Patriots Cheat Sheet: Week 10, Round Two with the Bills
The New England Patriots look to have everything going in their favor as the return to the field well rested after their bye in week 9. The 5-3 Pats are leading the division, have won two games in a row and are back home at Gillette. This week they meet the last place 3-5 Buffalo Bills for the second time this season. The Bills are 0-2 in the AFC East and 2-4 in the AFC overall and have only bested the Pats twice during the Brady/Belichick era.
Although the Patriots put 52 points on the board on their way to a rout of the Bills six weeks ago at Ralph Wilson Stadium, for the first three quarters of the game it was a battle that they could have lost. The score was tied 21-21 when the third quarter ended, but the Patriots took swift advantage of the unraveling Buffalo defense, scoring a season-high single quarter total of 31 points in the fourth to lock up the victory.
Will the Bills learn from their mistakes in week 4 and keep the game within reach late?
The Game-Time Stories
One thing the Bills are sure to try to take advantage of is the absence of standout rookie running back Brandon Bolden. The young star has been slapped with a four-game suspension for his violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and will not even be allowed at Gillette Stadium until December 3rd.
Bolden most likely would have missed the game anyway, as he has missed the past two games after injuring his knee against the Seahawks. In losing him, the Patriots also lose a key role player on the sixth best rushing offense in the league. New England is averaging 149.6 yards on the ground per game, and Bolden was the Pats’ lead rusher against the Bills in their first meeting; he contributed 137 yards and a touchdown to the rushing core’s 247 yard, four touchdown total on the day.
One thing that has not changed is New England’s weakness in their secondary, which is bound to become a problem at some point in the game against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick likes to sling the ball as often as he can, and with similarly strong-armed quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco having great success against their secondary, there is no doubt he will try to exploit them the same way.
New England took a step toward patching up some of their problems at the cornerback by acquiring Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Talib is also in the midst of a four-game suspension for testing positive for the league-banned substance Adderall. The former first round draft pick has 18 interceptions since coming to the NFL in 2008, and he is expected to see his first action in a game with his new team next week against the Colts.
Another challenge for the Pats will be stopping the undeniably difficult Bills’ defensive line. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus combined for a sack on Tom Brady in week four, and were a major part of the reason why the game was so close for so long as they kept the pressure on Brady as early and often as possible. Linebackers Nick Barnett and Bryan Scott also had huge days against the Patriots in their last meeting, racking up 15 and 14 total tackles respectively. After getting killed by the run last time, don’t be surprised if they blitz more often and take a few more chances with forcing Brady down field.
Players To Watch
Although he has been plagued by a hip injury, Rob Gronkowski has been a vital part to the New England offense, and scored two touchdowns in their rout of the St. Louis Rams in London. Gronkowski’s size and durability give him the best chance against the aforementioned linebackers across the middle, and without help from Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker not at 100% and Brandon Lloyd performing so sporadically, it will be important that he continue to produce; especially in the red zone where he has consistently done so well.
Gronkowski will be helped by a bevy of backup tight ends as well in the absence of Hernandez, as the Patriots activated Visante Shiancoe back onto the 53-man roster in addition to Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui, who has also seen some time at fullback.
Oh and by the way, the Bills have a pretty great offensive weapon of their own in running back CJ Spiller who has the best yards per attempt ratio in the NFL right now with 568 yards on 78 carries. Spiller has peppered some duds in between his great games this season though, so his productivity will partly depend on whether the Patriot’s defensive line can stifle him early. The Pats’ are seventh best in the league against the run, something that has helped keep the secondary from completely annihilating their defense.
Injuries In Week 10
In addition to Bolden (knee), defensive end Trevor Scott (hamstring), linebacker Tracy White and tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip) are all out for today’s game.
Currently listed as questionable on the defense are cornerback Kyle Arrington (concussion), defensive tackle Ron Brace (back), safeties Patrick Chung (shoulder) and S Steve Gregory (hip), and linebackers Dont’a Hightower (hamstring), Jerod Mayo (elbow) and Brandon Spikes (knee). Listed as questionable on the offense are wide receivers Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Wes Welker (ankle), guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip), offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder), offensive tackle Sebastian Volmer (back/knee) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (hip).
Wide receiver Julian Edelman and defensive tackle Kyle Love are both probable.
Checking In With The Coach
Coach Bill Belichick had his usual meeting with the media on Friday, and was asked about returning to normal after the bye week, particularly how the players react to getting back on the field.
“I think we try to work back so we have the same schedule at the end of the week leading up to the game”, he said. “So… whether it’s a short week or a long week, at the other end of it, the days leading up to the games are consistent. So the player can get into, regardless of what happens the first or second or first four days, the last four, three, two, one days are pretty consistent for their routine so they can get into that routine leading up the game.”
He also talked about looking ahead at the schedule, and what type of planning goes into that as far as their practice and in-game decisions.
“At times there are things that pop up but I’d say for the most part we’re pretty much week to week”, said Belichick. “There are some decisions that we have to make for a bye week or a London week or a Monday night game: when we’re going to the bring the players in, if we get back late on a trip, whether we’re going to do it the normal time or push it back, how that’s going to go. But I’d say for the most part we try to make the decisions week to week based on what we feel like is the most important thing for that particular week. For me to say what the team is going to need in the middle of December, I don’t know.”