1. Get Shady going.
The Bills’ running game totaled 147 yards in Week One against Indianapolis, but only 41 of them came from franchise running back LeSean McCoy. After the game, he admitted to not being 100 percent coming off a hamstring injury, but played 71 percent of the offensive snaps, so the coaching staff must have thought he was close. McCoy was held to 2 yards or less on 12 of his 17 carries against the Colts. After missing a big chunk of training camp, chemistry with his offensive line is a concern at this point in the season. Nevertheless, the Bills need to get better blocking up front and need McCoy to hit the holes with conviction against the Patriots. New England was gashed for 127 yards on 21 carries in Week One by aging veteran DeAngelo Williams of the Steelers.
2. New England is young up front.
The Patriots started three rookies on the offensive line in Week One in center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. While they did a solid job against the Steelers, Pittsburgh doesn’t possess the type of defensive line the Bills will put on the field Sunday. Even without Marcell Dareus, the Bills were able to limit the Colts to just 64 yards rushing in Week One. The Bills also got good pressure on Andrew Luck, even if they only sacked him twice. As could be expected with Rex Ryan, the Bills sent a variety of blitzers, rushing at least five on 26 of 54 dropbacks, according to Football Outsiders. On 13 of those blitzes, the Bills rushed six defenders. Expect Ryan to attack the “A gaps” of the Patriots’ offensive line (the space between the center and either guard), particularly with linebacker Nigel Bradham
3. What to do with Stephon Gilmore?
The Bills’ top cornerback has said he’d welcome the opportunity to cover Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Amherst native. While one can appreciate his valor, it’s hard not to think “be careful what you wish for.” Behind J.J. Watt, Gronk is perhaps the most dominant player in the NFL at his position. Therefore, it’s unlikely the Bills will ask Gilmore to handle him exclusively Sunday. A better plan may be to have Gilmore man the right cornerback spot. That’s because Brady was a perfect 13 for 13 when throwing to the left side of the field in New England’s Week One win. Of course, Brady is great wherever he throws it – at one point, he completed 19 straight passes in the rain – but if Gilmore can provide tight coverage in his preferred target area, it will help the Bills.
4. Sammy Watkins should have a favorable matchup.
The Bills’ No. 1 receiver was held without a catch for the first time in his career in Week One against Indianapolis. No big deal, the Bills have said, since they won comfortably. There’s no doubting, however, that Watkins needs to be a huge part of the offense this season. After being matched up against the Colts’ Vontae Davis in Week One, Watkins is likely to see Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler on Sunday. The Patriots’ second-year cornerback struggled in a Week One victory over Pittsburgh. According to Pro Football Focus, Butler was targeted 10 times by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, giving up nine completions for 142 yards and a touchdown. Some of those numbers got put up in garbage time, but it’s clear Butler isn’t yet in the class of Davis (neither, it should be noted, is Watkins in Brown’s). The Bills need to test Butler, and get Watkins involved, early Sunday.
5. Back up the tough talk.
Rex Ryan has made it clear that he’s fine with his players expressing themselves. That has resulted in what could be construed as some bulletin-board materials for the Patriots. It’s refreshing to hear players speak their minds, and there’s nothing wrong with the Bills finding some swagger. Even the team’s Twitter account got into the act. But given the one-sided nature of this rivalry in recent years, they may have put some added pressure on themselves. New England really doesn’t have much to prove in this game. Brady is 23-3 in his career against the Bills. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a 9-4 career record against Rex Ryan. Buffalo, on the other hand, has plenty to prove. A victory would go a long way toward showing the Bills should be taken seriously as AFC East contenders.
Even at 38, Brady is operating with surgical precision. Belichick continues to make chicken salad out of less desirable ingredients. As long as those two are in place, the AFC East feels like it belongs to New England.
Patriots 28, Bills 24