When the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots face off at Gillette Stadium this afternoon, it will be the fifteenth time that the two teams have played at that particular venue. The Bills are 1-13 in the previous 14 match ups, and the Pats have outscored them 397-229, an average score of 28-16. Now that the dour is out of the way, the bright sides are twofold: Buffalo’s lone win at Gillette came with today’s probable Patriot starter (although the Pats gon’ Pat regarding the injury report) Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm for the entire second half. Also, past successes or failures never guarantee future results. With that in mind, there are a few key things to Buffalo’s success that I'll be watching for today.
CONTINUED OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION
The key to success on offense seems simple: avoid negative plays, maintain possession, and score points. It's easy to write these things, but incredibly difficult to execute them. Tyrod Taylor struggled to win games from the pocket...well, he still is struggling to do so...and that is exactly what the Patriots will try to force him to do. How he, Anthony Lynn, and the rest of the offense produces in a hostile environment against an excellent defense will be of tremendous importance. The boys up front will need to clear space for LeSean McCoy to operate similarly to last week, all while giving Taylor enough time to hit receivers and keep the line moving.
WHO STEPS UP IN THE PASSING GAME?
No Sammy. No Salas. It's quite possible that a three-wide package today includes Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Walt Powell as the top trio for a second week in a row. One of these three (ideally more than one, but I won't be greedy) needs to gain separation early and often to make Taylor feel comfortable. Newly-acquired Justin Hunter shouldn’t be expected to do much today (maybe he could see action in the red zone), and Brandon Tate has been little more than a return specialist. I expect that the Pats will do more containing than ears-pinned pass rushing, but Taylor’s skittish tendencies in the pocket mean that some early quick-throws should be in order. Which reminds me...
PAGING CHARLES CLAY
The athletic tight end’s face has been on a milk carton since he was signed, and it's about time this lost boy came home. A big day from Clay would help to open the parts of the field that Taylor really feels comfortable using. Anthony Lynn made a point to say they were emphasizing targets for Clay, but so did Greg Roman, and Clay’s twelve targets this season dont exactly scream offensive emphasis. I'd love to see him involved early and often in creative ways (A middle screen? A quick pop? How about lining him up in the backfield with Shady and throwing to him in space?).
AVOID BLOUNT FORCE TRAUMA
Stop. The. Run. This is obvious with a young quarterback on the other side, but the Patriots’ workhorse has made life easy for each of Tom Brady’s understudies. He's improved as games have gone on, as well, which is a testament both to his conditioning and his strength. If the Bills can keep the Pats from jumping to an early lead (thus giving them the opportunity to pound the ball), they can limit Blount’s usage, and hopefully, his effectiveness. Blount is averaging 4 yards per carry overall, but he only has 79 of his 298 yards in the first half (2.5 YPC). He's gained 219 yards and averaged 5 YPC in the second half, so staying ahead and forcing them to throw will take away one of New England’s top weapons.
KEEP JIMMY (OR JACOBY) UNDER PRESSURE
After harassing Carson Palmer by sacking him 5 times and forcing 4 interceptions, the defense needs to build on that performance. If Brissett starts, Buffalo needs to rattle the rookie to force him into mistakes that arise from inexperience. Garoppolo has yet to throw an interception, throwing 90 passes without one to begin his career. The Pats are currently +4 in turnovers on the season. Pressuring Garoppolo while disrupting his timing with his receivers through jams and bumps at the line could go a long way towards worsening that ratio. It could also lead to Buffalo’s second win all-time at Gillette Stadium.
That’s what I’ll be watching; fire away in the comments to let us know what you'll be looking for today.