Every week, I write an opinion column on a few general game-planning tactics I like for the Buffalo Bills to use against their upcoming opponent—ones I think have a chance to be successful based on personnel usage and scheme along with the strengths and weaknesses of each team. These may take many forms, though I typically try to come up with at least one tactic on offense and one on defense.
The Bills take on former division titleholder New England this week in a much different position than they found themselves last time this matchup occurred. The Bills are a Hail Mary (I refuse to use Kyler’s last name in reference to that play) away from being 12-2 and on an eight-game winning streak, while the New England Patriots have been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and stand on the verge of their first losing season since the turn of the century. What can the Bills do to expedite the Patriots’ exit from division relevance and grip the No. 2 seed in the AFC tighter? I have some thoughts...
Rob the middle of the field on defense
Cam Newton has not been overly effective as a passer in 2020, but his best metrics come out when throwing to the middle of the field. In between the numbers on throws 20+ yards down the field, Newton has a passer rating of 99.6. In between the numbers from 10-20 yards, his passer rating is 104.2. Throwing outside the numbers and deep have been extreme problem areas for him this year, so understanding these successful areas can allow the Bills to present two-high looks at the snap to give a MOFO (middle of field open) look to Newton before bringing Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer down post-snap to rob the middle of the field. When combined with an overall lack of explosive playmaking from the Patriots’ wide receivers, the risk of deep sideline offensive daggers is lessened.
Don’t be scared of New England’s defense
The Patriots’ defense and Bill Belichick have been a staple for decades in the AFC landscape. Belichick has been known as one of the best defensive game planners of this era and potentially of all time.
This New England defense is 23rd in DVOA and 20th in PFF grade, and Stefon Gilmore is out for the season after a partially torn quad.
I’ve said before that this Buffalo Bills team does its best work when it’s passing first and unless there are extreme circumstances (40 mph winds and the Patriots playing six defensive backs on almost all snaps would be examples), they should continue along that path. There’s a possibility that the Patriots roll out a very light defense this time around again, but Belichick may not want to show the same game plan a second time. If he doesn’t roll out something extreme that would push you into a run-heavy attack, this Bills team—complete with an MVP candidate at QB and a stuffed stocking of weapons including the potentially returning John Brown—should not be deterred from doing the thing they do best.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Bruce Exclusive” every Thursday and Friday on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!