OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN:
Oct 5, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Timothy Wright (81) celebrates a touchdown by tight endRob Gronkowski
(87) during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
For the Patriots, stating they want to establish the run is not enough. Last week rookie center Bryan Stork and his aggressive run blocking keyed a 220 yard rushing game. Stork is questionable for Sunday with a concussion, so the offensive line may still require yet another week of shuffling. The most encouraging play was the increased comfort level of tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer with veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell manning the guard spots. If Stork is unable to go, one of them will have to slide inside at center while struggling youngsters Jordan Devey, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, or Marcus Cannon will have to step in and step up their play.
Last season in the season finale, LeGarrette Blount ran for 189 yards against a Bills team that was more than ready to pack-up for the season with Thad Lewis at quarterback. Despite falling behind, the Bills were able to cut the lead to a touchdown with 3:26 to play before the Patriots put them away. The Patriots will likely get a far more spirited Buffalo squad in Buffalo after their strong start to the season.
The Bills have a dynamic defensive line capable of both pressuring the quarterback and stuffing the run. Marcell Dareus keys the line with power and penetration in the middle along with Kyle Williams. They are flanked by Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, and Jerry Hughes handling the pressure around the edge. Lawson has lost a step and Hughes can be vulnerable to being run at and attacked in the screen passing game. Williams–as he was in Houston–is intelligent and powerful and can get into the backfield in a hurry still.
New England will find it tough rushing against Buffalo. The Bills allow just 71.5 yards rushing per game so far through five games. So far, no team has cracked 90 yards rushing in a game, let alone topping 100. The Patriots’ offensive line needs to match the energy of the Bills defensive line and match the energy of middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. Staying with the run can help make space in the passing game regardless of the yards per carry. Abandoning the run early is a bad sign for the Patriots offense.
In the passing game, the Patriots can attack the Bills linebackers and secondary if they give Brady time to make his progressions in the pocket. Nigel Bradham is by far the best coverage linebacker and he is questionable still after missing last week with a knee injury. Getting the tight ends in space matched up on safeties Duke Williams, Aaron Williams or Da’Norris Searcy is a match-up to focus on. Finding running back Shane Vereen matched up on linebackers Spikes, Preston Brown, or Keith Rivers is another match-up that Brady will be looking for throughout the game.
Buffalo may also continue to mix-and-match their coverage of Julian Edelman as they did last season. The Bills had numerous cornerbacks and safeties following Edelman around the field and showing different looks. Expect that again on Sunday as they try to slow Brady’s top target. The Bills were also fortunate that they missed Rob Gronkowski in both games last year. In 2012 when they last faced Gronkowski they used primarily linebackers in coverage and their physical play near the line of scrimmage held him to three receptions. This current linebacker unit, however, could be in for a long day trying to slow down Gronkowski.
Look for more of the two-tight end set, not just in the passing game but also to get big bodies on the field to get a size advantage in the running game. In 2012 the Patriots gave the Bills fits with the hurry up offense especially running on second down after a short completion on first down. The Bills defense can wear down and are still vulnerable in the middle with star linebacker Kiko Alonso out for the year. The Patriots need to set the tempo on offense to get ahead and hold that lead on Sunday.