The New England Patriots held on by a single yard in Chicago last week with the defense facing an Andy Reid offense for the third straight week. Two weeks after defeating Indianapolis and Frank Reich, a week after going toe-to-toe against young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes (and Reid himself), the Patriots had to hold the goal line on a Hail Mary pass to beat Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s Bears.
The Patriots fell behind to Chicago 17-7 early in the second quarter after fumbles by Cordarrelle Patterson on a kick-return and rookie Sony Michel (on a play he injured his knee). The special teams responded with a 95 yard kickoff return by Patterson and later in the third quarter Dont’a Hightower blocked a punt which was scooped by Kyle Van Noy and returned 29 yards to give the Patriots a lead they would not relinquish.
Despite losing Michel, Tom Brady led the way with 277 yards passing and three touchdowns including another interception on a pass that hit a receiver–James Develin this time–between the numbers (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted). James White stepped up with eight catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns to go with 40 yards on the ground.
This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be seen locally on WCVB-TV Channel 5 in Boston and on WLNE-TV ABC6 in the Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA area. With Jon Gruden in Oakland, the much-maligned new team for Monday Night Football will have the Patriots for the only time this week in Buffalo.
Joe Tessitore will handle play-by-play duties with former Dallas Cowboy tight end Jason Witten as the color analyst. Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters will work from the sidelines (with McFarland in his ill-conceived and hideous Booger-mobile blocking the view of fans from the stands).
On the radio, there are much better options available. Monday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Westwood One. Kevin Harlan will call the game with Ross Tucker providing analysis.
Locally, the New England Patriots are on the radio on 41 stations throughout the six states in New England, New York and Florida and will feature broadcasters Bob Socci doing play-by-play and local media member and former Patriots backup quarterback and talk radio star Scott Zolak adding color analysis.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious on Sunday.
Three straight games against the Andy Reid offensive tree killed some positive momentum from the defense–which had improved to ninth in points allowed and 16th in yards allowed-dropped back down to 19th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed. The Chiefs converted just eight of 16 third downs so New England is currently ranked 27th in the league in third down defense allowing their opponents to convert 45.1% of the time (41 of 91).
NO RUN ZONE
The Buffalo Bills offense was thrown for a loop early last week against Indianapolis when they lost running back LeSean McCoy due to a concussion. Losing the focal point of your offense on the second play of the game is hardly a recipe for winning, and it is no surprise that Buffalo lost 37 – 5.
Chris Ivory is the defective starter if McCoy cannot go, and actually McCoy has fewer calories than Ivory so far in 2018. The bills love to put big fullback Patrick DiMarco in the backfield and pound the ball between the tackles. Unfortunately, they have not had a lead or effective blocking up front to be able to do so with regularity.
Buffalo is 2-2 when they rush for 100 yards or more. They are 0 – 3 when they rush for under 90 yards.With McCoy still in concussion protocol on Saturday his status remains questionable for the Monday night game. On one hand, Buffalo can feel confident with Chris Ivory having to Career 100-yard rushing games against the Patriots. On the other hand, those games were in 2013 and 2014 while he was with the Jets.
The big problem in Buffalo is the offensive line. The Bills’ two best offensive lineman retired in the offseason. Both Eric Woods, their starting center, and Richie Incognito, their Pro Bowl guard, stepped away from the game unexpectedly this offseason.
The Buffalo offensive line is just average. Tackles Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills our league average at best. In the interior, Russell Bodine is probably their best blocker. The center came over from Cincinnati in the offseason. Guard John Miller is solid on the right side, but Vladimir Ducasse on the left side continues to underachieve in his NFL career.
The New England front seven will need to take this game over early and control the line of scrimmage throughout the evening. On the interior, Lawrence guy has been the most productive tackle while Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton took a few games to get back to their expected production.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has improved seemingly each week after missing much of last season due to injury. Kyle Van Noy has stepped up his play as he is gotten more comfortable in the New England system. Playing next to Hightower has taken the pressure off of Van Noy and allowed him to play more instinctively in 2018.
Not surprisingly, the Patriots are 3-0 when they allow less than 100 yards rushing in 2018. They are 2-2 when they allow over 100 yards rushing. forcing Buffalo quarterback Derek Anderson to throw the ball more than they would like to is part of the plan for success for the New England defense. Stopping the running game early and jumping out to a lead is exactly what the Patriots must do on Monday night against the Bills.
CORNERBACKS ON NOTICE:
Buffalo knows running the football is the key to keeping the New England offense on the sidelines and controlling the clock. If that is not feasible, the bills are going to ask journeyman quarterback Derek Anderson to win the game with his strong right arm.
Buffalo have turned to a rookie quarterback Josh Allen, their first-round draft pick this year. Well Allen clearly would have been best served by a redshirt season he has shown surprising play making ability and mobility. His elbow injury has hurt the development of the Buffalo offense in 2018
Anderson has spent much of the last seven years holding the clipboard and being the sounding board for Cam Newton in Carolina. Unemployed the first five weeks of the season, the Bills plucked him from the scrap heap when it became apparent Nathan Peterman would not be able to run the offense despite being in his second season in the offensive system.
Another problem for the Buffalo offense has been the lack of playmakers. Buffalo is still paying for having handed a ridiculous contract to tight end Charles Clay and never getting anything close to their money’s worth in return as far as production from him.
Second-year wide receiver Zay Jones is never going to be a number one wide receiver in the NFL. He may get develop into a solid complementary piece, but the Bills are still paying for Drafting Sammy Watkins over Odell Beckham Jr. and letting Robert Woods go to Los Angeles where he has been a breakout star in the exciting Rams offense.
Where the Bills could give New England trouble is with big outside receiver Kelvin Benjamin. At six-foot-five and 245 lbs Benjamin is massive.last year while with Carolina he had four receptions for 104 yards against New England. Also last year after being traded to Buffalo he had five receptions for 70 yards.
With Eric Rowe out with a groin injury this week, the pressure will be on New England cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty to shut down Jones and Benjamin. In the last three games, the New England secondary has been susceptible two big plays in the passing game.
After allowing over 300 yards passing in just one of their first four games, the Patriots have allowed the Colts, Chiefs, and Bears to all top 300 yards passing. Not all of the blame is on the cornerbacks as the safety play of Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung has been up and down these past three games.
Gilmore has been the best coverage option for the Patriots in 2018. He has looked like the number one cornerback the Patriots expected when they signed him last year. Jason McCourty has also played well in his time in New England while splitting the snaps with Eric Rowe.
New England needs to clamp down on the outside passing game of the Bills and eliminate big plays downfield. Forcing Anderson to use the entire field and string together multiple long drives to keep up with the New England offense is the likely plan going in to Monday night. Strong cornerback play and solid safety play preventing big strikes will go a long way to getting a prime time victory for the Patriots.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01