The Patriots are amid a three-game tailspin and have back-to-back games against AFC East opponents. The Bills come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, and next week, the team travels to Miami to take on the Dolphins.
The Bills have sometimes looked dominant with crushing victories over the Raiders, Commanders, and the Dolphins, but less so in losses to the Jets and Jaguars and a close win over the Giants.
Since the 2020 season, the Bills have dominated the Patriots, going 7-1 against New England, including winning the past four games.
CBS will broadcast this week’s game, which can be seen locally in the Boston area on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Charles Davis as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots’ flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
First up is the Patriot offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Bills Front Seven — Edge New England
Buffalo is allowing 133 yards per game on the ground and a whopping 5.4 yards per rush this season. They miss Matt Milano in the middle of the defense and tackle Daquan Jones. But the big question is, can the Patriots take advantage of this?
The Patriots running game has struggled all season, averaging 83.7 yards per game. The offensive line has yet to open holes for the running backs to exploit consistently. Last week, both Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott averaged four yards per carry in Las Vegas. While the running game was far from dominant, it was maybe the start of better things for the ground game.
The key for New England is to free their backs to the second level, where Milano was in the defense. Look for Buffalo to bring an extra player in the box to support the running game.
Patriots WRs vs. Bills Secondary — Edge Buffalo
Mac Jones, who has been facing a ton of pressure from opponents this season, is now facing a Bills defense that has notched 24 sacks through six games, getting excellent production from several players. And with Von Miller now back on the field, they’ll be even more formidable. The pass protection continues to be a significant factor in the offense’s struggles.
Even without Tre’Davious White (torn Achilles), Buffalo’s pass defense has been excellent, allowing just 190.2 yards per game. Buffalo has (IMO) the best safety tandem in the league with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. Coupled with their fierce pass rush, they are a solid group with no holes.
The Patriots leaned on Kendrick Bourne last week, and he responded with 10 catches for 89 yards. With Demario Douglas returning from a concussion, he’ll add an element of speed and athleticism to the passing game. Tyquan Thornton returned from IR last week. He should be more involved in the game plan this week, as he is the fastest player on the team. It is time for Kayshon Boutte to be active again for the first time since Week 1. With Parker not producing, it is time to play the kids.
Next up is the Buffalo offense:
Bills RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ run defense has played well this season despite being middle of the road (15th) in yards per game allowed. Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, and Christian Barmore are doing a good job at the point of attack. Anfernee Jennings has done an excellent job setting the edge in place of the injured Matthew Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Jahlani Tavai are excellent downhill thumpers in the running game. However, with injuries piling up on the edge, Tavai may move to the outside this week and move Mack Wilson to the starting lineup.
Buffalo’s James Cook has been excellent this season as the lead back of Buffalo’s running game. This has allowed Josh Allen not to have to carry the load in the running game. While Allen is still dangerous running the ball and is second on the team in rushing behind Cook, he’s only called his own number 22 times thus far. Buffalo is averaging 118.2 yards per game, good for 12th in the league. Damien Harris was carted off the field last week, but hopefully, he’ll recover quickly.
I think the Patriots matchup pretty well here, but Allen is always the “X-Factor” in the equation. They’ll have to win the matchup up front and have the linebackers clean up, but this is an area where the team is in good shape against Buffalo.
Bills WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Buffalo
The Patriot pass defense hasn’t had an answer against Stefon Diggs since he came to Buffalo. This week, Jonathan Jones, if he’s healthy enough, and J.C. Jackson will attempt to slow down Diggs. But since he’s been so successful, look for the Patriots to double him with safety help over the top and force Allen to beat them elsewhere.
But beyond Diggs, Buffalo has Gabe Davis at WR, Dawson Know and Dalton Kincaid at tight end, and Cooks out of the backfield. And even when things seem to go well with coverage, Allen can make plays happen with his feet.
I would look for (hope to see) Marte Mapu to be used as a spy on Allen. The Patriots drafted Mapu for just such a situation. But he didn’t play a snap against Vegas last week. Using his speed and athleticism would boost a defense that is banged up right now.
Special Teams — Edge New Las Vegas
The Patriots’ STs continue to struggle and commit bad penalties while not generating anything in the return game. Rookie kicker Chad Ryland made his only FG attempt last week but had struggled before that recently. Rookie punter Bryce Barringer has been good at putting punts inside the 20 but has struggled with shanks and had a 34-yard punt last week, giving Vegas excellent field position.
The Bills STs have Tyler Bass, who had been perfect on the season until last week against the Giants, where he missed two 50+ yard attempts. Punter Sam Martin has a net 40.2-yard punting average. Buffalo has likewise struggled to put return yardage up in the return game. Deonte Harty returns punts, while Khalil Shakir is the primary KR.
Next up, who wins and why…
The Patriots must find a way to put some points on the board this week. You can’t score 13-17 points and expect to beat this Bills team. The defense has been good, but it is unfair to expect them to hold opponents to single-digit scoring week after week.
Three Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
The Running Game Must Be Effective — Bill O’Brien has to scheme up a way to get Stevenson and Elliott some yardage and allow them to get some yards after contact. Stevenson showed a tiny bit of burst last week. If Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu are healthy enough to play this week, it would go a long way in getting the inside running game going. That is where Buffalo has struggled defensively.
Play The Younger WRs With Speed — The Patriots are 1-5 and aren’t going anywhere this season. But there are still 11 games left in the year. With Parker and Smith-Schuster not producing anything close to what was expected, it is time to see what Bourne, Boutte, Douglas, and Thornton can do.
If nothing else, it will put more athletic and faster WRs on the field, that the defense has to respect their ability to generate some YAC.
This will give Mac Jones different targets, but it is an excellent time to see what they have in these guys. We’ve seen flashes from Douglas and already know what they have in Bourne. Get the kids going, and who knows? They may have something.
Show Up Early And Win the Turnover Battle — The Patriots have gotten off to terrible starts, dating back to last year. They put themselves in double-digit deficits that they are ill-suited to come back from. The kickoff is 1:05, not 2:05. A slow start against this team will signal another butt-kicking.
And while the offense has to stop turning the ball over, on the flip side, the defense has to start generating some turnovers for the offense. And give the struggling unit some good field position.
I just don’t see the Patriots winning this one. The Bills are not unbeatable, but this team is floundering right now. Bills 27-13
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Josh Allen Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones New England Patriots Patriots edge rushers Stefon Diggs