The New England Patriots are slated to take on the Buffalo Bills tomorrow in their AFC East opener, and here is a look at five players on the Pats who are either rising or falling heading into the game.
WR Wes Welker
With Kellen Winslow Jr. out of the picture and Julian Edelman ruled out for Week 4, Wes Welker is going to be the focal point of this offense against a Bills pass defense that is extremely weak in the nickel corner. Welker went off against the Baltimore Ravens to the tune of 142 yards on eight catches, and he only needed eight targets to turn that performance in. He’ll be getting at least that many looks from Tom Brady, who is always looking for Welker first when he’s on the field. The star slot WR will certainly be receiving plenty of snaps, and he will have a big game against Buffalo.
The Patriots running game is focused on three players in Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Shane Vereen. Ridley started the season well against the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, but he had a poor performance against the Baltimore Ravens and will be going up against a team with two of the top run-stopping linebackers in the league in Arthur Moats and Nick Barnett. He’s going to have a tough day, and he doesn’t have a back who can effectively spell him with Vereen’s status in doubt and Woodhead proving that he shouldn’t be receiving ten carries a game.
Hopefully, Vereen can play to ease the pressure on Ridley against the Bills tough run defense, because the Pats sorely lack a No. 2 option without the Cal product. Woodhead is a great scat back, but the Patriots simply can’t afford to give him a significant amount of carries; that especially won’t bode well against their Week 4 opponents.
Before I get killed for this, let me say that I think Dont’a Hightower has been one of the best ten rookies so far this season and absolutely killed it against the Tennessee Titans. The Alabama product also played very well against the Arizona Cardinals, but he was terrible against the Ravens and was one of the main culprits in Ray Rice’s 100-yard rushing day. Brandon Spikes had a rare off game, but Hightower’s tentativeness was of grave concern. His main value stems from his ability to stop the run, and he needs to do a better job of that against the Bills. Although their vaunted running game isn’t at full strength, their offensive line is and has been the best blocking unit so far this year. Let’s see if the rookie SLB can bounce back against the Bills, because Fred Jackson is still great even if he isn’t 100%.
DE Chandler Jones
The New England Patriots rookie DE is clearly the leader for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award thus far, and he bounced back after three disappointing quarters against Michael Oher to finish strong in the fourth (that’s not mentioning the billion holding penalties that weren’t called against Oher). Jones destroys weaker competition (De’Anthony Batiste), and he plays well against strong veteran tackles as well (Michael Roos).
However, he is going to be facing a different kind of player in Cordy Glenn on Sunday; a fellow Rookie of the Year candidate in his own right. Glenn has anchored a Bills offensive line that has been one of the best in the league this year, and he has been especially dominant in pass protection. This is going to be a big test for Jones, and he will need to pass it in order to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into making mistakes. Jones is clearly the Pats best pass rushing option, and he will need to be at his best against another standout rookie.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.