The Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to start off the 2015 season. Their next test comes against Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, and Rex will have his players ready to play for the game. The Patriots know they have a tough test waiting for them in a road game against a team that beat up on the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. Here's what the Patriots must do in order to come away with a road win against the Bills and move up to 2-0 on the season.
Contain the Edges Against the Read Option- Between LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor, setting the edge in the run game is crucial. The Patriots cannot allow either guy to get the edge, or it's big plays in the run game and the offense is off the field longer. McCoy doesn't run with the same burst he had in Philadelphia, but is still a very potent threat on the edge. Tyrod Taylor's game is very similar to Russell Wilson, which means they might be able to craft a successful game plan against him if they take a look at some of the film from Super Bowl XLIX and utilize some of the stuff that made the defense successful. McCoy is nowhere near the inside run threat that Marshawn Lynch is, so the Patriot inside linebackers should be able to clean up inside. The onus is on Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard to make sure that the ball carrier cannot get the edge on them. Force the run inside where there's help from the linebackers and safeties.
Use Formations to Free Open Receivers- One of the successful combinations that Rex Ryan likes to use is blitzing and press coverage. Blitzes usually force quick throws, which can be neutralized with press coverage. The Patriots can also look at film from the teams Rex Ryan had with the Jets to craft a game plan to counter that. The Bills can get pressure with their front 4, which is a problem for the Patriots since Rex won't need to blitz to affect Tom Brady. This may be where the bit pieces of the offense come into play. The Patriots can utilize stack formations, route combinations, and rub routes to free open receivers on certain routes without drawing pass interference penalties.
Find Ways to Neutralize Bills Pass Rush- Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes have their sights in on Tom Brady. The Patriots were able to limit the Steelers pass rush in Week 1 to 2 sacks, 6 hurries, 1 hit, and a batted pass. The two sacks came in blown protections where the RB did not chip the screen-side edge defender and the left tackle not recognizing a possible blitz. The Patriots offensive line already has their hands full when they're not making mistakes on the field. The Patriots may ask their backs and tight ends to chip the defensive ends on the way out and slide protections a certain way depending on the play. Another aspect that will be needed is RBs helping in pass protection for downfield throws to Rob Gronkowski up the seam or Aaron Dobson on the deep in-cut routes. Patriots #1 chance of avoiding an upset, in a game I consider a toss-up, is to allow Tom Brady to go do his thing.
Attack Linebacker and Safety Coverage- The Patriots have two capable receiving tight ends, and the Bills are very familiar with both of them. Rob Gronkowski has tortured the Bills secondary for years, and they really don't have an answer for him. Scott Chandler is a former Buffalo Bill who was released by the team and quickly signed by the Patriots after owning them in recent years. Chandler is not a seam threat, but rather a savvy veteran target who can move the chains. In addition to the tight ends, the Patriots should expect a big impact from their running backs. Dion Lewis caught 4/5 passes for 51 yards against the Steelers and will likely be a factor in the passing game again. Also, look for recently activated LeGarrette Blount as a potential check down option. With Blount's reputation of being a running down player only, there won't be a lot of coverage rolled his way. Like with the running game, if Blount can get room to operate he's tough to tackle. If there is one weakness in the Bills defense the Patriots can be able to exploit, it's linebacker and safety coverage in space. I would expect to see tight ends and running backs occasionally flexed out in empty backfield sets.
Force Tyrod Taylor to Hold Onto the Football Longer than He'd Like- If there is one thing the Patriots can do to help themselves defensively, it's forcing Tyrod Taylor to hold onto the ball. The Patriots secondary isn't as good as it was last year because the Patriots secondary lacks that elite presence at the CB position, but Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown are a solid tandem that can handle most receivers. Butler had a poor start against Antonio Brown, but that has more to do with Antonio Brown than himself. Sammy Watkins is not nearly as good as Brown is, which bodes well for Butler. Butler and Tarell Brown need to be able to cover Watkins and Percy Harvin for at least 4 seconds. The Patriots pass rush will be in more of a contain role, so that means the secondary has to hold their end of the bargain. If the Patriots can force Taylor to hold onto the ball for 3, 4, perhaps even 5 seconds, there's a chance he'll start panicking and that plays right into the Patriots hands. On the inside, the Patriots interior defensive line should try to collapse the pocket while the edge guys hold contain to give Taylor less space to throw the ball while taking away any possible escape.
For the final score, I have the Patriots losing 19-17 to the Bills. It's going to be a low-scoring game, but the Bills will be playing this game like it's their Super Bowl. The Patriots still have a lot of question marks in the trenches, especially on the interior. Patriots will be able to keep the Bills from scoring touchdowns in the Red Zone, but their offense might not be able to put up a ton of points because Rex Ryan knows how to slow down the Patriots offense. On a side note, any Patriots fan who can sneak in any feet-related signs to the game wins the Internet for a week.