In the second match-up of the season between division rivals the Patriots and Bills, New England will look avenge their week four shutout loss to Buffalo at Gillette. This time, the Patriots have Tom Brady under center and the Bills weren't dealing with the amount of injuries they were in week four; S Aaron Williams and RB LeSean McCoy will not be playing. Despite that, the Bills are 4-3 coming into this game and have shown they can be a team to cause problems throughout a game. One area of focus for the team is their front seven, that will have Marcell Dareus back for the first time all season. This will be an interesting and key match-up for the Patriots offensive and more specifically, their offensive line.
The Bills front seven is anchored by linebackers Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander, who lead the NFL in tackles (76) and sacks (nine), respectively. Against the Patriots in week four, Brown had 17 tackles, one sack, three run stuffs and two forced fumbles. Alexander had six tackles and a sack in that game as well. In week four, the Bills defense as whole allowed only 277 yards of offense to the Patriots while allowing them only 13 total first downs and no points. They also accumulated three sacks, six quarterback hits, four pass deflections and seven tackles for a loss. In other words, the Bills had their way with the Patriots in this game.
Coming into this game, Buffalo is tied for third in the NFL with 21 sacks, tied for fourth with 10 forced fumbles and 20 tackles for a loss. This unit has still be strong defensively, allowing 18.7 points per game (eighth in the NFL) and having 12 takeaways (tied for seventh in the NFL) as well. It'll be a tough match-up for the Patriots, who are 10th in the NFL with 25.1 points per game and seventh in yards per game with 383.6. The offensive line for the Patriots has done surprisingly well this season as well, with only 12 sacks given up (less than two per game on average) in seven games. That number is good for ninth best in the NFL with Tennessee and Philadelphia.
Looking closely at the Bills front seven with Dareus expected to play, it includes him, Kyle Williams, Zach Brown, Preston Brown, Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes. It is a strong unit that has 131 sacks and 24 forced fumbles. They will face the Patriots starting offensive line including Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. A key for this match-up will be how well the Patriots can run block against the Bills for LeGarrette Blount. He has four rushing touchdowns over the past three games, including one in each of those games. He has proven to be a staple of the Patriots offense and has 214 yards (71 per game) over the past three games.
The Bills have given up 125 yards on average in the run game to go with eight touchdowns, proving that it isn't necessarily proficient in that aspect of defense. Dareus being back as the anchor of the defensive line for the Bills will likely have a big effect on their run defense, which can prove to be troublesome for the Patriots. Dareus is the team's nose tackle, so he will line-up on Andrews and either Mason or Thuney on plays. The interior offensive line will have a big task on Sunday. They will need to make sure they keep him away from the quarterback and also keep him from getting into the back-field to disrupt run plays as well.
Both Solder and Cannon will to worry about outside linebackers Hughes and Alexander, who are both extremely disruptive at rushing the passer and blowing up plays as well. With how much they have been able to get to the opposing team's quarterback, it'll likely require one more blocker on the offensive line on passing plays. Rob Gronkowski is not only one of the best tight ends in the NFL for his receiving prowess, but also for his blocking. What the team could do is have Gronkowski chip-block on plays he is designed to run a route to give either tackle a bit of leverage and help against their assignment. If he suits up, Martellus Bennett can be another option to stay back and block on passing plays as well, especially if he can't run a lot of routes because of his ankle.
With Dareus and Zach Brown both lined up/covering the middle of the field, the Patriots will have to be creative on run plays to keep both of their involvements to a minimum. Utilizing more outside runs with blockers in their wide receivers and possibly a tight end as well would keep both of them out of the play for the most part. For run plays that are designed to go down the middle, using someone like James Develin as a lead blocker to take away Dareus or Brown for example would help open up more running room for Blount and the run game as well. For the run game to be successful, taking the Bills top run stoppers will be important.
For the Patriots passing game, they have utilized quick passes, especially throws over the middle of the field and screen plays as well. With Williams, Hughes and Alexander all dangerous in the passing game, getting the ball out quickly will prevent most of any opportunity to get after Brady. James White and Julian Edelman are two players who could see a lot of targets as they both specialize in catching the ball on screen plays and on quick routes as well. It would be up to the Bills secondary to try and stop the passing game if the ball is out quick enough to prevent any pass rush from generating.
Overall, this has the makings of being the difference-making match-up for both teams in this game. Whoever wins this battle will likely lead their respective team to victory. The Patriots offensive line has done well to this point, but Buffalo is at near full strength back with Dareus in the fold once again. Keep an eye on this throughout the game, as this is a very important battle.