Once there was a time when the Bills were dominant, the Jets were an embarrassment and the Patriots were a joke. Now, things are different and the four games against those teams have become nothing short of torturous for Bills fans.
After a fairly complete victory over Cleveland last week, the Bills head into week four with a 2-1 record (one win better than the Pats) and a two-game winning streak. However, the New England Patriots will be rolling into Buffalo a year after the Bills pulled the upset at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
There wasn’t much that needed to be shored up between weeks two and three. There isn’t much that needs to be changed after the win in Cleveland, either. However, beating the Patriots is a far taller task than beating the Chiefs or Browns.
Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski will be targeted even more with Aaron Hernandez shelved and Wes Welker will get more attention with Julian Edelman banged up as well. This may not be as deadly of a team as the Patriots had in the middle of their Super Bowl years, but it is still a highly potent offense. There would probably be a bakers dozen tweaks the Bills could make this week. But here are three big ones.
Make the Patriots offense one-dimensional
Stevan Ridley is capable of turning in a more than adequate performance but also is the easiest player on the New England offense to shut down. Eliminate an effective running game and make the Patriots pass the ball.
Tempting Tom Brady to beat you on his own isn’t even a worst case scenario. But only needing to worry about one aspect of the offense should allow the Bills to devote upwards of eight players to coverage while allowing the front four to tee off on passing downs.
Another reason to watch the Patriots passing game is not only the effectiveness of the Bills ends and tackles against the Patriots line, but the Pats will be without at least one primary target this week. Aaron Hernandez is definitely out for the game and Julian Edelman could be limited. If the Bills only need to worry about Gronk, Welker and Brandon Lloyd, their mission will be far less difficult than if Brady had a full complement of weapons at his disposal.
Support the rookie corners
The best way to keep the pressure off Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams will be to keep the pass rush consistent and get results from a four-man rush. The line has proven they’re capable of dominating against single blockers and should be able to get into Brady’s face. However, Bill Belichick will certainly disguise protection packages to keep Brady clean and provide him time to pick apart the secondary.
If the Bills can keep the need to blitz down, they should be able to roll out nickel and dime sub-packages to help neutralize the passing attack. In addition, without needing to blitz, the linebackers can also be used for coverage support so that less will be expected from the corners on a down-to-down basis.
Stay devoted to the run
The Ravens were content with riding Ray Rice as long as they needed on Sunday night and then beating the Patriots defense over the top with the passing game. While the Bills won’t be able to guarantee Fred Jackson’s (or CJ Spiller’s) availability until later in the week, the line has proven capable of opening holes for any back.
Even if the underwhelming duo of Tashard Choice and Johnny White should be counted on to pace the offense on Sunday, the Bills need to stick with that game plan. Rest assured, if the Patriots determine that the run doesn’t need to be respected, all of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s passing options will be eliminated and he will be forcing passes for the whole game. Judging by the results in week one, the Bills do not want Fitzpatrick forcing passes.