– Evan Sally
So the Bills are playing Brady and the Patriots again. We’ve all watched this matchup 27 times and 24 of them the Pats have come out on top. From Gregg Williams to Doug Marrone, many coaches have tried to figure the Patriots out and for the most part they’ve all failed miserably. As Rex Ryan takes his second crack at the Patriots as Bills coach, I decided to take a crack at breaking down this matchup. I don’t claim to be an expert. but I have a couple ideas.
So how exactly do the Bills go about slaying this Patriots monster? When it comes to slowing Brady down we all know the game plan: get pressure on him early, make him uncomfortable, get him off his spot and force enough errant throws that you can pick a few off. Of course this plan is the definition of easier said than done. Brady made mince meat of the Bills D last game, getting the ball out in 2 seconds on average, giving the pass rush no time to get to him. So why will it be different this time? One way to force Brady to hold the ball longer is to disrupt his timing with his receivers by jamming them, something every fan has been calling for a while. While this seems it should be an effective strategy, the combination of Brady’s ability to diagnose defenses and his chemistry with two guys that are elite at getting defeating coverage and getting open quickly in tight spaces will destroy press coverage fairly easily. However those two guys, Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman, won’t be playing Monday night. While the Patriots have an Edelman replacement ready to go in Danny Amendola. he’s not quite as shifty as Edelman. I think Rex uses this opportunity and allows Gilmore and Darby (who has more experience now, the first Pats game was his second NFL game ever.) to be more aggressive with Amendola and Lafell on the outside.
By now you’re probably wondering “how has he gotten this far talking about the Patriots offense without mentioning Gronkowski?” Well that’s because I believe for all intents and purposes Gronk is uncoverable. The best a defense can do is do their due diligence and bracket him with a safety and linebacker and hope for the best. The fact remains that if Brady has enough time to make a good throw Gronk aka a polar bear wearing shoulder pads will be able to get open down field. The key to this equation however is Brady getting enough time. Unlike most teams that use their tight end as a safety valve in case a receiver can’t get open deep, the Patriots often do the opposite. They use Gronk as their home run hitter, hitting him off of slow developing plays for big chunks of yardage, while the receivers and backs act as the safety valve. If Brady can’t rely on his receivers and backs the same way, it will be more difficult for the Pats to find the time to get Gronk open down field, especially when you consider the state of their offensive line. A thing I’m curious about going into the game is if the Patriots will start using Gronk differently now that Edelman is gone. Instead of saving him for the big chunk plays, will they start using him more as a move the chains type of receiver? This is a development that would lead to more targets for Gronk, which is always a bad thing, but those targets shouldn’t be as far down the field, which could limit the damage he would cause. Well hypothetically at least. All of this being said, holding the Patriots to 27 to 30 is still the best you can hope for. As a defense you don’t stop the Patriots offense, you survive the onslaught.
If holding the Patriots to 27 points is probably the best outcome you can hope for that means the the Bills offense will have some work to do. However the Bills offense is caught in a bit of a problem. Normally if you’re going to be in a shootout, you plan on throwing the ball a lot, throwing the ball deep a lot and possibly even going up tempo. However all these things can very easily play into the hands of the Patriots. As much as we love how Tyrod has been playing you don’t want him having to throw more than he should and potentially causing him to turn it over. And getting in shootouts with Tom Brady usually doesn’t work out well. The other option is to slow the game down, play a ball control style of offense, pound the ball down the Patriots throat with Shady and Karlos and keep Brady on the sideline. However that can be a problem too. That style of play usually doesn’t end up scoring a ton of points, and Brady has proven that he can score plenty even if his offense doesn’t have the ball for much time. So what will the Bills do? I think it has to be a combination of both. And luckily for the Bills a combination of both strategies should play to the Bills strengths.
The Bills have 4 very good to elite playmakers in Shady McCoy, Karlos Williams, Charles Clay and Sammy Watkins and a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who has proven himself to be able in utilizing all of them. In the 5 games these 5 have played together the Bills averaging 31 points per game. They’ve done that in a very old school way. In the modern NFL when teams are scoring a lot it’s because they’re throwing the ball a ton. There are ton of reasons for this but the most obvious one is that throwing the ball a bunch is the easiest way to create big plays. However this is not the only way you can create big plays as we’ve seen from the Bills when they are playing well. In McCoy, Williams and occasionally Tyrod, the Bills have shown the ability to create big plays from the run game. Per sportingcharts.com who define a big play as 10+ yards for a run and 25+ yards for a pass, the Bills lead the league in rushing big plays with 40. If the Bills can establish the run early they should be able to set up the big play action pass to Sammy, which could be devastating IF the offensive line gives Tyrod time. That line gave up 8 sacks last game, and while they have improved they still face a big challenge facing this Patriots defense. Luckily for the Bills one of the Patriots stud defenders may be out in Jamie Collins.
It’s safe to say that the Bills face an uphill challenge on both sides of the ball. I think it’s also safe to say that the hill is significantly steeper for the Bills defense. While it’s incredibly important for the defense to hold up their end of the bargain, it’s up to the offense to keep the team into the game until the defense can force some key stops and hopefully some turnovers. This offense is capable, I truly think they can put some points up. We’ll see how right or wrong I am come Monday night.
– Evan Sally (@Evan_Sally)