Patriots at Bills: Five things to watch
Patriots at Bills: Five things to watch Kevin Duffy Nancy Lane CHICAGO, IL. – OCTOBER 21: Dont’a Hightower of the New England Patriots blocks a punt by Pat O’Donnell of the Chicago Bears during the third quarter of the game at Soldier Field on October 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/Boston Herald) comments FOXBORO — Having played only one AFC East game through seven weeks, the second half of the Patriots’ schedule features plenty of familiar opponents.
In other words, the Pats should keep piling up wins.
Once again, the AFC East is underwhelming, defined by suspect quarterback play in Miami, New York and Buffalo.
The Pats’ first divisional road trip of the year comes on Monday night, and it pits the Pats against one of the worst NFL offenses in recent memory.
Here are five things to watch when the Patriots travel to Buffalo to face the Bills:
REAL MEASURING STICK FOR DEFENSE
Still concerned about the Patriots defense?
Here’s the glass half-full perspective: Yes, they’re allowing 25.6 points per game, which puts them 20th in the league. They got lit up in the second half by the Chiefs, but hey, they won the game. And it’s the Chiefs. Everybody gets lit up by them.
The Pats limited Miami and Indianapolis to a combined three first-half points. They struggled to contain Mitch Trubisky’s mobility, but their performance at Chicago wasn’t as poor as the scoreboard indicates. New England turnovers gifted the Bears two short fields — starting at the 24-yard line and the 36-yard line — which were converted for touchdowns.
The Pats have actually done a nice job generating pressure, using a variety of defensive back blitzes and unconventional looks to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
With all that said…
If the Patriots struggle to contain the Bills on Monday night, then even the most optimistic viewpoint must be adjusted.
Then there’s reason for genuine concern.
The Bills are the worst offense in the league, and it’s probably not all that close. They mustered five points against the Colts last weekend. They’re rolling with Derek Anderson, who hasn’t been a regular NFL starter since 2010, at quarterback. Running back LeSean McCoy, who is virtually Buffalo’s entire offense, is dealing with a concussion. The Bills don’t do anything well offensively.
Their average of 129 passing yards per game puts them on pace to be the worst passing offense since the 2005 49ers, who averaged 118 passing yards per game. That, of course, was in a different era. In 2005, the Cardinals led the league averaging 277.3 passing yards per contest. This season, that figure would put the Cardinals at No. 12 in passing offense.
Buffalo’s statistics in 2018 are borderline unbelievable.
GORDON VS. LOCKDOWN CORNER
Josh Gordon’s integration into the New England offense is going as planned.
Gordon seems to improve each game. He hit the 100-yard mark for the first time in Week 7 at Chicago. His chemistry with Brady is clearly heading in the right direction; on a fourth-and-1 at the Bears 42, Brady trusted Gordon enough to throw him a jumpball on the perimeter against cornerback Kyle Fuller. Gordon hung in the air and beat out Fuller for a key reception.
Gordon faces a new challenge on Monday night when he goes up against second-year Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
As Belichick indicated this week, White generally follows the opponent’s No. 1 receiver.
Julian Edelman is probably New England’s best receiver, but he operates out of the slot at times. Gordon fits as a traditional “No. 1” wideout, which means the Bills may opt to stick White on him for the entire game.
Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins caught five passes for 63 yards against White. The Chargers’ Keenan Allen had an average day — 67 yards — versus White. And Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs caught four of 10 targets for only 17 yards against Bills.
The Pats mixed in undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson at No. 2 cornerback against the Bears. It was an up-and-down performance for Jackson, who came away with a highlight interception but also committed three penalties and allowed a 21-yard reception on third down.
Jackson has obvious talent and ball skills. Earlier this season, Patriots safety Duron Harmon said Jackson plays the “go” route as well as any cornerback he’s ever seen. High praise.
It’s unclear if Jackson has surpassed veteran Jason McCourty as the No. 2 corner. The players rotated this past Sunday, with McCourty playing 55 snaps and Jackson on the field for 31.
If the Pats want to get Jackson more game reps, this is certainly the night to do it. The Bills pose little threat throwing the ball.
KEEPING BRADY CLEAN
Buffalo’s road win at Minnesota was probably the most surprising outcome in any game this year.
How did the Bills do it?
They jumped out to a huge lead, fueled largely by pressure on Kirk Cousins and forced fumbles on the first two possessions.
The New England offensive line has done an excellent job of protecting Brady in recent games, but their few lapses have indirectly led to turnovers.
Take the Bears game: On a third-and-2, there was a missed assignment along the offensive line. Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris reached the backfield unblocked. James White whiffed on him. Robertson-Harris hit Brady on his release, and the ball fluttered out toward James Develin in the flat. This enabled Bears safety Adrian Amos to tip the ball away. It landed in the arms of cornerback Kyle Fuller.
The Pats need to avoid these types of miscues against an aggressive Buffalo defense that knows it must generate turnovers.
The Bills have recovered seven fumbles, which is tied for second-best in the league.
There’s little doubt that Bills fans will bring their A-game on Monday night.
As for the team? Their current state — and their recent history playing at home against the Pats — doesn’t bode well.
Ever since the Fitzmagic game in 2011, the Patriots have rolled at Orchard Park. They’ve won six straight games by an average score of 36-22. Only one of those games, a season-opening 23-21 win in 2013, was decided by seven points or fewer.
Brady’s personal dominance at Buffalo spans most of his career.
Brady needs two touchdown passes to surpass Ryan Fitzpatrick for the most touchdowns thrown at Buffalo at Buffalo over the past 20 years. He currently has thrown 38.