New England Patriots Game Preview: Defensive Strategy Game Four vs Buffalo Bills

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Patriots Linebacker Donta Hightower (Photo Credit: si.com)

The New England Patriots have had a strangle-hold on the AFC East for almost two decades. The six Super Bowl wins and nine trips cement them as a dynasty. They have been to four Super Bowls in the last five years, ten consecutive AFC East championships and eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game.

This week the 3-0 Buffalo Bills welcome the 3-0 New England Patriots to Northern New York as the two undefeated AFC East teams face-off.

The game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. 

On the radio, Sunday’s game will be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network and all of the network’s 38 stations carry the game live. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci is back to call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who provides his own unique color analysis.

 

Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on defense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.

 

The New England defense is straight-up ridiculous so far in 2019. They have allowed just 17 points in 2019 (first in the NFL) and 14 of those points came on an interception return and a fumbled punt (the defense was on the sidelines for both touchdowns). They have allowed 597 yards in three games (obviously tops in the NFL), just 487 passing yards (first) and 110 rushing yards on 48 attempts (2.3 yards per rush) which is ridiculously low over three games (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).    

The Patriots have allowed just 26 first downs, opponents are five for 39 (12.8% conversion rate) on third down (first in the NFL) and their first three opponents reached the red zone just twice. In those two trips they scored zero touchdowns. 

 

How do the Patriots plan to continue their strong defensive momentum in 2019?

 

Key Match-ups: 

 

Bills’ Offensive Line vs New England Defensive Line:

Buffalo revamped their offensive line this offseason bringing in free agent center Mitch Morse to anchor the offensive line. He has been better than advertised and rookie right tackle Cody Ford has held his own having split time so far with veteran Ty Nsekhe. Dion Dawkins is above average at left tackle and the guards are better with imports Jon Feliciano and Quinton Spain.

Michael Bennett has had his playing time managed early in the season but has landed on the injury report as questionable. With Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Shilique Calhoun, and John Simon for depth, the defensive line will be fine without Bennett if necessary. 

In the middle, Danny Shelton has lost some weight and gained back the quickness that made him  a first round draft pick. His ability to penetrate and disrupt the running game opens huge gaps for the linebackers to thrive. The growth of Adam Butler and consistency of Lawrence Guy makes for a strong defensive front.

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Buffalo’s offensive line is improved, but still trying to gel. The Patriots’ defensive line has been dominant so far in 2019 and there is no reason to expect that dominance not to continue this week.

 

ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND

 

Bills’ Running Backs vs New England Linebackers:

Buffalo’s rookie running back Devin Singletary has looked like a potential superstar so far. His only problem has been touches and staying on the field. After gaining 127 yards rushing on just ten carries (12.7 yards per rush), a hamstring injury forced him to the sidelines in week three. His status is up in the air.

Frank Gore, at 36 years old is averaging a modest 3.7 yards per rush. Gore has been the lead back and continues to amaze with his consistency despite his age. Behind the dynamic duo is former Jaguars third-down back T.J. Yeldon

Jamie Collins has followed the “Patrick Chung Playbook” coming back to New England and performing at a higher level than he had previously. With Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower (questionable this week with a shoulder injury), Elandon Roberts and Ja’Whaun Bentley along with Collins, there is depth, pass rush, versatility and pass coverage ability throughout this group of linebackers.

If the Bills are without Singletary, they lose one of their few big play weapons. Even with Singletary, the Bills have feasted running the ball against three of the bottom ten teams in rushing yards allowed in 2019. Facing the number one unit should be a big challenge.

 

ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND

 

Bills’ Pass Catchers vs New England Secondary: 

Buffalo is still trying to get their passing attack on track. Quarterback Josh Allen has three touchdown passes and three interceptions. His 83.4 quarterback rating is middle of the pack and for every amazing throw he makes, there is another terrible one. He is limited with his weapons as John Brown is a limited route-runner, Zay Jones has yet to take the next step forward as a receiver, and veteran Cole Beasley is still trying to find his comfort zone in the offense. 

New England’s secondary has been ridiculously great in 2019. Stephon Gilmore has cemented his role as the best cornerback in the NFL. J.C. Jackson should be the starter but he is playing behind Jason McCourty who has yet to lose a step. Slot cornerback Jonathan Jones is one of the best players at his position. At safety, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung all know their role and play it well.

The Bills will have to have Beasley winning his one-on-one match-ups with Jones and Brown breaking open deep in the secondary multiple times if they expect to move the ball through the air. 

 

ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND

 

The game plan on defense is simple for the Patriots: take away the running game early and have the pass rush contain Josh Allen in the pocket. Forcing him to make his progressions while bringing pressure can create turnover opportunities and help the offense with field position. If New England’s defense remains clicking, it could be a long day for the under-manned Buffalo offense.

 

-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01

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