The Patriots find themselves in prime position to not only close out the division but put some distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC in the next six days. With wins over resurgent teams in Buffalo and Denver, the Pats can clinch the division and put Denver far in the rear view mirror in terms of AFC playoff seeding.
With Bill Belichick at the helm, the team never looks too far ahead, but after watching both Miami and the Jets lose on Sunday, a win over the Bills virtually assures the Patriots of another AFC East crown. They’ll have a five game lead over all three teams with just six left to play.
Given the loss of the Bengals on Sunday night, both Cincinnati and Denver will then have two losses, a victory on Sunday will not only clinch the division but put the Pats in prime position for the #1 seed in the AFC and a first round bye.
But back to the matter at hand, they must first go out and you know…actually win those two games. Later on this week we’ll take a look at Denver and the impressive effort of Brock Osweiler in his debut. We’re still on tap for the Bills for Monday Night Football.
We published our key matchups on Friday, breaking down the positions and who has the overall advantage at each. Here is our three keys to victory from a Patriots perspective under the glare of the national spotlight.
Pats Receivers Have To Win at the Line: In the first meeting back during Week 2, Rex Ryan thought that he’d overpower the Patriots OL with just his front four and bring pressure on Tom Brady. The Bills dropped seven and even at times eight into coverage in an attempt to clog up the passing lanes. They failed miserably, Brady picked them apart to the tune of 466 yards passing as they bypassed the running game for the short, quick passes to Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman which kept the down and distances manageable.
This time around with the Pats having a banged up OL, look for Ryan to unleash much more of his blitz packages. The Bills will undoubtedly try to play much tighter coverage at the line of scrimmage and force Brady to hold onto the ball longer, which will give them time to bring rushers from a variety of different points.
The Patriots receivers, especially Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski can expect to see plenty of tight coverage at the line. With no Lewis or Amendola this time around, this takes away two of Brady’s favorite targets in the first half of the season. I expect Ryan to be very aggressive underneath this time and basically dare the Patriots to throw deep. The shorter, hot routes will be up to Amendola and Gronkowski to find ways to get open.
In the first matchup Brady was getting the ball out in less than two seconds, never giving the Bills pass rushers time to get after Brady. If he’s throwing that quickly on Monday night, it won’t be a good sign for Buffalo.
Slow Down McCoy/Williams: The Bills have a nice tandem at running back with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams and they’ve been hitting their stride lately. McCoy is now completely healthy and is showing the explosiveness that he was known for in Philly. Williams has been a steal with Buffalo taking him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s scored in six straight games.
Those two are dangerous enough at running the football, something the Patriots have really tightened up on in the past five or six games but the big test will be on how well New England can defend them out of the backfield.
With their best coverage linebacker Jamie Collins already ruled out for his third game in a row, Collins’ athleticism will be missed in trying to cover McCoy and Williams. Dont’a Hightower has been outstanding this season in run support but he doesn’t have the range or speed of Collins. Look for the Bills to get their RBs involved in the passing game early on Monday night.
Contain, Pressure Taylor: Perhaps the biggest key on defense is to contain Bills QB Tyrod Taylor in the pocket and not allow him to make plays with his feet and to bring pressure on him. The Pats did a good job of the former for three quarters during the Week 2 meeting and a great job of the latter in the same contest.
They kept Taylor from breaking containment until the final quarter and built up a 37-13 lead. They also sacked him eight times in that first meeting. The combination of containment and pressure also forced Taylor into throwing three interceptions on the day. The pressure will also cover up for a weakness at the third cornerback position. With Justin Coleman out, Rashaan Melvin will be taking his place and bound to be a target of the Bills gameplan. Taking away his time to find the 3rd or 4th option will be a big victory for the Patriots.
Taylor isn’t the biggest QB and keeping him contained was forcing his throws to sail a bit high on him during the Week 2 meeting. By forcing him to win by throwing out of the pocket is considered the way to defeating both him and the Bills offense.
As much as Ryan was complaining about the Boston media overlooking his QB (which they didn’t) last week, the fact remains Bills success offensively hinges on their QB not having to throw the ball 30-35 times a game. Which is why slowing down McCoy/Williams is such a big key. If they take away those easy throws either behind the line or in the flat, it will force Taylor to look elsewhere.
Another big positional matchup to watch will be the Bills talented WR Sammy Watkins against Malcolm Butler. Butler has really been stepping up his play of late and going against one of the more talented young WRs in the league.
If the Patriots can accomplish these three keys on Monday night, they should be in very position to take home their tenth straight victory. Playing in front of the home crowd should help where the Patriots are 48-4 in their last 52 home games. They are also 36-2 in home games where Gronkowski has suited up.
This is the time of the year where Bill Belichick says that a team should be playing its best football. Even though the Pats are beat up with a variety of injuries, the opportunities are there for the taking for them to already be setting themselves up for home cooking once the playoffs begin.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Foxboro Stadium Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman Karlos Williams LaGarrette Blount LeSean McCoy Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers picks predictions Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Tyrod Taylor