Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the New England Patriots Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Sean McDermott comes up with another masterful defensive game plan.
Let's put aside, for a moment, what McDermott did wrong and concentrate on what he's more than capable of doing right. Starting Nathan Peterman against the Los Angeles Chargers and possibly costing his team a win that could make the difference in its pursuit of a playoff berth will linger as an egregious rookie mistake.
But McDermott did plenty to restore credibility with brilliant defensive scheming that allowed him to get the better of his mastermind mentor, Andy Reid, and quarterback Alex Smith in last Sunday's upset at Kansas City.
He needs to do the same against an even bigger coaching genius, Bill Belichick, and the best quarterback the game has ever seen, Tom Brady.
McDermott schooled Reid with two-deep coverage looks and disguises that didn't show up on the Bills video the Chiefs studied before the game, and that prompted Smith to repeatedly hesitate on throws and hold the ball long enough for pressure to get to him. McDermott also repositioned tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander in ways that helped create favorable matchups for them. It will be much harder to gain a similar edge against Brady, who has seen every coverage and disguise imaginable.
However, as they demonstrated against the Chiefs, McDermott and his defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, have the capacity to cook up strategy that just might take Brady out of his seemingly perpetual comfort zone every now and then.
2. The offense must take advantage of a banged-up defensive line.
The scoreboard might have made the Patriots' 35-17 win against Miami last Sunday look like a breeze, but it came at a significant price in the form of injuries.
The Patriots' defensive front was hit especially hard, creating vulnerability on which the Bills have an opportunity to capitalize.
That has to start with the running game that, once again, managed to disappear at Kansas City. The Patriots rank 22nd in the NFL in run defense, one spot below the Bills. There is reason to believe the Bills could find a decent amount of success with an effective one-two punch of LeSean McCoy — who cropped up on the injury report Thursday with a knee issue but fully practiced — and Travaris Cadet. Both have the ability to make explosive runs, along with Taylor on designed keepers and scrambles.
The Bills have to be committed to their ground attack as long as possible. Granted, against Brady, they could find themselves in a deep enough hole to take that out of the equation. But the effort still must be made to control the clock and keep the Patriots' offense on the sidelines for long stretches.
3. The defense must take advantage of a banged-up offensive line.
The Patriots have an O-line crisis. After LaAdrian Waddle suffered a low-ankle sprain against the Dolphins, the Pats will be forced to go with their third-string right tackle, Cameron Flemming.
Look for the Bills to do whatever they can to exploit the situation. Expect some overloads to Flemming's side with various pressure packages involving linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs.
Among Brady's many exceptional qualities is his ultra-quick release, and the Bills need to win enough battles up front to consistently force him to look for short-area targets by not giving him the time to scan for deeper ones.
Yes, shallow crosses have long been a staple of the Patriots' passing game. But this will be the first time Brady has faced a Bills defense with safeties who perform as consistently well as Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, whose coverage and punishing hits are capable of making such plays less effective.
4. Don't get Gronked.
The Bills did an amazing job of shutting down one of the league's best tight ends, Travis Kelce, last week. They have to have an encore against Rob Gronkowski.
Since entering the NFL in 2010, Gronk has basically owned his hometown team, right along with Brady and Belichick.
Things could be different Sunday because the Bills are fielding one of the best secondaries they've had in years. Not only does this group do a superb job in coverage, but it also is extremely physical.
Gronkowski is going to make plays. However, the combined efforts of Hyde, Poyer and cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and E.J. Gaines, along with Leonard Johnson, could prevent him from taking the game over.
5. Tyrod can be Tyrod … but this would be a good time to do a bit more.
Taylor's solid game management matters, especially when the Bills play their best defensively as they did last Sunday. If he continues to protect the ball as well as he normally does, the Bills have a fighting chance.
If Taylor can keep the Patriots' defense off-balance with his feet, that opens the door to some big plays resulting from coverage breakdowns. Former Bill Stephon Gilmore will be looking to make a statement against his former team, and Taylor and his receivers should be mindful of trying to capitalize if Gilmore gets overzealous in trying to jump routes or making too much contact downfield.
Although it is generally against his nature, Taylor also will need to take a few risks and challenge the Patriots' defense — whose pass rush figures to be lacking — deep in order to generate enough points to keep pace with Brady's prolific and productive passing.