When measured by rushing efficiency, no offense in the NFL has been as productive as the New England Patriots’: the unit, which has gained 930 yards on 187 carries so far this season and scored eight touchdowns on the ground, is ranked number one in both success rate (49.1%) and expected points added (0.103). As impressive as those numbers are, the team’s offense as a whole has struggled recently.
The reason? The passing game has lost its mojo, while turnovers keep mounting. Accordingly, the way to slow down New England’s attack is also pretty obvious: stop the run, and force Cam Newton and the team’s pass catchers to win through the air. That has not happened as of late, however.
Heading into this Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots should unsurprisingly expect more of the same. While the Bills have had their issues against the run this season — Buffalo’s run defense is ranked 31st in success rate (49.4%) and 26th in EPA (0.049) — they will still try to invest resources in this area against New England with the goal of making the team’s offense one-dimensional.
“Look at the games that they have won, against Miami and against the Raiders, those games they won they had over 250 yards rushing. When you put that together, they’re successful when they’re running the ball well. Even in the games that they lost; they’re running the ball well,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer said during a recent media conference call.
“So, in order for us to be successful obviously, we have to be able to stop the run and that includes the quarterback as well. We know there’s going to be some quarterback power and quarterback runs, and we’re going to have to put eight men in the box and be able to defend it. I think stopping the run is going be huge for us on Sunday.”
The Bills obviously know that stopping the Patriots goes through stopping the run. The question is whether or not the Patriots will be ready to mix things up in order to counter. So far this season, they have not done that: the team is willing to stick with the running game especially on early downs, and has thrown the football almost 10 percent below expectation so far this season — clearly the worst number in the NFL.
Throwing the ball more, as has already been said around here, could help the Patriots establish a better rhythm on offense. This is especially true with defenses like Buffalo’s putting emphasis on stopping the run.
Of course, there is a difference between formulating a plan and executing it. With wide receivers Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry likely out against the Bills this week, the team will miss its top two in targets and receptions this year. The depth options’ ability to step up and win their matchups versus a very solid secondary will be key to New England’s offensive success this week if the team wants to move away from a run-heavy game plan.
“We understand that this will be a game up front where we need to stop the run,” said Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes. “You’ve got to be physical and you’ve got to bring your lunch pail because the same runs we’re going to get in the first half will suddenly show up in the fourth quarter. For us up front it’s just how we do our job. Can we out-execute them and do our job longer and harder? We know what kind of game it’s going to be.”
The Bills will come into the contest willing to stop the run. The Patriots better be ready.