available. The Pats used to thrive dinking and dunking up the field. They are in position, with the players they have, the be able to do that again when necessary. Until the defense improves, which I believe it will as the season progresses, it is necessary.
4. Protect the weakness in the defense (left corner back). The Pats need to adjust some of their schemes to protect the weakness of the defense, which is left corner back (LCB). Darius Butler has started their two weeks and has had lackluster results. Kyle Arrington has practiced with the starters at LCB and may start Sunday, or at least see significant time on the field with the defense. To help protect the left side of the field, the Pats can have consistent safety help over the top and can also roll a linebacker underneath for coverage help. The problem there is that it takes players away from being available to stop the run, which is Buffalo’s strength. However, this can be an effective strategy in obvious passing situations.
5. No drive-extending penalties. Penalties were a big contributor to last week’s defeat against the Jets. The defense especially had some back-breaking penalties that extended the Jets’ drives, including two pass interference calls and a late hit out of bounds. The defense isn’t good enough to overcome penalties. They have to be disciplined and avoid penalties so as not to give the Bills extra life on offense.
Prediction: Pats 27, Bills 20