Hello, hello! This will probably be one of my last posts until January 6th, or so, because I'll be off on vacation. I hope everyone's had a happy holiday season and that everyone's been safe! Anyways, the Patriots need this win on Sunday to lock up the AFC East crown (again!) and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Patriots can stave off the Bills at Ralphie, then they can start planning for the post-season.
First off, I'd like to direct everyone over to Buffalo Rumblings, the SB Nation site for the Bills, to read some information about the Buffalo Bills. It's one of the top three NFL blogs on the site, in my opinion (alongside the Pulpit and Arrowhead Pride), so it's well worth the journey. Brian Galliford does a phenomenal job with updates, so make sure you venture over and get a Bills fan's prospective on the game.
Now, here's a game plan for the Patriots to beat the Bills:
1. Stop Fred Jackson. Sound familiar? It should. Stopping the Bills running game was a key to victory in Week 3 and it remains a key to this week. However, in Week 3, I stated that the Patriots must be able to stop Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller. Well, the Bills shipped Lynch away, leaving Jackson and Spiller as the only weapons in the backfield. While Spiller has seen more snaps at running back, he's not nearly as productive as Jackson. Spiller will get 7-8 snaps on Sunday, depending on how close the game is, but Jackson should see at least twice as much action. Jackson can run the ball and he can receive the ball, making him as dangerous a weapon as Matt Forte and Ray Rice. If the Patriots can slow Jackson, then they should be able to slow the Bills offense.
In order to stop Jackson, I expect the Patriots to employ a lot of the 4-2-5 defense. The Patriots will be missing Brandon Spikes, the top run stuffer, and they may be missing James Sanders, Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham and/or Tully Banta-Cain. As a result, the Patriots' run defense immediately plummets in terms of talent. As a result, the Patriots should run their 4-2-5 sub defense with the following players:
This defense allows the Patriots to stack the box with Pat Chung to stop the run, but it also allows Dane Fletcher to spy Jackson the entire game. The four defensive linemen should open lanes for Fletcher and it should also generate enough pressure to slow Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Read more advice after the jump!
2. Track Steve Johnson. The Bills have placed former #1 receiver Lee Evans on the IR. Oh, they also sent former #2 receiver Roscoe Parrish to the IR. In the meantime, new #1 Steve Johnson has emerged into a threat in his own right. He's one of the top young receivers in the league and has developed a solid rapport with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Behind Johnson is David Nelson and Donald Jones. The Bills rarely throw to the tight ends, as Jonathan Stupar has four receptions in the past eight weeks. Neither Nelson or Jones are serious threats in the receiving game and I'm fully confident that Devin McCourty can stop Nelson on an island and that Darius Butler/Pat Chung can stop Jones. The Bills offense rarely goes deeper than the #2 receiving target, which means that the Patriots only really need to worry about two target threats- and McCourty should be able to stop the #2 on an idland.
That leaves #1 Steve Johnson to face off with Kyle Arrington and Brandon Meriweather. If Arrington can keep Johnson in front of him, then the Bills passing game will be slowed. The Bills receivers, other than Johnson, thrive on the big play and if the Patriots can corral Johnson, then the Bills won't have a passing game. Arrington needs to play his game against Johnson and deter Fitzpatrick from throwing to his favorite target.
3. Block Kyle Williams. The Bills feature a star player on their defensive front- the underrated defensive tackle Kyle Williams. He's a strong player who can handle single teams and can disrupt the pocket. He lines up against the left guard in the typical 4-3 defense and should be a solid match-up against Logan Mankins. The Bills often start their defensive plays with Williams double teamed and feature delay rushes to draw the double team off of Williams. Once the double team is removed, Williams has an advantage on one side of the remaining blocker and utilizes his strength and speed to get by and reach the quarterback. The Patriots need to either leave Mankins on an island against Williams until all defenders are committed to their role, or they need to bring in an extra blocker in the backfield to help once the double team is removed.
4. Ride BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. The Bills are 32nd in the league (aka: last) in defending the run. The reason the Bills rank so lowly is that opposing teams get large leads on them, allowing them to run the ball at the end of the game, racking up yards. Hey, I like that method. The Patriots need to build up a large enough lead so they can run out the clock at the end of the game. In order to do so, the Patriots need to establish the run to balance the offense. If the Patriots allow the running backs to run away from Kyle Williams, then the Bills will not be able to stop the Patriots' offense.
In order to give the running backs free range, the Patriots need to come out slinging the ball. Tom Brady needs to throw quick passes to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in order to spread the Bills defense. Once there's space, the Patriots need to run the ball and the offense will be self-sustaining as the running success gives way to passing success, which returns the favor with more running success.
5. Win the turnover battle. The Patriots have done a fantastic job of protecting the football in recent weeks. The Bills have not. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown an interception in four of the past five weeks. The Bills have been fumbling the ball at an extremely high rate. For a team that hasn't scored over 17 points in the past four weeks, the Bills cannot afford to turn the ball over against the potent Patriots' offense. If the Patriots do not turn the ball over (read: not have a repeat of the Browns debacle), then the Patriots offense should be able to function. If they force the Bills to turnover the ball, then the Patriots should have a solid game.
Best of luck to the Patriots against the Bills! I'll be back in a couple weeks!