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Jerry Sullivan’s Mailbag: Bills need to run, sustain drives against Pats

It was a decent week for the mailbag, though there were more infantile comments than usual on Twitter. Sometimes I think Twitter was invented to give social misfits a vehicle for insulting people of superior class and intellect. I don’t know how Tim Graham can engage them with such vigor.

There also weren’t any basketball questions, which was unfortunate. The college season has started and it’s always nice to hear from fans of the local scene. Maybe hoop fans were too blown away to write after watching the Warriors’ sensational comeback win over the Clippers late Thursday night.

The Bills have a big game at the Pats on Monday night. But the game next week in Kansas City could have an even greater bearing on their playoff hopes. Anyway, keep those cards and insults coming. The truth is, I’m beyond insult at this point in my career. The Mailbag:

Sam Ruggiero asks: Simple question: What do the Bills need to do to beat the Patriots?

Sully: If winning in Foxborough were simple, more teams would do it. The Pats haven’t lost a meaningful regular-season conference game at home since Matt Cassel was in for Tom Brady seven years ago. You have to play a near-perfect game to win up there, and get a little lucky besides.

So there are a lot of things they need to do on Monday. Avoid turnovers, pressure Brady, don’t act like a bunch of junior high kids like in the first meeting. But if you’re looking for the most essential factor in winning road game against the mighty Pats, it’s a balanced offensive attack.

They have to run the ball well and sustain drives. You don’t win shootouts with Brady up there. Here’s a stat for you: Only one road team has ever won a game at Gillette Stadium without rushing for 100 yards. That was the Colts with Peyton Manning in 2006, the year they won the Super Bowl.

Gillette has been open for 14 years. Sure, the Pats don’t lose very often at home. A lot of teams fall behind early and get away from the running game. The stats say you can throw on the Pats, but the Bills are playing into Bill Belichick’s hands if Tyrod Taylor has to throw it 40-45 times.

Greg Roman has a running mentality and he should be confident in his run game after the last two wins. He should move Taylor around, run some read option and get LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams on the edge with the cutback runs that worked so well against the Dolphins a couple of weeks ago.

The Patriots’ last four opponents have all had a pass-run ratio of 70-30. None of them got a rush of more than 10 yards from a running back. They simply can’t win if they duplicate those numbers.

Brian Vattimo asks: Am I crazy, or do the Bills have a shot at having both Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year?

Sully: You’re not crazy, but it’s a long shot. Cornerback Ronald Darby and running back Karlos Williams are certainly in the discussion for offensive and defensive rookies of the year in the NFL, but Williams lost a lot of ground when he missed three games last month.

Darby was rated the top rookie by Pro Football Focus after seven weeks. He leads all NFL defensive backs in passes defended and had a solid performance against Brandon Marshall on national TV last Thursday night against the Jets. Darby was defensive Rookie of the Month in September. Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks won the award in October. Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams is a top candidate.

Rams running back Todd Gurley is the clear favorite for the offensive award. Gurley, who started the season late while recovering from a knee injury suffered last season at Georgia, has rushed for 709 yards in only seven games. He became the first rookie in NFL history to rush for 125 yards in his first four starts. Gurley was the 10th overall pick in the draft.

The Jags’ T.J. Yeldon is 12th in rushing with 585 yards. Oakland rookie wideout Amari Cooper is 13th in the league with 732 yards on 50 catches. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who went 1-2 in the draft, have had decent rookie seasons, but not worthy of being named top rookie.

Karlos Williams, a fifth-round pick, has been a revelation. He tied an NFL record by scoring a touchdown in his first six games as a rookie. He leads all running backs with a 6.2-yard average per carry. But he’s a backup, so he’s not likely to put up enough numbers to win the award.

@seabassomatic asks: Culminating in Bal/Jax, NFL officiating has been atrocious. If you were commisioner, what steps would you take to correct this?

Sully: First of all, the competition committee should get together after the season and discuss the consequences of the league’s decision to call more penalties this season. It’s gotten ridiculous. Every time there’s an incomplete pass, you sit and wait for the yellow flag to come out.

Clearly, there are other issues, including poor judgment, missed calls and improper application of the rules. There is a consistency problem among the various officiating crews. Nickell Robey, the Bills’ nickel back, said the team goes over the crews from week to week so they can adapt to the quirks of individual crews. Robey said it’s at the point where you don’t know what the rules are.

I’ve felt for years that the NFL should have full-time officials. The apologists say it won’t solve the problem, that intense study by officials in the offseason wouldn’t solve the problem. But how could it not improve the situation to employ officials for whom doing NFL games is their only job?

And if the officials aren’t full-time, the NFL should be more aggressive about getting rid of the zebras who botch calls and replace them with people who are more competent.

Oliver Hays asks: Of the MLB free agents who likely got a boost from their playoff performances (Cespedes, Murphy, Zobrist), who would you sign? They’re in different salary brackets, but say you can give Cespedes 7 years, 120 mil or Murphy/Zobrist more like 3 years 30 mil.

Sully: Good question, obvious answer: I’d sign Zobrist, who I’ve long considered one of the most underrated players in baseball. He does a little of everything and is a good defender who plays multiple positions. He’s a smart, clutch player who had a huge postseason for the World Series champion Royals. I put a premium on defense, so you can have Cespedes and Murphy.

Zobrist is 34, but he’s still in good shape and can be an asset to any team. He’s a manager’s dream, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land in Chicago with his former boss from the Rays – Joe Maddon.


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