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

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is ready to face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is ready to face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has played a key role on offense in 2016. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports /

Last week the Patriots re-introduced LeGarrette Blount to the offense after he took a backseat in weeks five and six as the offense shifted to a heavy pass-emphasis. Blount carried the offense with 352 yards over the first four weeks of the season.

After just 87 yards total over two weeks he exploded for 127 yards on 24 carries against the Steelers as he returned to a feature role as Pittsburgh dared the Patriots to run the ball. Accepting the challenge, the Patriots gave Pittsburgh a heavy dose of Blount as he punished the Steelers’ lighter fronts and forced them to open up seams in the passing game.

Blount has been ineffective running the ball just once this season. In week five it was Cleveland who held him to just 2.06 yards per carry when he gained just 37 yards on 18 carries. Even with that effort, Blount still is averaging 4.0 yards per carry in 2016 and a league-leading eight rushing touchdowns.

Against Buffalo in week four, Blount had 54 yards on the ground on 13 carries (4.1 yards per carry). However, Blount did not start picking up yards in chunks until the fourth quarter and the Patriots were behind 16-0. Early on in the game, there were too many negative runs which put New England in second-and-long situations.

Buffalo’s Rushing Defense

Last week the Bills’ defense was gashed by the Miami Dolphins and running back Jay Ajayi for 256 yards on the ground. Ajayi topped 200 yards rushing for a second consecutive week as he shredded the Bills for 214 yards on 29 carries. A resurgent Miami offensive line wore down the Bills as the defense wilted in the South Florida heat.

Buffalo actually led Miami 17-6 before the Dolphins ran the threw the ball with little resistance in the second half. The return to health of Marcell Dareus will be a huge lift for the Bills run defense as he is huge, deceptively quick, and strong as an ox. He may have rust in his first game of te season, but his size and strength will be evident inside.

The Bills have two solid run-stuffers with inside linebackers Preston Brown and Zach Brown. Both have been solid in the running game and likely look forward to tackling a running back rather than chasing Rob Gronkowski or Martellus Bennett in coverage. Zach Brown–like outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander–was an unheralded signing who is paying huge dividends on the Buffalo defense.

Rex Ryan deserves a ton of credit for finding and utilizing veteran linebackers Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander and putting them in position to make a number of plays. Both were unheralded free agent signings who have made a big impact on defense in Buffalo.

On the defensive line with Williams and Dareus are Leger Douzable, Corbin Bryant and Adolphus Washington. They are all solid, but not spectacular, run defenders on the defensive line. The less snaps they play, the more effective they can be. A healthy Kyle Williams has been solid as a pass rusher but has had some hiccups while stopping the run.

New England Offensive Line

The New England offensive line has been much improved running the ball in 2016 showing toughness and discipline which was missing last year. In 2015, the inability to slow the Denver pass rush with any kind of running game in the AFC Championship doomed their chances to reach the Super Bowl.

A healthy Nate Solder at left tackle solves a big hole in the offensive line. Marcus Cannon–filling in at right tackle this year due to Sebastian Vollmer’s hip injury–has been the surprise of the season on the offensive line. The return of his biggest backer–offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia–has Cannon back on track and a strength rather than a weakness.

On the interior of the offensive line, rookie Joe Thuney continues to adjust to the NFL. He seems to pick up a costly penalty each week as he adapts to the size and strength of the defensive tackles and ends he has to block. Regardless, he is still an upgrade at the position with his overall solid play in the running game.

David Andrews remains a solid technician at center and has made New England look good for moving on from Bryan Stork and trusting the position to Andrews. He is tough and gritty and will have a tough matchup facing Dareus and Corbin Bryant inside.

Shaq Mason at right guard has been the weak link on the offensive line. He was slowed by a hand injury earlier in the season and started slowly. He is athletic and has excellent footwork but has lacked power at times and been pushed back into the backfield and running back.  

Buffalo dropped to 27th in the NFL against the run after last week’s debacle in Miami. It is likely that the Patriots will lean on Tom Brady and the passing game to win in Buffalo but they will take some shots against the Bills’ questionable run defense. If LeGarrette Blount gets to the second level of the defense the Bills are going to have problems all afternoon trying to bring him down.