When the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots squared off in Week 4, the Bills squandered a 21-7 lead held early in the third quarter and watched as the Patriots rolled up 45 second-half points in a resounding 52-28 win that started the Bills' recent 1-4 run.
The most surprising part of that game - you know, aside from the sheer disaster that was the second-half flop - was how easily the Patriots controlled the flow of the game with their running backs. New England ran for 247 yards at 6.2 yards per carry, featured two 100-yard rushers (Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden), and scored four times on the ground. Buffalo could not match that production with their own top-flight running back duo (who were both coming back from injury at the time), rushing for just 98 yards at 3.6 yards per clip despite gaining 438 total yards of offense.
Buffalo all but allowed the Patriots to win via the running game that Sunday, as the team continually played its lighter nickel defense to try to contain New England's dynamic passing offense. (That plan didn't work too well; Tom Brady threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns, with 233 of those yards split between Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski.) If what Chan Gailey told New England media on Wednesday is any indication, the Bills might make the run game their emphasis in Week 10.
"We let them run the football entirely too successfully in the second half of that ball game," said Gailey. "That is something we know we have to handle going into this next game. If we do not handle that, then all of the rest of it is a moot point."
That might not mean that the Bills play less nickel defense, mind you; it may just mean that the defense is drilled to tackle better than they did in Week 4, when Patriots runners were whiffed on well over a dozen times.
It'll also be important for the Bills to establish their own running backs, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, this week. Gailey may be tempted to replicate last week's pass-happy game plan against a Patriots team that has given up an average of 304.8 passing yards per game to Ryan Fitzpatrick since the two started working together in 2010 (over a total of five games). As we saw in Houston, however, if the Bills can't get their running backs going, they're largely playing right into their opponent's hands - and that's especially true of New England, owners of the NFL's top-ranked offense.
The big question, then, entering this weekend's key AFC East matchup: will the Bills re-emphasize the run on both sides of the ball, or maintain the status quo and hope something changes in the win column? We're bound to find out in a little over three days.