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Buffalo Bills opponent preview: New England Patriots’ run game

Some suspect rushing stats for the New England offense has us digging to see if it’s a true weakness

The New England Patriots have been steamrolling over opponents through the first three weeks of the season. Hopeful fans of the Buffalo Bills are crossing fingers that there’s some weakness that can be exploited to topple their AFC East foe.

Teams that pull ahead early often rack up rushing yards. The Patriots are rushing 45% of the time, which is about 5% greater than the current league average. Despite that, they’re nearly 12 yards below league average in yards per game. It doesn’t get better with efficiency metrics either. At 3.2 yards per carry, they’re 1.1 yards per attempt lower than the pack. Perhaps even more condemning, all three teams they’ve toppled have had their best week in run defense playing the Patriots. True weakness or anomaly? Let’s find out.


Play 1

If you’re prone to nightmares from prior losses to the Patriots, this GIF may haunt you. Rushes to the edges, especially the right side, killed Buffalo last year when they faced the Patriots. You should probably get used to seeing pulling linemen blocking for runs to the edges. This nine-yard gain was an easy first down.

Play 2

The Patriots have a fairly typical amount of running plays that go for a loss. When this happens it’s usually not the fault of Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead who both show aptitude in finding lanes to run through. Inconsistent blocking, like we see in the picture, has sunk a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Play 3

This is what we want to see on Sunday. Last year the Patriots had a field day running off the edges when the Bills traveled to New England. Injuries to Matt Milano and Taron Johnson removed crucial speed behind the defensive line, making it nearly impossible to counteract these types of plays. The Patriots lit the Bills up for 273 yards on the ground. More than the New York Jets, New York Giants, and Cincinnati Bengals have managed against the 2019 Bills. And that’s combined.

Play 4

Imperfect execution in maintaining gap responsibilities are a major culprit in allowing this touchdown. This was the ninth play of the game for New England and the first run. Following the Bills’ lead from Week 1, the opening script was very heavily skewed toward passing which made it a surprise when they eventually did run.

Play 5

So far it may look like the suggestion is that the Patriots’ running game is boom or bust. That isn’t entirely accurate. There are a fair amount of plays that fall on the positive side of the ledger. And, as was mentioned above, they’ve had an average amount of rushes that went for no gain or a loss. The poor yards per attempt is a function of a lower-than-normal amount of “boom” plays. No back has had a run go further than 12 yards for the Patriots this year. So far, the 2019 Patriots have lacked a home-run threat.


Summary

Teams that have faced the Patriots have done well keeping their running backs away from breaking off large chunks of yards. Furthermore, inconsistent blocking opens up chances to bring the ball carrier down behind the line. While it was noted the Patriots have an average number of negative rushes, it’s also true they’ve lost a higher amount of yards than the average team. This helps explain the low yards per carry as their negative plays are worse than normal.

The Buffalo Bills should be the most difficult defense the Patriots have seen this year. If the Bills can take advantage of chances to put the Patriots behind schedule on early downs it should help limit the damage on the scoreboard. To be more specific, Brady is once again at the top of the league when it comes to getting the ball out quickly. With an average time until throwing of 2.45 seconds, keeping Brady away from third-and-short situations will drive him out of his comfort zone. Put simply, the McDermott and Frazier defense has the tools to take care of any offense in the league if they can force a team to be one dimensional. Even one featuring Tom Brady.