The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills 16-10 at New Era Field. While it was just a divisional road game for the undefeated defending Super Bowl champions, it was a “measuring stick” game for the Bills.
New England jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter and while the Bills mounted a comeback attempt, the Patriots held on behind their smothering defense. While the New England offense struggled to find a rhythm, credit goes to the Bills’ defense which played their best game of the season.
Now at 4-0 and having beat back their latest divisional contender, the Patriots continue a strangle-hold they have had 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 beat-up 0-4 Washington Redskins welcome the 4-0 New England Patriots to the nation’s capital and FedEx Field. This is the first of two consecutive games versus NFC East opponents as following a short week the Patriots host the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football.
The game will be broadcast by CBS and the television viewing public can thank their favorite deity that they are spared having to listen to Dan Fouts this week. The game can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in the greater Boston area and WPRI Channel 12 in the greater Providence area. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins 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 continues to be downright dominant through the first quarter of the 2019 NFL season. Through four games they have allowed just one touchdown and allowed just 27 total 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). The defensive unit has allowed one touchdown and two field goals in four games.
The Patriots have allowed just 972 yards in three games (number one in the NFL), just 727 passing yards (second-best) and 245 rushing yards (second-best). New England also has created ten turnovers (first), only 55 first downs (first), and just 0.25 points per drive (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The Patriots have allowed just seven third down conversion for a ridiculous 13.5% conversion rate. Opponents have reached the red zone just four times in four games and scored just one red zone touchdown.
How do the Patriots plan to continue their strong defensive momentum in 2019?
Washington’s Offensive Line vs Patriots’ Defensive Line:
Washington has been without superstar left tackle Trent Williams all season as he holds out. However, tackles Donald Penn and Morgan Moses have been adequate. The problem is in the middle where injuries have decimated the group. Guard Brandon Scherff has already been ruled out and center Chase Roullier is questionable with a knee injury.
Michael Bennett has had his playing time managed early in the season but with impressive rookie Chase Winovich, young veteran Deatrich Wise, free agency find Shilique Calhoun, and the returning John Simon for depth, the defensive line has been able to stuff the run and generate pressure (18 sacks) on a regular basis regardless of the personnel on the field.
In the middle of the defense, Adam Butler has established himself as a pass rushing beast while Danny Shelton has lost some weight and gained back the quickness that made him a first round draft pick. Lawrence Guy was the best defensive tackle last season and has been consistent all season. This defensive front has been able to allow the deep group of linebackers to thrive.
Washington’s middle-of-the-pack offensive line is dinged-up and will have to get help from a weak collection of back-ups. 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
Washington’s Running Backs vs Patriots’ Linebackers:
Washington lost starting running back Derrius Guice in week one and have turned to 34-year old Adrian Peterson. In three games Peterson has managed just 90 yards on 33 attempts (2.7 yards per attempt). Chris Thompson is the third-down running back and leads the team with 20 receptions. Former Eagles running back Wendell Smallwood is the back-up but has played just 18 snaps this season.
The New England Patriots’ linebackers group may be without Dont’a Hightower again this week after he missed last week and is limited with a shoulder injury. Even without Hightower the Patriots are deep with a revitalized Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, captain Elandon Roberts and impressive second-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Washington has struggled to run the ball all season with just 199 yards in four games and averaging less than three yards per rush. One of the weakest rushing attacks faces a unit anxious to show that last week’s 135 yards rushing allowed was just a hiccup. Washington’s best chance to win this match-up is in the passing game with Thompson as a receiver out of the backfield.
ADVANTAGE: New England
Washington’s Pass Catchers vs Patriots’ Secondary:
Washington is still trying to get their passing attack on track. Quarterback Case Keenum had completed 68% of his passes for 970 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions for a 93.8 quarterback rating. Despite offensive line issues, no running game and one real receiving threat (rookie Terry McLaurin–who was injured in week four), Keenum was benched midway through game four.
Washington will turn to Colt McCoy on Sunday after rookie Dwayne Haskins struggled mightily throwing three interceptions in the second half last week. Tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are both out and McLaurin is questionable with a hamstring injury. The Redskins have leaned on Paul Richardson who continues to underachieve in his sixth season and Trey Quinn who really is a special teams player, not a starting wide receiver.
New England’s secondary is the strongest unit on a dominant defense. Stephon Gilmore is simply the best cornerback in the NFL. J.C. Jackson had two interceptions last week and like Jason McCourty is still a top cornerback. 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. This week Chung is questionable with a heel injury, which is big since he would be likely to be covering Thompson out of the backfield.
Washington will need a creative game-plan to be able to move the ball through the air against the New England secondary. If Chung is out or hampered, running back Chris Thompson should have a key role out of the backfield. A healthy Terry McLaurin must win one-on-one match-ups and Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn need to make plays.
ADVANTAGE: New England
The game plan on defense is simple for the Patriots: take away the running game early and have the pass coverage force Colt McCoy to hold the ball and allow the pass rush to get pressure. Forcing him to make multiple progressions under pressure can create turnover opportunities and help the offense with field position–something that did not happen last week in Buffalo.
If New England’s defense remains clicking, it could be a long day for the under-manned Washington offense.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS ALLOWED: 6
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01