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Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Bills

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
7 years ago at 11:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the BillsDavid Butler II - USA TODAY Sports

Bills Week Always Has Special Meaning

The Patriots take the field in the final tilt of a three-game home stand to face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. The team will be looking to go 4-0 in the absence of Tom Brady who will be eligible to return to the team on Monday morning. Playing their divisional rival Buffalo always has a special feel to it, even more so these last two years with Rex Ryan at the helm.

Ryan has always set his sights on Bill Belichick since his first day as the coach of the Jets and has carried it over to Buffalo. He loves to tweak Belichick and the Patriots and this week was no exception. From imitating the Patriots coach giving his injury report, to acting like a reporter and asking Julian Edelman is he’ll play QB this week, yes, it is Rex Ryan week too.

So who will be quarterbacking the Patriots in Foxboro this week? With Jimmy Garoppolo still sore from spraining the AC joint in his shoulder, and Jacoby Brissett having a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, the Pats don’t have a QB at 100 percent to play on Sunday.

Buffalo, as usual under Ryan’s watch was not short on bombastic statements this summer. From his “winning the offseason” remarks, though, things have gone south. Injuries to two of their top draft picks, suspensions and going 0-2 to start the season, Ryan was on the hot seat. But a big win over Arizona has cooled that somewhat.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo: The Patriots QB was off to a roaring start before being injured in the second quarter of the Miami game. After an impressive win opening weekend win in Arizona, Jimmy G. followed that up with an even better performance against Miami, throwing three touchdowns in less than a half.

Jimmy G is looking sharper this spring and more in control of the offense

He was scratched from the Houston game because the pain in his shoulder wouldn’t allow him to even raise his arm. We did catch a glimpse of him at practice on Wednesday. He was able to throw the ball, although the limited window didn’t shed a ton of light on how much he was able to do that to the extent he’d need to be on Sunday.

Obviously, he’s been in the Patriots system for longer than the rookie Brissett and has a better grasp of the offense. But with neither at a 100 percent, the question becomes, does Garoppolo at say 60-70 percent give the Patriots a better chance at winning than Brissett at 80 percent?

Running Back LeGarrette Blount: Blount is off to a great start thus far in 2016. We said back in the early summer that the Patriots would rely on the running game in Brady’s absence, but the biggest question was whether Blount would be up for the task.

Well, he was up to the task and continues to be. Blount leads the league after three games in rushing attempts (75), rushing yards (298), and is tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns with four. The best part of Blount’s performance has been his numbers after contact and in the fourth quarter. He also leads in yards after contact and his 4th quarter numbers show that he’s able to be the closer, something the team needs when the opponent knows they’re going to run.

The Bills know that the Pats and Blount will want to establish the run, especially with two banged up QBs on the roster. With Brady coming back next week, the offense will change and they won’t be relying on Blount as much. That isn’t a reflection on him or his performance in the first quarter of the season. This will be a big week for the big man, if he has another impressive outing, the Patriots will be in good shape to be undefeated at the quarter point.

Defensive End Jabaal Sheard: The Patriots defensive end had a big game against the Texans last Thursday night with a pair of sacks. This week, he’ll be asked to do much of the same and more. The Bills have a dangerous runner in LeSean McCoy and they’ll need him to get going in the attempt to jumpstart the passing game which has been stagnant for the first three games.

Jabaal Sheard has been a key member of the Patriots defense on the edge. (SBalestrieri photo)

Sheard will also have to work with fellow DE Chris Long in squeezing the pocket around QB Tyrod Taylor while not getting too far upfield and allowing Taylor to scramble for yardage or make plays with his feet. Their focus will be in keeping Taylor inside the pocket where he’s struggled. The Bills passing offense hasn’t shown they can move down the field a piece at a time. In fact, 31 percent of their passing yardage is tied to two deep touchdown passes, a 71-yard score to Greg Salas and an 84-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin. The NE has to take away the big play and it starts with keeping Taylor in the pocket.

Both of Buffalo’s left tackles are banged up. Cordy Glenn is nursing a bad ankle and was listed as a limited participant on the Bills practice report. Cyrus Kouandijo has a bad knee and didn’t participate on Thursday. Sheard will have to step up on Sunday and be a difference maker on the edge for the Pats’ defense.

Danny Amendola: One of the more underrated and least appreciated members of the Patriots offense continues to be Amendola. While his snap count or the number of targets he’s gotten hasn’t been high, he’s been very productive and usually at a big moment of the game. Against the Bills that has been even truer.

In the first meeting last year in Buffalo, Amendola caught only one pass, but it was a key 29-yard pass on the Patriots final scoring drive that capped off the victory. In the second meeting in Foxboro, he caught 9 passes for 117 yards, including the bizarre play where he caught a pass from Tom Brady and had a clear path to the end zone in the third quarter before the officials inexplicably blew the play dead.

With the Patriots having too many weapons for Buffalo to cover in the passing game; Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, James White as well as rookie Malcolm Mitchell, Amendola is going to find single coverage on one of Buffalo’s sub-package defenders. It is a matchup he should win.

Jamie Collins: Collins had a fantastic effort against the Texans on Thursday night, notching 14 tackles and a key interception in the Patriots shutout win. With Dont’a Hightower’s status for this game questionable, Collins will become an even more key player this week.

The running game with McCoy and Taylor of the Bills will be the primary focus to stop for the Patriots defense this week. How the Patriots opt to use Collins will be an area to watch for. Will they use him as a spy for Taylor and attempt to keep the mobile QB from scrambling and making plays with his feet? Or will he shadow McCoy as he’s been just as productive in the passing game as he is in the running game?

Collins is the Patriots most versatile, most athletic defender. He is at his best when he plays a downhill, fly around the ball type of game. That’s what they’ll need from him on Sunday.

Stay tuned to as well have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots Roster 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chris Hogan Danny Amendola DeflateGate Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Trey Flowers

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