Can Cassel get the ball deep to Moss? (boston.com)
The New England Patriots are set to host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in what can easily be considered the most relevant game the teams have played with one another in quite some time. The two teams are among three tied for the division lead in the AFC East - a division in which all four teams are separated by just one game. New England is 1-1 in the division (with a road win over the Jets), while the Bills are 0-2. Both teams have lost to the Dolphins. Needless to say, both teams are eager to turn around their in-division woes.
Both teams are dealing with injuries, which makes the game even more competitive, if a bit diluted. Naturally, however, several key matchups - and which teams can control them - will play a large role in determining Sunday's winner. Pats Pulpit and Buffalo Rumblings recently collaborated about three such matchups; here's how each matchup was broken down by Pats and Bills fans:
MATCHUP ONE: Patriots WR Randy Moss vs Bills CB Jabari Greer
MaPatsFan, Pats Pulpit: Jabari Greer has had a good start to 2008. With 28 solo tackles, he's well on his way to beating his 2007 total of 41. Oh, let's not forget the 2 interceptions and TDs! The interception and score against New York was highlight reel worthy, for sure. On the NE side, Moss has struggled a bit, but most of that is by design. QB Matt Cassel has yet to develop the long ball with Moss and they're turning him inside where he's not comfortable. Hence, we haven't seen a lot of production. Against Indy, his job was decoy, keeping S Bob Sanders out of the box most of the game. The key to winning this matchup? Greer is 5-11 and Moss is 6-4. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out - throw the ball over Greer's head! Advantage: Patriots
Brian Galliford, Buffalo Rumblings: To be honest, I'm not concerned about Moss in this one. Yes, he's quite clearly still capable of making huge plays, and the Pats will undoubtedly target him early in this one as they attempt to get out to an early lead. I'm just not especially enthralled with the playing preferences of Matt Cassel. The Bills need to weather that early storm; if they do, this Greer vs Moss matchup becomes much more about the run than the pass. New England is going to run the football; Moss can hardly be considered an effort blocker. He'll decoy a lot, as MaPatsFan alluded to, so Buffalo's corners - Greer in particular, but also Terrence McGee - will need to pitch in to stop the run. If they don't, it'll open the passing game up for Randy and company. Advantage: Push
MATCHUP TWO: Bills C Duke Preston vs Patriots NT Vince Wilfork
Brian Galliford, Buffalo Rumblings: Ugh. This one is going to be ugly. I consider Vince Wilfork a better player than the Jets' Kris Jenkins, and Jenkins absolutely destroyed the interior of Buffalo's offensive line last week. What's more, New England's defense is designed to funnel run plays toward Wilfork. Preston doesn't stand a chance against him, and I'm not particularly confident that Wilfork can be contained even if he's triple-teamed. Advantage: Patriots
MaPatsFan, Pats Pulpit: Both Preston and Wilfork are young and large, pushing 325 pounds, but Preston has a height advantage at 6-5 to Wilfork's 6-2. If Wilfork is to win this battle, he needs to get under Preston and use Duke's extra three inches to stand him up. Running a 3-4 most of the time, that's what the Pats demand of their front defensive 3 - jam the line. This'll be cool to watch, because the only C I've seen Vince have trouble with is Indy's Jeff Saturday. Battle in the pigpile; this oughta be fun. Advantage: Patriots
MATCHUP THREE: Patriots RB Kevin Faulk vs Bills MLB Paul Posluszny
MaPatsFan, Pats Pulpit: Paul is sitting 23rd overall for total tackles; not too shabby for a young mike who missed a lot of 2007 with a broken arm. Did I mention he's right behind New England's rookie ILB Jerod Mayo? Just thought I'd letcha know. I think this will be interesting because the Pats have been using rookie RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis quite a bit and he's doing very well. My sense is they'll let BenJarvus take the lumps and then bring Faulk in for the third down conversions, similar to his role of past years. Green-Ellis has been coming along nicely which frees Faulk up for those conversions and options. If Posluszny isn't smart, he'll get burned by Faulk who does everything from running to receiving to blocking; he's an everything guy who's hard to keep track of. Advantage: Patriots
Brian Galliford, Buffalo Rumblings: Faulk is one of those guys that's both easy to respect and easy to hate just because of the player he is. MaPatsFan has this one right; Faulk will be protected by Green-Ellis until he's needed, and he's hurt the Bills in the past playing this exact role. He's never faced Posluszny, however; Paul has proven to be one of the best open-field tacklers I've ever seen. He kept San Diego's Darren Sproles and New York's Leon Washington largely under wraps, and they play similar roles to Faulk's in New England. I don't think Faulk is going to be particularly effective Sunday, though I do expect the Patriots to run well enough to keep themselves balanced. Advantage: Bills
Agree? Disagree? Have a matchup of your own that you'd like to toss into this conversation? Let's talk Bills and Patriots, with matchups the focus. This is going to be a fun game.