W2W4: New England Patriots vs Buffalo Bills

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When the Patriots Pass the Ball:

Mandatory Credit: Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

New England has made their living through the air so far in 2015 as they have piled up 2,933 yards over nine games and 24 touchdowns through the air. Quarterback Tom Brady has been dynamic and nearly unstoppable. In fact, the only way the New England offense has been slowed has been by their own injuries.


Running back Dion Lewis was lost for the season due to a knee injury and the Patriots have struggled to replace his production in the passing game. Lewis had 36 receptions for 388 yards in seven games and the burden falls on James White (8 catches for 58 yards) and Brandon Bolden (5 receptions for 41 yards) to try to make up for the dynamic scatback.


Wide receiver Julian Edelman is also out with a broken foot and will be sidelined until Christmas time. Without Edelman against the Giants (and with a makeshift offensive line) the offense struggled mightily until late in the game. Brady leaned on Danny Amendola to make the tough catches over the middle of the field.


Of course, the offensive line has been the biggest detriment to the passing game. Losing left tackle and guard Ryan Wendell for the season were huge losses to begin with for the Patriots. Having Sebastian Vollmer knocked out for two games with a concussion after having to move to left tackle after Marcus Cannon was lost due to a toe injury for multiple games seemed devastating.


Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, Cameron Fleming went from being released and placed on the practice squad to playing left tackle for the first time in his professional or collegiate career. Center Bryan Stork had to play tackle for the first time as a professional. With rookie Tre’ Jackson missing a handful of games as well, the Patriots had no choice but to have third year guard Josh Kline, undrafted free agent center David Andrews, and rookie guard Shaq Mason pressed into service.


The Bills have had a strong secondary in 2015 despite losing safety Aaron Williams in week two against New England and not having starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin for all of 2015. McKelvin may return, but in his place rookie second round draft pick Ronald Darby has exploded on the scene and looks to be a budding superstar.


The Bills already have cornerback Stephon Gilmore who has played well as usual often facing the opponent’s top wide receiver. With Corey Graham strong at safety, Buffalo has leaned used three cornerbacks (McKelvin or Nickell Robey) or had Bacarri Rambo and Duke Williams on the field as an additional safety.


While Tom Brady lighting up the Bills for 466 yards in week two skewed the statistics, the Bills have carved up on defense by Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck in losses. Against the Jets and Dolphins, the passing defense has improved since the bye week for Buffalo and having all the pieces in place in the secondary certainly helps.


The Patriots have to reconfigure their passing attack somewhat without Lewis and Edelman. Fortunately, having tight end Rob Gronkowski helps every other receiver because of the attention he gets when he is running routes. With the offensive line returning to health at last, the Patriots may not have to keep Gronkowski in to block so much and open up the passing attack.


Another pair of receivers needing to step up are Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell. LaFell had just two receptions last week and Dobson had one. Dobson appeared to be open downfield a few times but Brady simply did not have time to find him because of the lack of blocking. A few big plays downfield by Dobson could put the Bills defense on their heels.


LaFell was a favorite target last season in the second half and the playoffs and as he is healthy at last and working off the rust, he should be more involved in the offense. He has the ability to run every route in the tree and (usually) has soft hands. His ability to work the middle of the field with his size can be a big part of replacing the impact of Edelman on third downs and extending drives.


The Patriots will likely continue to throw on Buffalo and see if they are able to slow Brady. With just an extra half second of time in the pocket Brady goes from very good to excellent again and a healthier offensive line is the key. Edelman and Lewis are big losses, but they can be overcome. Look for a healthy dose of Rob Gronkowski on Monday night as the Patriots challenge the BIlls secondary with their multitude of weapons.


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