When the Patriots pass the ball
The New England passing game continues to sputter. After withstanding injuries on the offensive line and a revolving door early in the season at wide receiver, now injuries to quarterback Tom Brady and top wide receiver Julian Edelman has this unit searching desperately for answers.
In the first six weeks of the season, the Patriots topped 250 yards passing in five of those six games (only the Bills’ stingy defense held down New England). Since then, Brady and the Patriots have topped 250 yards passing once in eight games.
It is December now, and New England has to win in order to capture the AFC East and stay in position to get a first round bye. Edelman’s rib, shoulder, and knee injuries left him as little more than a decoy last week. Mohamed Sanu has struggled to get on the same page as Brady.
Rookie Jakobi Meyers has flashed at times but has seen his role shrink. Ditto for Phillip Dorsett. Tight end Ben Watson has disappeared since coming back to the Pats, but Matt LaCosse is finally healthy and has flashed at times.
Rookie N’Keal Harry seems on the verge of a breakout. With two touchdowns (and another stolen from him against Kansas City), Harry has been one of the few playmakers on offense, and he needs to become the focal point of the passing game going forward.
For New England, the biggest problem is that Buffalo has had their number in the passing game since former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott took over as head coach of the Bills. In Week 4 when the offense was in a groove, the Bills held the Patriots to less than 230 total yards of offense and only 150 yards passing.
Buffalo has a dynamic pass rush, athletic and smart linebackers, one of the few cornerbacks who should be mentioned in the same breath as Stephon Gilmore, and the deepest and most talented safety group in the NFL.
On the defensive line, the Bills bully offensive lines with edge rushers Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy, and a dynamic interior pass rush with first-round draft pick Ed Oliver and former Miami Dolphins second-round draft pick Jordan Phillips. Add in Shaq Lawson as a third down rusher and veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and the Bills make it tough on quarterbacks.
In pass coverage, linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds are strong in coverage of tight ends. Edmunds particularly is one of the few linebackers with the athleticism to leave one-on-one with James White or Rex Burkhead coming out of the backfield.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White is probably one of the few cornerbacks who can shut down any wide receiver in the NFL. Levi Wallace and Kevin Johnson provide solid depth, and nickel cornerback Taron Johnson is solid as well.
At safety, the Bills have one of the top duos in the league with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. Hyde, a former Green Bay Packers cornerback, can slide down and cover in the slot in a pinch. Jordan Poyer is not well-known but he is strong supporting the run and above-average in coverage.