W2W4: New England Patriots (3-0) vs Buffalo Bills (1-2) on Sunday

New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has keyed the offense's strong start to 2016. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has keyed the offense's strong start to 2016. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
New England Patriots defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch need to slow the Buffalo Bills’ potent rushing attack. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

New England Patriots Rushing Defense vs Buffalo Bills Rushing Offense

Last season the Bills’ rushing offense ranked among the NFL’s best but they fell behind early in both games and struggled to get their running game on track during the first two weeks. That changed last week as Buffalo rushed for 208 yards against a strong Arizona defense. Running back LeSean McCoy led the way with 17 rushes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor rushed for 76 yards on nine carries.

Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan is a schoolyard bully. The Bills under Rex Ryan (much like his Jets teams) are front-runners. If the Bills can jump on New England early much like they did Arizona, the team builds confidence as the game goes on and they can control the game on the ground. When Rex Ryan’s squad gets punched in the mouth and have to play from behind they get desperate with their blitz packages and give up on the running game.

New Buffalo offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn showed different formations out of the usual formations and seemed to line McCoy up deeper in the backfield to allow him to use his vision to find space. The Bills also used hurry-up, showed the Wildcat formation with a direct snap to McCoy, and had Taylor the read option.

The Bills have had major health issues up front with their offensive line and the Patriots have the personnel to take advantage of it and shut down the Bills rushing attack. Left tackle Cordy Glenn seems on track to play which is a huge plus for Buffalo as early in the week it seemed they may have to start offensive tackle Michael Ola who was signed off the New York Giants practice squad earlier this week because backup tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is out this week.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick always focus on run defense and in 2016 they have allowed just 271 yards (90.3 yards per game) through three games. They have done this both of their best run-stopping linebackers (Dont’a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny) slowed down with injuries.

Jamie Collins has continued to develop into an elite run-stopper which is impressive since the Patriots tend to stay in a base nickel defense (five defensive backs) even on first downs. Defensive tackles Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, and Vincent Valentine have been excellent with their two-gap technique through the first three games of the season. With Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long setting the edge (not quite up to Rob Ninkovich’s excellence in this role) they have been filtering running backs to Collins, Shea McClellin, and strong safety Patrick Chung to clean-up.

The Bills do have other weapons on offense like dynamic receiver threat Sammy Watkins, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor is always a threat for either throwing the deep ball or taking off for runs. The Patriots may employ a similar defense that they used against the Houston Texans and use against many other young quarterbacks: take away the big plays, keep the ball in front of you, and force the opponent to beat you by marching down the field on long drives.

It’s highly likely the Patriots will make Taylor throw the ball and march the team down the field with long drives through the air to beat them. Their strategy on defense will likely begin with taking away McCoy first and foremost. That said, McCoy is one of the top running backs in the NFL and is hard to stop as he has a combination of speed, strength, agility, and vision.