New England Patriots Passing Offense vs Buffalo Bills Passing Defense
Although the New England offense was simplified with Brissett under center it was full throttle before Jimmy Garoppolo was injured against the Miami Dolphins in week two. Regardless of which quarterback is under center on Sunday, offensive coordinator (and hottest head coaching candidate) Josh McDaniels will still somehow find holes in the Bills’ defensive personnel and determine the best way to attack them in the passing game.
The Buffalo pass defense had what was easily one of their worst performances as a franchise against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets in week two, the Bills’ defense pulled a 180 degree switch against Carson Palmer and Arizona’s passing game in week three. The Bills brought consistent pressure and beat Arizona’s offensive line again and again last week to pressure Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer.
Linebacker Jerry Hughes led the pass rush and the pressure up front helped a secondary which had been torched the week prior. The Bills’ secondary, which intercepted Palmer four times, saw Stephon Gilmore grab a pair of interceptions while Corey Graham and Corey White added fourth quarter interceptions to close the game out. The Bills did this without their ball-hawking young cornerback, Ronald Darby, who was out injured.
If Jacoby Brissett is playing on Sunday, it gives the Bills a chance to pull out exotic blitz packages to try and rattle him and force him into a mistake. Brissett, by just being a rookie, has limitations as a passer (even before his thumb injury on his throwing hand is added to the equation). However, as he showed against Houston he can make plays as a runner.
If Rex Ryan can find ways to fluster Brissett (unique coverages and pressures, the amoeba defensive front, blitzes from different angles and from different position groups), Buffalo’s passing defense could have a strong performance. (At this time Garoppolo is reported to be the starter, but as Brissett knows from the Miami game, he could be called upon at anytime.)
The 2016 Bills front seven may be lacking superstar Marcell Dareus (suspension) and Mario Williams (released in the offseason and in Miami), but it is still a formidable group. Williams took a step back last season but Dareus is arguably the best defensive tackle in an AFC East Disruptive defensive tackle Kyle Williams (out injured much of 2015) is back but it is linebacker Jerry Hughes who leads the pass rushing group. Opposite Hughes is outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and both have three sacks apiece through three games.
Last week Buffalo was back in their “amoeba” defense which Rex Ryan had used against Tom Brady in the playoffs six years ago while with the Jets. In that alignment Ryan has one defensive tackle (Kyle Williams) on the field and three or four linebackers all standing and moving to confuse the quarterback.
For the Patriots, whoever is at quarterback will still have offensive weapons at their disposal. Wide receiver Julian Edelman is at full speed and Danny Amendola has made the most of his limited playing time. Chris Hogan should be motivated going against his former team. At tight end the Patriots have been getting bang for their buck with Martellus Bennett filling in ably for Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski was out on field for just 12 plays last Thursday and should have a bigger role this week.
The Patriots have leaned on their rushing attack through three weeks but should be able to lean on Jimmy Garoppolo if his shoulder is healthy enough to start and throw the ball around normally (or close to normal). Garoppolo was so accurate and showed such advanced decision making in his last start that he looked like Tom Brady directing the offense.
If the Bills can upset the passing attack with their front seven, it could be a close low-scoring game which is exactly what Buffalo wants on the road against a young and inexperienced quarterback. However, if Garoppolo can play it should be business as usual for the Patriots.