After a slow start to the season, the New England Patriots offense has grown into one of the best in the NFL. The unit, which has scored at least 38 points in all of its last four games, now heads into Buffalo today to take on a Bills defense that has had to carry an anemic offense for much of the season. And while it failed to consistently lift the team over its first seven games, the group still has the ability to disrupt an offensive rhythm and make plays.
In order for Tom Brady and company to stay ahead of the Buffalo defense, it will need to get off to a fast and keep its foot on the gas 60 minutes — and accomplish the following goals:
Establish a presence on the ground
The Patriots will be without starting running back Sony Michel, who suffered a knee injury last Sunday and is considered week-to-week, but they should nevertheless try to run the football on a consistent basis. There are three reasons why this would make sense against a a Bills defense that has its strengths when it comes to stopping the pass and pressuring the quarterback:
1. It helps New England control the tempo of the game.
2. It keeps the defense honest and should also open up play-action.
3. It worked very well for the Indianapolis Colts last week as they had 220 rushing yards.
As a result, Kenjon Barner should see plenty of carries as the early down back with James White playing his usual role as a change-of-pace and receiving option. The Patriots could potentially also use wide receiver and kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson as a backfield player to mix things up for the Bills. Whoever they use: sticking to the ground game should tremendously help the offense wear down its opponent.
Get Rob Gronkowski involved early and often
The NFL’s best tight end was limited in practice all week long, but is expected to be good to go tonight. If that is indeed the case and even if New England should decide to limit his overall snap numbers, Gronkowski should play a big role in the Patriots’ offensive game plan. Not only does the 29-year old have a successful history against his hometown team, he also matches up well with the Bills’ defensive scheme.
While Buffalo has shown some man-to-man tendencies in the past, its defense is primarily based on zone-principles. This, in turn, means that the defenders need to be on top of their game when it comes to communication and diagnosis. The Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have shown in the past that they know how to effectively counter zone coverages, which could lead to Gronkowski having a big day.
He is not only a crisp route runner, after all, but also has a high football IQ and just like his quarterback knows how attack weaknesses in different coverage alignments. In the past, this has oftentimes led to big games against the Bills – and even with Sean McDermott at the helm, this did not change. The Patriots would be smart to go back to the well again today and have Gronkowski serve as a zone beater down the field.
Play with a sound ball handling technique
Taking care of the football is of course important no matter the opponent. Against Buffalo, however, the team will be tested in this area: as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out in his film breakdown of the Bills, the defense is as good as any in the league in going after the football. It is therefore imperative to not get sloppy in handing the ball on receptions, runs, quarterback drop backs and returns – something New England has not always done well this season as the team’s 13 giveaways through seven games reflect.
Turnovers can quickly change a game’s momentum and against a team with a struggling offense can generate short fields and easy scoring opportunities. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings: the team was blown out 27-6 by the Bills after allowing 10 points off turnovers in the first quarter. Minnesota was never able to get itself out of the hole as the deficit played into the hands of the Buffalo pass rush.