It’s time to take a look one five players on the Buffalo Bills offense that the New England Patriots will have to watch for tomorrow in their AFC East opener.
1. Running back position
I decided to go with all three of the Buffalo Bills top three backs here because of the nature of their situation due to injuries. Fred Jackson will likely play tomorrow, but things get murkier when projecting whether or not C.J. Spiller will be able to play. My guess is no, and he is a game-time decision.
Tashard Choice will figure to get some significant carries, and it’s obviously great news for Bills fans to hear that they can at least have one of their two star backs available against their division rivals. Without both of them, the offense would have to rely more on Ryan Fitzpatrick, which isn’t the best plan for success. New England’s run D is better than their pass coverage, but there is no doubt that Jackson and Spiller are the Bills stars on offense.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Even though Fitzpatrick is a player a lot of people are divided on, he has some games where he absolutely dominates and shows why he received that big contract from the Bills. After Spiller went down, Fitzpatrick was able to make smart throws and effectively lead the offense. Deadly in the red zone, he has eight touchdowns already this season and has made Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, and Scott Chandler a dangerous trio for defenses to account for in the red zone.
The thing about Fitzpatrick is that he is prone to making mistakes, especially if he comes under pressure. The Patriots rely on rookie Chandler Jones to create much of that pressure, so it will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick opts to blitz more often against a top-flight pass-protecting unit that has given up less than ten pressures this season.
3. Stevie Johnson
Expect Johnson to have a strong game against the Patriots, and he has established himself as one of the best red zone threats in the league. He already has three touchdown receptions to his credit this season after hauling in a key nine-yard TD last week against the Cleveland Browns (seven catches in total). Johnson has 13 receptions for 172 yards so far this season, but it should be noted that he had just two catches (but for 56 yards) in Week 2′s win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
What the Patriots need to do is to defend Johnson like they covered Anquan Boldin last week, and that duty will rest mostly on Devin McCourty. He has been great so far in coverage this season, but let’s see how those two crucial dropped picks that eventually costed the Pats will affect him from a mental standpoint. Entering his third season in the league, McCourty has played up to his top rookie form after a very disappointing 2011 campaign. Let’s hope he shakes off those two mistakes that marred an otherwise good performance and shuts down Johnson.
4. Cordy Glenn
There isn’t a matchup that I’m looking forward to more than the thought of watching two top rookies battle it out in the trenches. Cordy Glenn has been a key reason why the Bills offensive line has been so good in pass protection, and it is rare to see a rookie left tackle have this much success in his first three games in the league. Glenn, not Andrew Luck, is the main challenger to Robert Griffin III for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with his play so far this year.
Enter Chandler Jones, who is clearly at the top in the DROY rankings so far this season. After being held down (no pun intended) by Michael Oher in Week 3- that is, until the fourth quarter- he has been a dominant force for the Pats. Jones has established himself as the team’s best pass rusher, and he is an even better run stopper (his performance against Michael Roos in Week 1 was a particular highlight).
Jones vs. Glenn is as good of a LT vs. RE rookie face-off as you’re going to see, and both players have already become stars for their respective teams.
5. Andy Levitre
Left guard Andy Levitre has picked up where he left off after last year’s breakout season, and he is further cementing himself as one of the best pass blocking guards in the NFL. He and rookie Cordy Glenn form a formidable duo on the left side of the line, and he is yet another player to have broken out in his all-important third year in the league after steadily improving in his second season following a bad rookie year.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.