Patriots vs. Bills: Pats rushing attack top priority for Buffalo

Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

Tom Brady has given the Bills headaches for over a decade, but it's New England's running game that is Buffalo's biggest concern heading into Week 1.

It's possible that Buffalo Bills fans worry about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' passing game a bit too much. Or, rather, their passing attack receives disproportionate amount of attention to their running game. The Patriots have been equally adept at running the football down Buffalo's throat in recent seasons as they have been at slicing through the secondary, and that's something the Bills (and their fans) should be focused on.

New England has gained 100 or more rushing yards in seven straight games against the Bills, and have surpassed the 200-yard mark in a whopping three of those contests. One of those came during the 2012 season, when both Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden surpassed 100 yards in a 52-28 Pats win in Orchard Park. New England ran for 247 yards that day.

Ridley, in particular, gave the Bills fits last season, accumulating 204 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries between the Patriots' two wins. He was not just a workhorse against the Bills, but a highly productive one - and that hurt Buffalo, particularly in a 37-31 Week 10 loss in which a bad defense somehow forced Brady into throwing 15 incompletions in a so-so outing for him.

Don't sleep on the Patriots' big-play running back, Shane Vereen, either. While Vereen only has eight career touches against the Bills (all of them in 2012, with minimum impact on the games), the versatile runner and receiver type player has routinely given the Bills fits against the Pats. Case in point: Danny Woodhead, a runner/receiver that is now in San Diego, scored three touchdowns on just seven touches in his two appearances against Buffalo last season. The explosive Vereen is more than capable of making big plays like that, even within the confines of a small role.

To their credit, the Bills seem to recognize that stopping the run is of the utmost importance in Week 1. Mario Williams said as much when speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon.

"First stopping the run, because they can run the ball and they’ve shown that in preseason," Williams said when discussing keys to Sunday's game. "They can still make it happen even though everyone says Tom Brady thinks fast. They've shown in the preseason they can still run the ball. Then the next thing is getting after Tom and winning the turnover battle."

Stopping the run first against New England - effectively forcing the ball back into Brady's hands - may not sound like the soundest of game plans, but there's little doubt that any pro offense is much tougher to defend when the running game is clicking. If the Bills can slow down that facet of the Patriots offense for once, they'll be in better shape than they typically are against New England; the Patriots have averaged 36.9 points per game against Buffalo during their string of run game dominance, after all.

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