Three thoughts with the Bills and Patriots now three days away from what is the most anticipated game between these two teams in years...
1. The Bills need to finish. Several players this week have pointed out that they've come close to beating Tom Brady and the Patriots many times before. Center Eric Wood cites his first game with the team, when Buffalo squandered a late 24-13 lead on national television. Brady threw a pair of touchdowns in less than two minutes to beat the Trent Edwards-led offense. What about the 2013 opener? That day, Brady completed six of six passes (including two third downs) on a final drive to win, 23-20, in the debut of the Doug Marrone-EJ Manuel Era. Ryan Fitzpatrick beat Brady once (in 2011) and came close in 2010 (38-30) and 2011 (37-31). So it's not like the Bills have been run over by this team. Finishing is the problem. Somehow, Buffalo needs to get off the field when Brady smells blood late.
Players absolutely know this, too.
"You’ve got to get turnovers on Brady," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. "You’ve got to get to him and hit him. If you do that, you can win. You’ve got to just keep putting pressure on him and get him frustrated. And you’ve got to play very physical with those receivers.”
But does Brady really give you those chances? He has averaged only 8.8 interceptions per year the last five seasons.
Gilmore hints that man coverage is probably the way to go.
“He gets the ball out fast most of the time," Gilmore said. "Especially if we’re in zone, he can dink and dunk you in those open areas with Gronk and Edelman and those guys.”
2. Rex is blunt with the running game. On Monday, coach Rex Ryan said he didn't even know the name of the Patriots running back in the opener. That'd be Dion Lewis, who had 69 yards on 15 attempts. On Wednesday, Ryan said he fully expects LeGarrette Blount to the be the guy in the backfield. " I mean that’s who it’s going to be," Ryan said, "that’s who it would have been Week One. So the other kid is who he is. But I mean come on, Blount’s there guy and I know him. He’s a big, tough, stud running back." The Bills repeat that the No. 1 goal is to always stop the run first and get a team into third-and-long situations. Do not expect the Patriots to go as wildly pass-happy as the Indianapolis Colts did. At one point, Andrew Luck dropped back 17 straight times in the first half.
The best way to neutralize a pass rush is a commitment to the run game, anything that can slow a blitz down. Thus, the 250-pound Blount could have a role. It wasn't too long ago that Blount was gashing those Colts for 148 yards and three touchdowns in the AFC title game. This will be a big test for inside linebackers Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham, who both were solid in Week 1.
3. Tyrod Taylor will need to go deep. The Bills are built to win with a ferocious pass rush and a strong running game, the old fashioned way. But even offensive coordinator Greg Roman probably knows there's no hiding a quarterback in today's NFL. The Seattle Seahawks and his San Francisco 49ers were built similar ways but both Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick needed to make plays themselves for their teams to reach the Super Bowl. Defenses are going to give Taylor one-on-one opportunities on deep balls — to the likes of Percy Harvin, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods — and he'll need to hit one or two of those a game for the Bills' offense to succeed. Defenses would be nuts to sit back with two deep safeties considering Taylor's 4.4 speed underneath, so he'll likely see a lot of single-high safety this year.
And that can means a chance at the one-on-one go route deep to his fast receivers.
Taylor found Harvin for one 51-yard touchdown, but also missed Watkins on a 27-yard score. The quarterback's football career, long ago, began with a beauty deep. Now, Roman needs to keep timing up these long balls all season long.