The Bills are playing host to the New England Patriots this Sunday, in case you hadn’t heard. Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com was nice enough to come by and answer a few questions about what might have changed (you know, aside from Tom Brady being in the game) since the Bills’ 16-0 victory in Foxborough a month ago.
1. The Patriots seem to be back to their old selves after the return of Tom Brady. Aside from the man under center, what's the biggest change the team has made in the last three games compared to the first four?
Over the first quarter of the season, TE Rob Gronkowski wasn't really a part of the offensive game plan. The coaching staff wanted to align his return with Brady's in order to get Martellus Bennett more integrated into the playbook. The Patriots were also managing injuries on the offensive line to the left tackle, right guard, and right tackle. All of these offensive positions appear to have been sorted out and operating at a high level over the past few weeks.
On defense, the Patriots had been dealing with injuries to LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, and then some minor injuries to S Patrick Chung, while ED Rob Ninkovich was suspended. All of these players are back in for the defense that has been one of the better units in the league at avoiding giving up points.
So I'd say the team finally has all of the injured and suspended players back and ready to play.
2. Looking at the stat sheets, I'm surprised to see Julian Edelman hasn't found the end zone yet. Why is that?
Edelman hasn't looked like his old self this entire season. He had foot surgery over the offseason and the Patriots brought him along slowly during the preseason. He's been playing most of the snaps on offense, so it's not like he has the same excuse Gronkowski had over the first quarter of the season; Edelman has been a part of the offensive game plan.
When Edelman gets the ball, it looks like he's unable to shake defenders the same way as he can't plant and change direction as well anymore. The coaches have intentionally drawn up plays to get him the ball, which usually implies they realize he needs a jolt to get going.
Another theory is that Edelman is just far down the target totem, with Gronkowski, Bennett, Chris Hogan, and RB James White all receiving targets. Tom Brady has no problem going through his reads, but if the first or second target is covered, then he'll dump it to the back to move down the field. He's just not as vital for the offensive success as he had been in years past.
3. When the Bills beat the Pats in week 4, Tyrod Taylor had a lot of success hitting receivers on short routes that gained small chunks of yardage while keeping drives alive. How might Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia make sure that doesn't happen again?
I think the coaching staff figured out how to limit Taylor in the middle of that game. Over the first half, Taylor completed 17 of 22 passes (77.3%) for 165 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 112.9; 11 of those completions went for first down. In the second half, Taylor was 10 of 17 (58.8%) for 81 yards and no scores; only 5 went for a first down.
The Patriots were run over by Robert Woods and LeSean McCoy - both of whom will either not be healthy or even available. The defense needed a linebacker to drop into the zone to remove the quick slant from Woods, while McCoy was just slipping tackles in the first half.
New England just needs their defenders to be better tacklers on Sunday.
4. The Bills did a good job bottling up LeGarrette Blount in the first game, something that usually doesn't happen. Do you think that the limitations of Jacoby Brissett are to blame (allowing the Bills D to sell out against the run), and will the Patriots make it a point to involve him more this time around?
The Patriots only ran Blount 13 times in week 4, tied for his fewest carries all season, but that wasn't because Brissett was slinging the ball around. I would argue that the Bills' fantastic ability to keep possession of the ball for more than 36 minutes in week 4 (Patriots only at 23:49 TOP) was the most important aspect of limiting the Patriots offense.
James White is the running back of choice when the Patriots are trailing because he's a more dangerous receiver and player in the open field. He's the no huddle option and Tom Brady has found White for 14 catches, 142 yards, and 3 touchdowns since his return.
I think Blount will have more opportunities by virtue of Brady returning to the field and the offense having more control of the clock.
5. It's well known that Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Are there any Bills players that you wish were on the Patriots?
Williams seems to be on that Brady regime where neither of them seems to age; I'd love if he were on the Patriots. But here are two offensive and defensive crushes (active players, so no Sammy Watkins):
RB LeSean McCoy: Buffalo managed to get a steal with this trade and McCoy has been one of the best backs in the league. No one else has the ability to run, catch, and cut on a dime in the open field.
WR Robert Woods: He always seems to get the best of the Patriots. Over the past five games, he's registered 25 catches, 310 yards, and 3 touchdowns and he's a beast as a run blocker.
DT Kyle Williams: How can you not love or respect this guy? He's been a true professional that has been a fighter his entire career. I can only imagine pairing Williams up with Vince Wilfork for an entire decade.
CB Ronald Darby: Darby seems like the perfect fit for Rex's defense because he's so freaking good at everything. Need to blanket the #1? Sure. Need a crucial run stop? Sure. He'd make every single secondary in the NFL better.