It has been a disastrous past 2 weeks for the Patriots; losing in Miami in walk-off fashion, a loss in Pittsburgh highlighted by 14 penalties on the Pats, Brady may be dealing with a left MCL injury, and now newly acquired wideout Josh Gordon is getting suspended again for violating terms of his reinstatement under the substance abuse policy. All of this has lead the Patriots to slip into third place in the AFC Playoff race. This is the first season since 2002 that the Patriots have lost two games in December, also the only year a Brady-lead team hasn’t made the playoffs. With that being said, the Patriots are looking to break their streak of bad luck at home against the Bills this Sunday. The Bills come in at 5-9 and having lost 6 of their last 9 games. In their matchup earlier in the season, the Bills defense gave Tom Brady and company troubles for most of the game until the Patriots broke out of their slump in the 4th quarter to win 25-6. That game featured longtime backup quarterback Derek Anderson playing in the place of rookie Josh Allen, who was dealing with an elbow injury at the time. This time around we will be able to get a further look at Allens skillset all Sunday long. Let’s dive into the makeup of this Bills roster:
At quarterback, the Bills drafted the hopeful future of their franchise in Josh Allen. The Wyoming product was selected 7th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is known for his 6’5 frame and his stellar arm. He has shown flashes of stardom this season, but in the wrong sense. He has only thrown for 1,633 yards and 6 touchdowns, but has 9 interceptions to his name. His flashes of stardom trend from his ability to breakout of the pocket and gain yards with his legs. He has 506 yards and 6 touchdowns rushing this season, making him Buffalo’s leading rusher. The Patriots will need to key on keeping Allen in the pocket and force him to make difficult throws in hopes for a turnover.
At running back, the Bills deploy LeSean McCoy. McCoy played for the Eagles from 2009 to 2014 before being traded to the Bills in 2015. In 2011, McCoy led the NFL in rushing TDs and total TDs. Two years later, he would claim the rushing title with 1,607 yards while leading the league with 314 carries. Since joining the Bills, McCoy has remained one of the NFL’s premier backs. He has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons in Buffalo. However, McCoy is having his worst year since joining the league back in 2009. He has rushed the ball 145 times and has accumulated 479 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as catching the ball 29 times for 210 yards. For the past decade McCoy has been viewed as one of the best backs in the NFL, but wear and tear may be catching up to the 30-year old running back. He is still extremely agile and speedy, but yards haven’t come as easy to him compared to past seasons.
The wide receiving core for the Bills is one of the weaker groups in the NFL. It is headlined by Robert Foster and Zay Jones. Foster was signed to the Bills after going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Alabama product has 19 receptions for 468 yards and 2 touchdowns. His average of 24.6 yards per catch would lead the league in yards per reception, but Foster hasn’t had enough pass attempts thrown his way to qualify for the list. Zay Jones is entering his second year as a Buffalo Bill after being drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. So far this season, Jones has 45 receptions for 492 yards and 4 touchdowns The numbers are down for the Buffalo receivers this season because of the quarterback situation, but the Bills lack a star powered receiving core to help out their young quarterback.
At tight end, the Bills have veteran Charles Clay. Clay has been in the league since 2011 and has been average at best throughout his career. His best year came in 2013 when he was a member of the Dolphins, as he had 69 receptions for 759 yards and 6 touchdowns. Similar to the wide receivers, Clay’s numbers are down this year do to the quarterback play. Through 15 weeks of his 2018 campaign he’s totaled 21 receptions for 184 yards. Clay is athletic enough to make catches through traffic and is a solid route runner, but he shouldn’t be a huge factor Sunday due to only having 5 targets over the last 4 games.
The offensive line for the Bills takes part of the blame for the continued quarterback struggles. They have let up 40 sacks so far this season, which is tied for the 12th most in the NFL. Two players to watch for on their line is tackle Dion Dawkins and guard John Miller. Dawkins has been apart of the Bills since last season, as he was drafted by the team with the 63rd overall pick. He has played in every game since joining the team and is an exceptional run blocker. He struggles in the passing game, but is improving steadily since last season. Miller was drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Throughout his first couple years in the league, Miller battled injuries that sent him down the Bills depth chart. However, Miller was able to work himself back to the starting lineup.
The defensive line for Buffalo is a key part of their defense. They currently have totaled 31 sacks this season, which ranks among the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the NFL. There success on the line is in large part due to defensive ends Trent Murphy, Jerry Hughes, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Murphy joined the Bills this past year after 4 years in Washington. So far this season he has 4 sacks and 21 tackles combined, and also has 2 forced fumbles. Hughes joined the Bills in 2013 and has yet to miss a game since. He has totaled 6 sacks, 34 combined tackles, and 3 forced fumbles so far this season. Having both Murphy and Hughes on each side of the defensive line can cause an opposing quarterback to make bad decisions and turn the ball over. Williams has been a member of the Bills since being drafted by the team in 2006. He is the longest tenured Bill on the roster and provides a substantial presence in the locker room. The 35-year old is still getting the job done as he has 30 combined tackles, 5 sacks, and 13 quarterback hits. In the first matchup between the team the Bill defensive line held New England to only 76 rushing yards on 25 carries, as well has sacked Brady twice. It will be key for the Patriots to win the battle up front and in the trenches.
The linebacking core is lead by veteran Lorenzo Alexander and rookie Tremaine Edmunds. Alexander is currently playing in his 14th season in the NFL, and after jumping around from team to team he ended up on the Bills in 2016. For his career he has 367 combined tackles and 31 sacks. The 35-year old is still playing at a high level as so far this season he has 53 combined tackles, 6.5 sacks, and an interception. Edmunds was drafted by Buffalo with the 16th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Virginia Tech product is a speedy linebacker with great size and a knack for getting after a ball carrier. He is putting up solid numbers for a rookie as he has 98 combined tackles, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 10 passes deflected. Alexander and Edmunds make a great duo that holds down the middle of this defense.
In the secondary, names like Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde ring a bell to most. Second year cornerback Tre’Davious White broke out onto the scene last year after being selected 27th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. The rookie started all 16 games during the regular season and put up phenomenal numbers, as he had 69 total combined tackles, 18 passes deflected, and 4 interceptions. His elite ball skills and quickness allow White to match up with basically every receiver in the league. Most fans may remember the time White suffered a concussion after tight end Rob Gronkowski dove onto his head out of frustration, leading to Gronkowski being suspended for one game. Safety Micah Hyde is also an elite talent in the Bills secondary. Hyde was a member of the Green Bay Packers for the first 4 years of his career before joining Buffalo in 2017. Last season was his best of his career so far, as Hyde had 82 combined tackles, 13 passes deflected, and 5 interceptions. The combination of pass rush and a great secondary can make for a long afternoon for any quarterback.
The Patriots (for the third week in a row) have a chance to lock up the AFC East with a win on Sunday. Over the last 6 quarters of football the Patriots have only scored 16 points, which is a cause for concern especially after the departure of Josh Gordon. Names like Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are going to have to step up bigtime to fill the void, and hopefully offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels incorporates running back James White into the game plan more to get him more touches. Fans are eager to see the Patriots return back to their dominating form, so I’m hopeful the team will but the past behind them take care of business. As tough as it is to do, all Patriots fans this week should be rooting for the Eagles in their game against the Houston Texans. If the Texans lose and the Patriots win, New England moves back into sole possession of the second seed in the AFC, which would grant them a first-round bye in the playoffs. So with that being said…*big gulp*…fly Eagles fly.
-Adam Pasquale. Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr