The New England Patriots should be able to carve up the Buffalo Bills defense, and the Bills D is at a severe disadvantage in the secondary without No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore and with Jairus Byrd listed doubtful. Byrd’s cloudy status makes it difficult to plan the three keys, but Byrd’s designation and unhappiness with his situation means that it is highly unlikely for him to take the field tomorrow afternoon.
1. Work the middle with Danny Amendola
While Ron Brooks isn’t a liability in the slot, Danny Amendola has a chance to have a huge day against the Bills defense. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he clears ten receptions, and this could be a banner week for Amendola. Wes Welker had a great game for the Denver Broncos to open the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amendola one-up him in terms of production. With Rob Gronkowski still a couple of weeks away from returning, the New England Patriots two best weapons working the middle of the field will be Zach Sudfeld and Danny Amendola. Add in the fact that Amendola will be playing as the “Z” in two-wide sets against Justin Rogers, and you have all the ingredients for a big game from Amendola. The Patriots first regular season game will be tougher for the rookies than most other games, but the Bills have a depleted secondary. Amendola should get a heavy dose of targets tomorrow and while I have always a been a proponent of the need to spread the ball around, Amendola is so talented and has such a favorable matchup that you can’t help but to give him a very high volume of targets. Another bonus of giving Amendola a steady diet of targets? It will open things up for guys like Aaron Dobson downfield.
2. Holding it down on the inside
The Buffalo Bills have one of the best pass rushing duos in the league at the defensive tackle position in superstar Kyle Williams (well, he should be viewed as a superstar) and Marcell Dareus, who makes up for his struggles in run defense with excellent pass rushing. Both players could cause big problems for the New England Patriots, because Tom Brady, like most quarterbacks, is worse against interior pressure. However, Brady is significantly worse against interior pressure, and that could be an issue since the Pats have better pass protection on the outside of the offensive line. Ryan Wendell is one of the best run blocking centers around, but he had some issues in pass pro last year. If he isn’t at the top of his game, then he will get exposed badly by Williams and/or Dareus. The right guard spot could also be a problem if Marcus Cannon doesn’t get things down in his first start at the position, or if Dan Connolly has some of the pass protection lapses he showed last year. I don’t expect the Bills to get to Tom Brady too often, but they will be able to make his life difficult with a steady dose of interior pressure. The key is limiting that pressure, and it’s going to be a tough task for sure.
3. “You cannot win if you cannot run”
As legendary coach Hank Stram famously said, “You cannot win if you cannot run.” While that saying is definitely outdated in today’s NFL (just look at the Denver Broncos), running the football will be a huge key for the New England Patriots. The Bills may have the most talented running back on either team in this game in C.J. Spiller, but the Pats are deeper at RB and have their own feature back in Stevan Ridley. More to the point, the Bills just aren’t nearly as good as the Patriots are at stopping the run, and the Patriots should have a great deal of success running the football. Although the Bills greatest weakness lies in their secondary due to injuries to Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd, the Buffalo Bills aren’t exactly good at stopping the run either. In fact, they gave up the third-most rushing yards per attempt last year with 5.0 yards per carry allowed, and Stevan Ridley carved them up to the tune of 98 yards on the ground in their last meeting. And the game before? Ridley and Brandon Bolden both had over 100 rushing yards.
The Patriots rushing game is going to be even better next season, because their running backs are so young that they can only get better. Beyond that, home-run back (no, he is not a bruising back) LeGarrette Blount joins the rotation, and the Patriots should have a great deal of success running the ball. Manny Lawson was a nice signing and Kiko Alonso should be a very good linebacker in this league, but the Bills also cut their best linebacker last year (Nick Barnett, who excelled in run defense). It is important for the Patriots to establish a good ground attack, and they should be able to have a great deal of success on the ground.