W2W4: New England Patriots (6-1) Defense vs Buffalo Bills (4-3) Offense

New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is playing at a high level. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler is playing at a high level. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has played well against the New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Buffalo Bills have had difficulties keeping their wide receivers healthy in 2016. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is their best overall wide receiver and he has been on injured reserve and out with a foot injury after playing just two games.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s accuracy is down from last year as his completion percentage is just 60.4% (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). Taylor is averaging just 185 yards passing per game but he has played smart with nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season.

Part of the problem with Taylor and the Bills passing attack has been the lack of weapons.

Track star Marquise Goodwin flashed some big play ability making headlines beating Darrelle Revis on Thursday night in week two. Since that one big catch, he was quiet until last week in Miami when he stepped-up with four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown–before leaving the game with a concussion.

Goodwin has already been ruled out for Sunday and the Bills’ leading receiver in 2016–Robert Woods–is fighting through a foot injury of his own and did not play last week, but likely to play on Sunday. Former Patriots wide receiver Greg Salas was also shuffled to injured reserve this week.

Beyond Woods at wide receiver, Buffalo is down to special teamers Walt Powell, Brandon Tate, and Tennessee Titans cast-off Justin Hunter.

Hunter has potential as he is excellent size and can be explosive in the passing game. Hunter hung around in Tennessee despite underperforming due to his physical gifts. He has been with Buffalo since being signed earlier in the season and has used his size as a red zone target with two of his four receptions being touchdowns.


Last year, the highlight of the Buffalo games was watching Malcolm Butler and Sammy Watkins go head-to-head. This week the match-up will be a little less interesting with Butler, Eric Rowe, and Logan Ryan going against Hunter, Powell, and Tate.

Rowe has been taking the big receivers of late and should be in line to try and take away Hunter. Ryan has had success against bigger receivers in the past as well and may find himself on Hunter as well.

Last week the Patriots started Rowe and used him as the number two cornerback as he played the entire game. Ryan was limited to just 31 snaps and Justin Coleman played 17 snaps. How New England aligns their cornerbacks this weekend is unknown with the nickel cornerback position still up in the air.

Rookie Cyrus Jones was a DNP-CD (did not play-coach’s decision) for the second straight week after his ejection for fighting. Fellow rookie Jonathan Jones was active last week but only played on special teams.

Butler has been the main story in the New England secondary once again this year as his high-level play has continued since fighting through an ankle injury earlier in the season. Butler is quickly moving into the discussion as one of the top cornerbacks in the league and setting himself up for a massive payday in the future.

With Rowe and Ryan behind Butler, the Patriots have the ability to deploy their cornerbacks in different ways and with different matchups with different types of receivers. Woods gave the Patriots’ cornerbacks fits in the first matchup as he hauled in seven passes for 89 yards as New England played most of the game in a soft zone. Sunday may be a different story.


So far in 2016 the Buffalo passing attack has been focused on getting the ball to LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay. Without McCoy, backup running back Mike Gillislee and 31-year old third down back Reggie Bush are going to be expected to play a key role in the passing game.

Clay will likely see a lot of strong safety Patrick Chung on Sunday. With just Woods as a consistent passing threat, Clay becomes a key player in the Buffalo offense. Chung has been strong in coverage but earlier in the season Clay was disruptive with five catches for 47 yards against the Patriots.

If New England is in zone defense again (as their tendency has been), look for Jamie Collins, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower to have a key role in coverage as well. They will have to account for not just Clay, but tight end Nick O’Leary and running back Mike Gillislee.


Look for New England to continue their trend of soft coverage in the secondary and not giving up big plays. Like with Pittsburgh last week and against the Bills and others earlier this season, the defensive line is going to keep the quarterback in the pocket and prevent big plays.

The New England pass rush–whether by design or not–has been ineffective. Jabaal Sheard has failed to make a major impact like last season and Chris Long has slowed as the season has gone on. The Buffalo offensive line is not a strength, but the Patriots may be unwilling to extend themselves on the pass rush and allow quarterback Tyrod Taylor to run free.

The Bills are going to try and slow the game down and use short passes for the most part to the backs, tight ends and Woods. If given a chance, Taylor may air a few deep passes to Tate or Hunter if he likes the matchup. Overall, the Patriots’ secondary should be able to keep Taylor from hurting them through the air on Sunday.