Patriots – Bills II, Five Players to Watch
Important Tilt for Both Teams This Week
The Patriots travel to taken on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon with each team looking to accomplish some specific goals this week. This game, besides being a divisional contest is an important game for both teams.
The Patriots (6-1), with a win, can enter the bye week as the AFC’s top seed and put the Bills far in the rear-view mirror with a victory. A New England victory will put them three games ahead of Buffalo in the standings at the halfway point in the season.
The Bills (4-3), had been on a roll until they spit the bit last week in the second half against Miami. After a poor start, they won four in a row and were thinking playoffs for the first time since 1999. They have the opportunity to sweep the Patriots in the season series for the first since ’99 as well.
They’re looking to get back on track as they go on the road to Seattle and Cincinnati after this week. For Rex Ryan’s bunch, if they want to go to the postseason, these next three weeks are very important. And Ryan always puts the Patriots and Bill Belichick at the top of his list.
Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:
Quarterback Tom Brady: The Patriots QB is off to a roaring start since coming back from his four-game suspension. He’s completed 76 of 101 passes for 1004 yards in just three games which is leading the league in completion percentage (75.2), yards per attempt (9.94), and Passer Rating (132.6). He’s thrown eight touchdowns and zero interceptions so far in 2016.
He’ll be playing in a very hostile, loud environment this week. But he’s thrived in it and against Buffalo, holding a 25-3 record in his career against the Bills. While much has been made of the “Ryan has Brady’s Number”, it just isn’t true. While Ryan does play Brady tougher than most opponents, Brady’s record against teams that Ryan has either coached or been a defensive coordinator on is a stellar 12-4. He’s thrown 27 touchdowns with just eight interceptions in those games.
It will be interesting to see what wrinkles the Bills will throw at Brady this time around. He’s seen most of them before, the key on both sides will come to execution.
Running Back James White: The big news this week is that Dion Lewis has returned to practice after beginning the season on PUP and having ACL surgery a year ago. But Lewis’ absence wasn’t felt nearly as badly as what was envisioned early in the preseason. Part of it has to do with the excellent start of LeGarrette Blount in the running game. But in the passing game, James White has been terrific.
White has not only been better in the running game in 2016 but has been outstanding in the passing game as well as the offense is beginning to take off. He has been finding the open areas to work in and has shown great vision when he gets his hands on the ball. Remember when in the preseason the answer to the question “Who will be the Patriots lead back will be,” was “He isn’t on the roster yet.” That seems like a distant memory. White and Blount have been an excellent tandem and are perfect fits for this offense.
He should have a big role this week against a very aggressive Bills defense that loves to get after the quarterback. One way to slow down a pass rush is to run the ball effectively. With Blount, the Pats will be trying to do that. But the other is to make them pay by hitting screens out in the flat or in the backfield. This is a game that is the perfect game for using White in that role.
Linebacker Jamie Collins: Collins is the Patriots defender with the most big-play ability and can match up with opponents and take over a game. This week the coaching staff will be looking for exactly that from the uber-athletic linebacker.
The running game with McCoy (if he can go) and Taylor of the Bills will be the primary focus to stop for the Patriots defense this week. If McCoy is in the backfield he should see a lot of Collins as the Pats will try to keep close tabs on the Bills “X-Factor” with their biggest playmaker.
Collins and Hightower in the middle of the Patriots defense are the keys to stopping the Bills offense this week. But the freaky linebacker from Southern Miss is the guy that should be primed to have a big game this week.
Tight End Rob Gronkowski: The Patriots have bookend dangerous targets at tight end with Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. Early in the season, it was Bennett that was the primary target as Gronk struggled with a balky hamstring that clearly limited him the first month of the season, including the first game with Buffalo.
In the last three weeks since Brady has returned and Gronk’s health have returned, things have taken off. Gronk is on a tear lately and that isn’t good news for the Bills defense. The past three weeks has seen Gronk haul in 16 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns. In the game in Buffalo a year ago, the big man had 7 catches for 113 yards and a score.
Expect the Bills to pay close attention to Gronkowski this weekend. To use an old US Army Special Forces maxim, Gronk is a “force multiplier” for the Patriots. He elevates the play of those teammates around him and will still be a threat to break open this game.
Safety Pat Chung: One of most underrated moves in Bill Belichick’s tenure was the decision to bring safety Pat Chung back to the team after a brief hiatus in Philadelphia that didn’t end well for the player or Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Chung is proof that you can indeed come home again and the tough, underrated Chung has been excellent for the Patriots as an in-the-box safety the second time around.
Chung isn’t the biggest guy out there but he plays like he is. He’s been outstanding in run support and has been very good at covering the opposition’s tight ends. He’ll be one of those players under the microscope this week. Since the Patriots switched out the way he was being used and now play to his strengths, he has been a totally different player on the Pats defense.
With many of the Bills wide receivers either banged up or possibly out for this week’s contest, Chung will draw the task of slowing down tight ends Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary. Tyrod Taylor will look to get Clay especially involved early in the Bills passing offense and Chung will be of primary importance in stopping that.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard James White Jamie Collins Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers predictions Rex Ryan Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady