The New England Patriots are set to take on the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday to open up the 2013 regular season, and the Patriots come in as the heavy favorites in this game. Not only are the Bills starting a rookie quarterback, but they will not have their top cornerback and could be missing their star free safety. Without Stephon Gilmore and potentially without Jairus Byrd, the Buffalo Bills will have a tough time stopping Tom Brady and the New England Patriots new-look passing attack, which is still lethal with Brady at the helm. The receivers are more uncertain, but they are probably more talent and the corps contains more depth overall. The Bills will also have a tough time shutting down the Patriots running game, so it’s going to be up to E.J. Manuel to make smart throws and C.J. Spiller to break off some big plays in order to beat the Patriots and their vaunted run defense.
Dennis Amo of our Buffalo Bills blog BuffaLowDown was kind enough to answer five questions about the game. You can follow BuffaLowDown on Twitter here, and keep an eye out on their blog for my answers to Dennis’s five questions.
1. What should we expect to see out of E.J. Manuel? I am very interested in seeing how the Bills gameplan fits in as far as Manuel’s role goes. How should the Patriots gameplan against the Bills?
Manuel is a versatile QB that can do it both in the air and with his feet. With Manuel coming back off of minor surgery and the Bills not really having a 3rd QB, Buffalo will move more to a run heavy offense and pass second. I know that they do not want to see Manuel go down and be lost for a substantial amount of time so bringing him back for week 1 will also bring caution as to the the play calling. The Patriots should expect a run heavy offense at this point.
2. C.J. Spiller is going up against a formidable run defense. Will that affect how many times the Bills run, or are they going to, as Nathaniel Hackett stated, feed the ball to Spiller until he throws up? Will Fred Jackson get significant carries?
With Manuel’s surgery, the Bills will still run the ball the majority of the time. Fred Jackson will get carries but look for him to get more goal-line carries and relieve Spiller only when he is in need of a breather.
3. Stephon Gilmore’s injury impact cannot be overstated, and I viewed him as a lockdown CB coming into the game. Is that a correct assessment, and are there any other CBs worth watching on the Bills?
The loss of Gilmore puts a lot of pressure on an already inexperienced CB crew. Leodis McKelvin is the veteran of the group and he is more of a nickel back at this point. Ron Brooks would be the biggest name CB for the start of the game. I would not be surprised to see Aaron Williams, moved to S in the off-season, make a move back to DB to help out especially with Byrd back and Leonhard being signed this week as well. It is definitely the weak point for the Bills on defense and unfortunately for the Bills, Brady has a niche for finding the weak zone and tearing it apart.
4. How many snaps does Jim Leonhard figure to get if Byrd is injured? How about if he plays?
With Byrd injured and his ability to play is up in the air, Leonhard has a familiarity with Mike Pettine’s defense that will allow him to come in and hit the ground running and be able to step in right off the bat. The Bills do have Aaron and Duke Williams as well as Searcy and Meeks at S. Bringing in Leonhard is more of a safety measure at this point and stop gap I believe but look for him to get about half of the snaps.
5. Do the Bills have a legitimate chance at upsetting the Patriots, and what has to happen for them to pull it off?
With the weakness at CB, I think that the Bills, to upset the Patriots, will have to shutdown Brady with the front 7 and make sure he does not have time to look down the field and dissect the back 4. If pressure can be kept on Brady and the offense is able to move the ball then I believe that the Bills have a good chance at an upset. If Brady can’t be shut down or at least held in check, no possible way.