Everyone is excited for Patriots week as the 3-0 New England Patriots will be traveling to Buffalo to take on the 3-0 Buffalo Bills. It’s still early in the season but the winner of this match-up will most likely decide how close the AFC East race will be at the end of the season. To preview this match up, we talked to Bernd Buchmasser from Pats Pulpit on everything Patriots.
1) Can this Patriots team be better than the undefeated team?
This is a tough question to answer, mainly because the 2007 team suffered comparatively few injuries. The 2019 squad, for example, has already lost its starting center (David Andrews) and a core special teamer (Brandon King) for the season while also seeing left tackle Isaiah Wynn, first-round rookie N’Keal Harry and fullback James Develin — an integral part of the running operation — go to injured reserve since Week 1. On paper, though, I think the two teams are fairly equal: the defense has been outstanding so far this season and is playing on a level challenging the 2007 offense; the offense has been very good as well but not as dominant which is similar to the role of the 2007 defense.
Does this mean the 2019 team is capable of being better? I really don’t know, to be honest, because it depends on how “better” is defined. When it comes to top-to-bottom talent, I can see why the 2019 team has a case. The same goes for ultimately winning the Super Bowl, something the 2007 squad failed to do [insert cheering from 31 fanbases outside of New England]. But if “better” means going 16-0 and then winning the title, I have a hard time seeing this happen. Too much has to go right for a team to win every game in the NFL, and as the injuries mentioned above have shown, fortunes can change quickly.
I would therefore answer the question as follows: it can be better, simply if we are talking about the ultimate goal which is winning a title.
2) A lot of people don’t know about James Develin but how important is his loss in regards to the running game.
Today’s NFL is a pass-first league, but the Patriots’ business model is built on exploiting market deficiencies. The running game is one of those, and Bill Belichick and company have started to invest in it over the last few years — which is why Develin is an important piece of the puzzle. He won’t wow you with his statistics, but he has shown tremendous vision, versatility and toughness as a lead blocker ever since joining the Patriots in 2012. Just look at it this way: the team scored nine rushing touchdowns during last year’s playoffs, and Develin was on the field for all of them. He may not be a household name, but he sure has considerable value on offense and special teams.
This rings especially true when it comes to the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. While primarily known for his receiving throughout the years, Gronkowski was a beast as a run blocker (seriously, having him out there was like having an offensive tackle available that, by the way, can also outrun defenders with ease). With him no longer in the fold, a player like Develin certainly helped soften the blow in the running game. Now, however, that luxury is no longer available and it will be interesting to see what the Patriots have to do in order to kickstart their ground game.
And don’t take it from me, just ask Bill Belichick: “There’s nobody to replace James Develin so we have to do it with a combination of other people or schemes because he has a role on offense and in the kicking game as well. He’s a pretty special guy. He really does a great job for us, brings a lot of positives to our team. We don’t have any one person to replace him.”
That should tell you all you need to know about Develin.
3) With the defense losing Matt Patricia and Brian Flores along the sidelines the past couple seasons, how does the defense keep being successful?
The Patriots’ defensive continuity has three reasons, in my opinion: Bill Belichick, the scheme, and the players. The first two are closely related, as New England has been running Belichick’ defensive scheme and its adaptations ever since he became head coach in 2000 — it is also what allowed the team to stay competitive no matter which assistant coaches left over the years. Of course, the head coach’s involvement with that side of the ball also deserves to be mentioned: ever since Patricia’s departure during the 2018 offseason, he has taken on a bigger role (which is possible because of Josh McDaniels basically running the offense by himself).
All of this would not work, however, if not for the players. The Patriots have a considerable level of depth on all three levels of their defense, and numerous experienced players: linebacker and defensive on-field signal caller Dont’a Hightower has been with the club since 2012, safeties Patrick Chung (with a one-year hiatus) and Devin McCourty since 2009 and 2010, respectively. Those three form a core that also includes the likes of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty — all of which experienced and versatile players of their own that have been around for quite some time and give the coaching staff a solid group to work with and build around.
4) Is Father Time ever going to catch Tom Brady? How does he maintain this success?
Avocado ice cream for the win! Well, not just that, but Brady’s diet and rigorous training all play a role in him being able to sustain his success well into his 40s — an age when most quarterbacks have long been retired. The man just lives for his craft, and it shows: staying on his level does not seem to be an option for Brady, he actively wants to get even better which has allowed him to stay ahead of Father Time for quite a few years now. Ultimately, it will catch up to him, but given his last few seasons one has to wonder whether or not it happens after he has retired (which, for the record, he always said will happen at 45).
When it comes to 2019, there have been no signs of Brady slowing down just yet. In fact, with Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman both available through the early portions of this season (as opposed to last year), his numbers and confidence within the offense have actually improved. Could he quickly fall from the ranks of the NFL’s elite during this season? It is possible, especially if injury strikes, but as of right now I don’t see it happening.
5) What can be the difference in this game and what final score do you have in mind?
The Bills and Patriots field arguably the two best defenses in the NFL, so the difference will be which unit will allow its opponent to control the tempo and rhythm of the game. If Buffalo, for example, can take advantage of New England’s makeshift offensive line — as noted above, both the starting center and starting left tackle are out — the Patriots will have a tougher time stringing plays together. The Bills, on the other hand, need to take care of the football. The Patriots’ defense will win its fair share of battles, but helping the unit by turning the ball over cannot happen if the home team wants to put itself in a position to come away victoriously. New England is simply too good and makes opponents pay for their mistakes.
Ultimately, I am not 100% convinced that both will happen consistently on Sunday which is why I still see the Patriots come away with a victory. Probably something like 27-14, but now that I have it written down I’m certain something completely different will take place.