It is New England week, which means we have to find out what we are in for by talking to a blogger from the Pats' side. What is up with Rob Gronkowski quiet start? How about New England's offensive line? What is up with the drama of Wes Welker? Why has their defense struggled? All those questions and a couple more are answered by New England Patriots blogger, Ricky Keeler from Foxboro Blog.
In terms of an offensive standpoint, the Bills need to focus on keeping the Patriots' offense off the field. If Fred Jackson plays in this game, he is the threat for the offense considering he usually puts up some good performances against the Patriots. The ground will help to set up Ryan Fitzpatrick for the play action pass since we saw last week the Pats' secondary is still vulnerable to the deep pass. Fitzpatrick has to avoid turning the football over. This is the same Bills team that led 21-0 in the 1st quarter last year at Gillette Stadium and turnovers brought New England back into the game. Without the balance, Chandler Jones will get his sacks. On the defensive side, Buffalo has to get pressure on Brady with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. If they can get Brady off of his game, it will lead to turnovers. When the Bills intercept Brady more than once, they usually win. Otherwise, they are 0-17 in games in which Brady has zero or one INT.
With Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup, I think teams pay more attention to Gronkowski. We saw in the Ravens' game that Ray Lewis was doing a good job on Gronk. Whether he was holding or not is a question I refuse to touch. He still is a viable target for Brady in the red zone, but for some reason, he has not been intricately involved in the Josh McDaniels' offense. I expect him to return to form this week if Brady can find him open over the middle.
You can talk to so many fans and experts and they can all give you a different answer. In my opinion, I think they are trying to send a message like they have done in the past with players like a Randy Moss. Is Welker a diva like Moss? Absolutely Not! The problem you have is Welker is asking for number one receiver money and the Patriots do not see him as a number one guy. I don't think Welker is on the team next season. As for this year, Welker has to be involved now with the injuries to Hernandez and Julian Edelman. Welker exploited the Bills' secondary last season, so I expect more screens and downfield looks to Wes and Brandon Lloyd this week.
It is the age old question for the past few seasons. New England has addressed the issue somewhat with the drafting of Chandler Jones. But, it is tough to put all the pass rush hopes on one rookie. Jones has been very impactful so far in at least drawing offensive holding penalties to opposing left tackles. This comes down to players like Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, and Kyle Love to apply more pressure. However, the defense has been much better against the run and is definitely an improvement from last season. They are more physical compared to last year and just like last season, they are still good at forcing turnovers both in the secondary from 2nd round pick Tavon Wilson as well as the acquisition of Steve Gregory.
If the Patriots lose this week, panic will set in. However, I don't think there is panic right now. The way I see it, the Patriots lost two close games on a missed field goal against the Cardinals and a late field goal to the Ravens. They went into a hostile environment in Baltimore and had a nine point lead with 10 minutes to go. There isn't a hangover from the Super Bowl, but I think there are growing pains with this McDaniels offense as opposed to the Bill O'Brien offense. What I am concerned with is the Patriots' inability to close games in the last few seasons, which is unexpected when Tom Brady is under center. The schedule is still favorable going forward, but in my mind, this is a MUST win for the Patriots this weekend.
The offensive line has been a problem because of the lack of depth on the team. With the losses of Matt Light (retirement) and Brian Waters (contract dispute), guys like Nate Solder, Rian Wendell, and Donald Thomas have not been able to fill the void. However, the O-Line showed progress against Baltimore last week up until the Ravens started blitzing Brady in the 4th quarter. Buffalo will need to blitz to bring pressure early. For the Patriots, they have to get Stevan Ridley going on the ground to put less pressure on the line to protect Brady on a every down basis.
I would keep an eye on Stevan Ridley. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati, Ridley has had to become the featured back in this offense. Yes, the Patriots still use players like Danny Woodhead and rookie Brandon Bolden to run the ball, but Ridley has averaged 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. Also, he has fixed his fumbling issues that caused him to get benched in the playoffs last year. His great game vs. the Titans in the opener helped to create the aforementioned balance in the offensive attack. He is a good power runner who has the ability to make defensive players miss.
Patriots 31 Bills 21