Ask any NFL fan who the best team in the NFL is right now, and you'll get a split: 25% may answer the Colts, but the rest will say "New England". Signal-stealing scandal and all, the Patriots have quickly established themselves as the team to beat in the NFL with successive 38-14 thrashings of the Jets and Chargers. The offense is explosive, the defense is making big plays and the special teams have already delivered a record-breaking TD as well. In short, this team presents a formidable challenge to any foe - especially an extremely young and underdeveloped Bills team in Gillette Stadium.
No NFL team is perfect, however, and the Pats aren't an exception - there are vulnerabilities here that the Bills absolutely have to try to exploit. Unless, of course, they'd rather just use this as a practice game to work out some of the kinks that have hindered them in the Broncos and Steelers contests. Here's an overview of the Pats - what they're good at, where they're vulnerable and how we can expect the Bills to attack them this weekend.
Offense: Brady Has Receivers?!
Still Brady's Show: 47 of 59, 576 yards (a ludicrous 9.8 yards per attempt), 6 touchdowns, one pick and a 134.2 QB rating through 2 weeks proves just how effective Tom Brady can be with, you know, actual NFL wide receivers. We always knew that Brady was one of the league's best and had the ability to beat any defense; adding Randy Moss and Wes Welker to the receiving corps has made him, in my mind, the best in the game. Brady's numbers have skyrocketed, but his style of play remains the same - he takes exactly what the defense gives him. Thus far, the Jets and Chargers have given him a boatload of big plays.
Two-headed RB monster: The Pats' offense is mainly a Brady show, but an effective ground game is keeping pressure off of him. This ground game isn't a one-man show, either; former Bill Sammy Morris, an unheralded signing by the Pats this off-season, is teaming up with second-year man Laurence Maroney to give New England a healthy one-two combination. Maroney is averaging 18 carries for 75 yards; Morris, 10 for 50. Morris and fullback Heath Evans have scored the Pats' two rushing touchdowns. Maroney remains the home-run threat, while Morris is the perfect complement, able to churn out consistent yards and move the chains. Watch for Belichick to try a few screen passes to Maroney as well this week.
Are there weaknesses?: In reality, the Patriots have the perfect mix of offensive talent, and it will likely allow them to continue their dominance throughout the season. Two explosive deep threats (Moss, Donte' Stallworth), two fabulous underneath targets (Wes Welker, Ben Watson), an efficient running game and an offensive line that's overachieving spell disaster for the Bills defense. If Buffalo stands a chance at making this game competitive, they need to do basic things such as eliminate the deep ball and generate a pass rush on Brady. Yes, I'm pointing an accusatory finger at you, Aaron Schobbel - the Bills need a big day out of their highest-paid player if they hope to slow down the Pats' passing attack one ioda. A consistent pass rush may be the only way to get the Pats' offense out of sync.
Defense: Spring in their Step
Front Seven Dominance: The loss of DE Richard Seymour to the PUP List (out for the first six weeks) was supposed to hurt the Pats' defense; the unit, however, has played very effectively without him thus far. By no means are they shutting opponents down - they have given up four touchdowns, after all - but their job has certainly been made easier by Brady, Moss and the rest of the offense. It starts with the front seven - NT Vince Wilfork and ends Ty Warren and Jarvis Green are playing the run well; Green also has two of the team's eight sacks. Adalius Thomas and Rosevelt Colvin are playmakers on the outside as well, as Belichick is using them as pass rushers and threats in pass coverage as well. Colvin is second on the team in sacks (behind the ever-good Mike Vrabel with 4) and has a pick, while Thomas had an interception he returned 65 yards for a score last week.
Secondary Passing the Test: The return of Asante Samuel after his pre-season holdout has boosted the Patriots' secondary - a secondary that has been tested by two teams playing from behind and passed with flying colors. Granted, all four of the Pats' defensive touchdowns allowed have been through the air (two to the Jets' Laveranues Coles, one to Chargers FB Lorenzo Neal and the other to TE Antonio Gates). If there is a weakness on this Patriots team thus far, it's been their secondary play - and only because they've given up so many scores. This is still a formidable unit, but given the scores, it has to be considered the weakest link. I fully expect the Bills to challenge this secondary despite their lack of consistency in the passing attack. It will be very interestting to see how the Patriots defend underneath routes to Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish, and especially screen passes to Marshawn Lynch. The Bills have some weapons that can hurt the Pats' secondary; as we've been saying here at Rumblings all week, use them!
Special Teams: A Big Test for Buffalo
Hobbs the Return Man: Ellis Hobbs has developed into one of the top five kick return threats in the game. That was evidenced by his Week 1 performance, where he fielded a kick eight yards deep in his own end zone and returned it 108 yards for the score. He is very fast, runs with a straight-line, beat you to a spot style and presents possibly the biggest challenge for the Bills' coverage units that they'll face all year. Throw in Welker as a nifty punt returner, and the challenges continue to mount.
Lindell and Moorman key: If the Bills stand a chance at keeping this game close, they need to play the field position card. Deep kicks by Lindell and more consistent punting from Moorman will make the Pats earn their yards. Terrence McGee (if he plays) and Parrish will be key as well - good kick returns are needed to flip field position as well. Special teams are one area where the Bills will have an advantage over everybody, but New England certainly matches up well. This will be a test for the Bills' special teams - but make no mistake, it's a test they should pass.