The Patriots are back on solid footing and in the driver’s seat once again in the AFC East as they now hold a two game lead over the second place Dolphins. After surviving last week’s Hail Mary attempt that came dangerously close to forcing overtime the Patriots head north to Buffalo and catch the Bills at an even better time than one could have hoped. The Bills have unfortunate injuries at two key positions that define an already limited offensive attack, but this is definitely a week you could see strong performances across the board for the Patriots much-maligned defense.
Despite the obviously lopsided game, this is hardly a week to ease off the gas. The Bills have a very solid defense (4th in total yards) that unfortunately gets put in tough situations because of a mediocre offense. If the Patriots mess around there is a chance this defense could get them some points and keep it close for a while. Furthermore, the Patriots need to take care of business in the divisional slate considering how tough grueling their schedule is coming up. This is their second of their three road games in four weeks, while in the grand scheme of things it is their second of six road games in the next eight games.
Without further ado, here is what to watch for on Monday night:
1.) Potentially strongest statistical performance of the year for Pats’ defense
When talking about the Bills’ offense saying they are mediocre is putting it mildly. The Bills rank 31st in the NFL in total yards, 32nd in passing yards, 19th in rushing yards, and 32nd in points per game at 11.6. It is not pretty. On top of those numbers their starting quarterback Josh Allen will not play which takes away the mobility from the quarterback. In addition to Allen, stud tailback LeSean McCoy’s status is also uncertain for the game making this one game where the Patriots do not have a single elite performer to combat on the opposing offense.
Because of the numbers and injuries mentioned above this has to be a game where the Patriots defense takes advantage and turns up the pressure on the turnover prone starting quarterback for the game Derek Anderson, and if it comes to it, backup Nathan Peterman. Neither quarterback is very accurate which leads to a vast amount of turnovers; long third downs, and puts their defense in unenviable situations after their punts.
If the Patriots defense comes to play, it is reasonable to expect the Bills be at or under 10 points for the game considering their lack of weapons and success as a unit even fully healthy. Last week the Patriots blitzed Mitch Trubisky a large amount of the time to make him uncomfortable and it paid off. I expect similar things this week and I would think a defensive touchdown could be in the cards as well.
2.) Does Belichick ease up on injured guys and/or make them inactive?
Last week Rob Gronkowski was inactive due to back spasms which were undoubtedly causing major pain for Gronk. However there is also little doubt that Gronkowski gets different treatment during the year on some games than other players in years past due to some of his past injury problems. After all, the Patriots are trying to keep him healthy all year, not just for games in week eight. This is a week I think Belichick could be cautious and deactivate anyone that might be battling something. Sony Michel is one I am sure wouldn’t play no matter the game, but the fact it is the Bills makes it a no brainer to sit him.
The other option I mentioned is does Belichick activate his guys that can play as usual, but limit their snaps figuring they won’t have to play a full game? I think the latter of the two options is more likely because I really do think the Bills in Buffalo could force some the Patriot offense into some punts and prolong the game being within reach.
However I am in no mind picking against the Patriots and think things will be in hand before the fourth quarter which is why I think this game you could see a heavy dosage of Kenjon Barner, Dwayne Allen, Derek Rivers, and J.C. Jackson or Keion Crossen.
3.) How will Patriots attack Bills defense?
In past weeks the Patriots have utilized the rushing attack much more due to the addition of Sony Michel this past year despite facing top units defending the run such as the Bears.
This week will be interesting because the Bills currently rank 16th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, while they rank fourth against the pass. One would say the gameplan would include a heavy dosage of the run game, but if the Patriots are indeed without Michel like we think they will be, then they would have just two backs barring a promotion from the practice squad or signing. Throw in the fact the two are James White and Kenjon Barner and I think this is a more pass heavy game. Sure they will run to keep the defense honest, but why run White between the tackles more than he has necessary?
The wildcard is we do not know how the Patriots view Barner as a between the tackles, workhorse back. This could be a big game for the former Oregon standout that could lead to an increased workload while Michel is out. If Barner shows well, the rushing attack is in play, but to me this has a passing attack early and run out the clock late type feel to the game.
4.) HOYER WATCH! Will we see Brian Hoyer do something other than kneel downs?
Really the only other question left to ask. Will Hoyer see time doing something other than kneel down the ball at the end of the game? Will Belichick take Brady out this game? I am going to say they are up by a good amount, but I still doubt we would see Hoyer unless it got really really out of hand which I am not sure will happen. Sorry Brian.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani