PATS-BILLS MATCHUP WINNERS
Rob Gronkowski vs. Leslie Frazier
The Bills "held" the All-Pro tight end to five catches for 67 yards and one touchdown. Considering Gronkowski was averaging 85 yards a game this season, it wasn't bad defense. Yet Gronkowski showed his greatness on his 17-yard TD catch, twisting his body to make a one-handed catch. The Bills did a lot of bracketing of Gronkowski with a linebacker and a safety.
Gronkowski also had a big impact in the running game. Because he's such a huge threat as a receiver, the Bills were forced to have nickel personnel on the field even when the Patriots used two tight ends. Every team is forced to use the extra defensive back against Gronk. But that allows the Patriots to pound the running game, which they did in the second half. New England rushed for 64 yards in the first half and 129 in the second.
Pats vs. Bills red-zone D
New England converted 4 of 6 drives into the red zone into touchdowns. The Pats entered the game ranked 10th in red-zone offense, converting 58 percent of drives into TDs. Buffalo stopped the Patriots to settle for a field goal on their first drive. Tight coverage on Gronkowski in the end zone prompted a third-down overthrow by Brady. Gronkowski caught the TD pass on the second drive. The Bills stopped the Pats on the third trip inside the 20 thanks to a Kyle Williams sack of Brady.
The last three New England drives deep into Bills territory produced TDs. By that point, the Bills' defense was getting weary and the Patriots were flexing their running-game muscle. Buffalo has been pretty good in the defensive red zone this season, ranking 12th in the NFL. The Bills had allowed only seven passing TDs but gave up two to the Pats.
Dion Lewis vs. Bills front 7
The New England running backs have a distinct advantage. Opposing defenses are so consumed with preventing Tom Brady from making big passing plays that they can't gang up on the run game. The Bills succeeded in discouraging Brady from throwing much downfield. Patriots deep threat Brandin Cooks did nothing for the second straight game against the Bills. He managed just two catches for 19 yards. He had two for 17 in the first meeting. Pats wideouts overall combined for seven catches for 88 yards.
The tradeoff is the backs have room. Dion Lewis rushed 24 times for 129 yards. Lewis bounced around three teams his first four seasons in the league but has been a steady role player for the Pats the past three years. He plays 30 percent of the snaps and is having his best season, with 977 yards from scrimmage.