By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are coming off of a last second 31-30 away loss against the Baltimore Ravens. They are looking to bounce back on Sunday on the road against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on WBZ-TV at 1:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Bills are coming off of a 24-14 away victory against the Cleveland Browns. The home team are 2-1, and they are actually ahead of the Patriots in the AFC East by one game. The Patriots lost in Buffalo last year, and they will have to play well to get the victory on the road this year.
On defense, the defensive line is very good and is lead by new defensive ends Mario Williams, and former Patriots player Mark Anderson. However, the Patriots offensive line will have their hands full with defensive tackles Kyle Williams, and Marcellus Dareus as well.
Honestly, the linebackers and the secondary are average at best for the Bills. The defense as a whole is currently 23rd in the NFL in points allowed giving up 26.3 points per game. Overall, this defense is good, but not one of the elite units in the NFL.
On offense, this unit will go only as far as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can take them. He reminds me a great deal of Brett Favre as he is a gunslinger. He can throw the ball all over the field, but he has the tendency to force the ball over the course of a game, and he has his share of good and bad performances. The question for this game will be which Fitzpatrick will show up against the Patriots?
In the running game, if they have healthy running backs, the Bills can run the ball very effectively. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both impressive running backs, but both are on the injury report as questionable for this game.
In the passing game, the Bills do have a serious deep threat with Steve Johnson, who is averaging 13.2 yards per reception. However, a player to also watch is tight end Scott Chandler, who can get open, and the Patriots secondary will have to watch this player.
With the Patriots losing the last two games, and the fact that they are on the road, I certainly can see why some fans could be nervous of this match-up. However, I do feel the Patriots should win this game, and eventually pull away in the second half.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots Offensive Tackles will have to do an exceptional job in pass protection. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer did a nice job against the Ravens, and gave quarterback Tom Brady enough time to throw the ball.
The Patriots tackles will need to do their job against Williams, and Anderson. If the Patriots can neutralize these two defensive ends, it could go a long way in earning the team a victory.
2. Rob Gronkowski needs to take advantage of the middle of the field in the passing game. This was a key last week, and Gronkowski did not get the ball enough against the Ravens.
As mentioned prior, the Bills secondary is average, and Gronkowski could have a huge game as he heads home to Buffalo. He is listed on the injury report as questionable, but I just have that feeling he will play, and be an integral part of the Patriots offense.
3. The Patriots offense should go “No Huddle” with Brady in the shotgun early and often against the Bills. Last week, the Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had a pretty good game against the Bills. He threw for 237 yards, and completed 62% of his passes. Weeden had plenty of time to throw the ball, and honestly this rookie quarterback has a long way to go to become even an average quarterback.
I think if the Patriots spread out the Bills and run the “no huddle”, they will carve up the Bills secondary, and also tire out the front four of the Bills.
4. The Patriots defense needs to stop the run at all costs. As mentioned prior, if you can stop Jackson, and Spiller, you will force Fitzpatrick to beat you. Fitzpatrick could have his moments against the Patriots defense, but if you put the Bills in third and long often enough, he could just make some serious mistakes.
5. The Patriots special teams need to contain Leodis McKelvin. The Bills punt and kick off returner is very dangerous, and has the ability to change a game with a return. He already has returned one punt for a touchdown this season, and is also averaging 26.3 yards per punt return.
Now, I respect what the Bills are building, but I think they are still a year or two away from being a real contender in the AFC East. I feel this game will be a challenge in the first half, but the Patriots offense should take advantage of a defense that is getting better, but not yet elite at this moment.
I also think the Patriots defense will be much improved this week, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this unit cause more than a few turnovers as Fitzpatrick can throw more than the occasional pick. I see the visitors wearing down the home team in the second half, and I am predicting a 31-21 Patriots victory.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Also, please feel free to listen to a preview of the upcoming game from the radio show Patriots Fourth And Two.