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 offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
The Patriots’ offense suffered a power outage last week in Buffalo and comes into week four ranked fifth in points scored after dropping 33, 43 and then 30 points in their first three games. They dropped from fifth to 15th in yards (1,449) and from first to 16th in first down conversions. (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The balanced offensive attack of last season remains off-kilter as the Patriots have 1,084 yards passing (ninth in the league) but only 365 yards on the ground (24th in the NFL). Part of that discrepancy has been injuries at fullback, tight end and along the offensive line keeping the blocking from being at the same level it was at last season.
New England faces a Washington defense with a number of individual stars who have not been able to put any consistency together. The Redskins have four first round draft picks in their front seven (Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Montez Sweat). They spent heavily to sign safety Landon Collins and cornerback Josh Norman.
How does New England’s offense get back on the right track in 2019 against the Washington defense?
Patriots’ Offensive Line vs Washington’s Defensive Line:
With right tackle Marcus Cannon back from an early season shoulder injury and left tackle Marshall Newhouse removed from the injury report after being questionable last week the unit is as healthy as it gets. Ted Karras has acquitted himself well through four weeks at center, but has his toughest test this week with the massive and athletic Da’Ron Payne. However, the New England Patriots’ offensive line may be able to get back on track this week as they return all five starters from last week.
With unproven contributors at left tackle and center, Washington will be trying to exploit those weaknesses. Payne is joined inside by 2017 first round draft pick Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis. On the edge, there is pass rush talent with Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat (both first round draft picks). This should be a huge advantage for the Redskins on Sunday, but this unit has underperformed all season.
Washington’s run defense has been terrible allowing 590 yards in four games. The pass rush has just five sacks in four games. The New England offensive line is getting all five starters back for a second consecutive week at last. There is faith in the building that somehow Dante Scarnecchia will get that unit operating well enough to get the job done eventually.
Patriots’ Running Backs vs Washington’s Linebackers:
New England’s running game is a mystery in 2019. Sure, the loss of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, left tackle Trent Brown, center David Andrews and fullback James Develin from last season’s dominating running game changes the equation, but it still should be better than it has been.
Sony Michel has 171 yards through four games and is averaging 2.8 yards per rush. Rex Burkhead has been better but he has been slowed by a foot injury. Rookie third-round draft pick Damien Harris has yet to get on the field. Rookie fullback Jakob Johnson is in for Develin and redshirt tight end Ryan Izzo has been the blocking tight end. Add in a reworked offensive line and the struggle is real for the New England running game.
If there is a unit to face to get back on track, this Washington defense may be the one. Former Bears, Patriots and Steelers washout Jonathan Bostic teams with rookie fifth round draft pick Cole Holcomb are responsible for the middle of the defense. Neither is ready for primetime and the Patriots strong duo of guards Joe Thuney and Shaquille Mason should feast on these two at the second level of the running game.
Washington’s inside linebackers are the weakest unit of an underperforming defense. The New England running game has been stuck in neutral all season but this is the week to expect dramatic improvement.
ADVANTAGE: New England
Patriots’ Pass Catchers vs Washington’s Secondary:
Last week the Buffalo secondary had their way with the New England pass catchers. Josh Gordon was a non-factor, Julien Edelman looked hampered by his rib/chest injury, Jakobi Meyers was invisible and Phillip Dorsett took a big step backwards. New England wide receivers had nine receptions for 86 yards on 23 targets. The tight ends contributed zero and James White (eight catches on ten targets for 57 yards) basically was the passing game.
Washington spent a ton of money on importing free agent safety Landon Collins and cornerback Josh Norman. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky runs a simple, conservative scheme with little blitzing and disguising coverages. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is on injured reserve, Aaron Colvin was signed but has been a healthy inactive, Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau have been in and out of the lineup due to injuries and rookie seventh-round draft pick Jimmy Moreland has looked overmatched. This secondary is a mess.
The Washington secondary has a few big names and more than a few weak links. With an uninspiring defensive strategy and big holes at key positions, Tom Brady and the Patriots should have little difficulty getting back to normal on offense. Expect the Patriots to have few problems moving the ball through the air.
ADVANTAGE: New England
The New England offense faces a defense that is the absolute worst in the NFL (63% conversion rate) on third-down, have allowed the second-most points per game and have allowed a ton of big plays. Against a weak Giants offense last week the Redskins allowed 24 points, 389 yards including 164 rushing, despite creating four turnovers.
This is a great week for the Patriots to get back to running the ball and making big plays through the air.
NEW ENGLAND EXPECTED POINTS SCORED: 35
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01