Curran's Patriots - Bills preview review

Curran's Patriots - Bills preview review
December 29, 2013, 11:00 pm
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The Patriots are two wins away from playing in the Super Bowl for the sixth time since 2001. They are a win away from their eighth AFC Championship appearance in 13 seasons. That's thanks to a tougher-than-thou, grind-it-out win over the Buffalo Bills on as wet and miserable a day as could be imagined.  
The Bills get after the quarterback like nobody else in football. They have a league-leading 56 sacks and have picked off 22 passes. The Patriots haven’t seen them since Week 1 and they were a handful that day as New England needed two fourth-quarter field goal drives to escape with a 23-21 win. Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola killed the Bills in the opener, combining for 263 yards from scrimmage. The ball will have to come out quick for New England on Sunday because the Bills bring heat from all over. Mario Williams has 13 sacks, Kyle Williams has 10.5, Jerry Hughes has 10 and Marcell Dareus has 7.5. Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso has been a very productive player with 145 tackles. While the front is able to apply all the pressure, the back of the Bills defense has been apt at making plays on the ball. Jairus Byrd, Jim Leonhard, Aaron Williams and Alonso all have four picks each. Statistically, the Bills are more susceptible to the ground attack (4.2 YPC allowed) than a passing game. Look for the Patriots to come with a similar game plan to last week – run early, set up play-action, look for the seam routes and slants in front of the safeties. Buffalo has better safeties than Baltimore so that will be a challenge with Byrd and Leonhard (Williams was put on IR). Vereen’s availability after a groin tweak is a factor in how diverse the Patriots can be offensively. The unsettledness on the Patriots line with the Nate Solder injury is again a concern against this very good Buffalo front.
The Bills didn’t get to Brady much – just one sack – but so much of that was set up by the Patriots ridiculously effective ground attack. They ran 43 times for 267 yards and two scores. Blount accounted for 189 yards on the ground, Ridley chipped in 74. the 1-2 punch they provide and the diversity of their styles will have defensive coordinators very concerned about the Patriots lining up and playing smashmouth. Brady didn’t have his most accurate game. He was in sync with Edelman (nine catches) but he had several missed throws on a cold and dripping wet day. Of Brady’s 14 completions, three went to Shane Vereen, the rest went to Aaron Dobson (1 for 9)  Edelman and Amendola.
The quarterback position is the only thing keeping Buffalo from being a playoff-caliber team. Rookie E.J. Manuel will be down on Sunday (knee) replaced by Thad Lewis who is making his fifth start. Lewis – nor Manuel – are without ability but both have some growing to do before the can be true assets. The Patriots are well-acquainted with the abilities of running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They’ve run for 1,658 yards combined this year and 10 touchdowns. They average about 4.4. yards per carry between them. Big week for the Patriots front-seven. Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Brandon Spikes and Donta Hightower had their best game as a group in the interior against Baltimore. They will be challenged again. Tight end Scott Chandler has had a very good season (50 catches, 600 yards). Stevie Johnson will be out after the death of his mother, whose funeral was Friday.
After a shaky first half, Lewis settled in and went 13 for 19 in the second half. Spiller and Jackson accounted for 246 yards from scrimmage. The Patriots were able to come up with four sacks of Lewis but the Bills were effective overall, especially considering the elements. The defense needs the bye week it earned because many guys are operating at far less than peak efficiency.
Punter Brian Moorman and kicker Dan Carpenter have been just fine. Carpenter’s only missed three field goals; Moorman has a net of 36.4. Moorman wasn’t so hot last week against Miami with six punts, a 33 yard net and no punts inside the 20. Neither the Bills punt or kickoff return crew is very impressive – 6.2 average on punt returns; 20-yard average on kickoff returns.
Gostkowski made four field goals – 43, 35, 29 and 35 yards. Carpenter made an impressive 51-yarder in the elements. Edelman muffed a punt. The story of the kicking game was the 83 and 62-yard kickoff returns by LeGarrette Blount. And Tom Brady had a 32-yard pooch punt.
OUT: WR Josh Boyce (ankle). DOUBTFUL: S Devin McCourty (concussion). QUESTIONABLE: CB Kyle Arrington (groin), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Aaron Dobson (foot), LB Dane Fletcher (groin), S Steve Gregory (finger, knee), DE Rob Ninkovich (ankle), T Nate Solder (concussion), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Will Svitek (ankle), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), RB Shane Vereen (groin). PROBABLE: WR Danny Amendola (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), CB Aqib Talib (hip)
Dennard wasn’t able to go. The Patriots lost Aaron Dobson in the first half to either an aggravation of his foot injury or a hamstring. Logan Mankins left with an ankle injury but was able to return. Kyle Arrington dinged his left knee. Brandon Spikes was limping around on his injured knee all game.
OUT: WR Steve Johnson (not injury related); S Aaron Williams (ribs). DOUBTFUL: QB E.J. Manuel (knee). PROBABLE:  WR Marcus Easley (knee), WR Marquise Goodwin (knee), RB Fred Jackson (ribs), QB Thaddeus Lewis (left shoulder), DT Kyle Williams (achilles)
 The Bills lost safety Jairus Byrd in the first half. A significant blow for their defense.
Patriots offensive line – noble as its performance was last week – against a very talented Bills defensive line which has a chance to make a year-closing statement by following up last week’s blanking of the Dolphins.
Brady took only one sack and – with the running game working so well, the Patriots were able to mitigate the pressure applied to their quarterback.
Marcell Dareus. He’s the defensive tackle to the left of Tom Brady and he’s been a force in the running game, in the passing game with tipped passes at the line and in getting pressure. Very, very good player.
Doug Marrone helped keep Dareus in check, sitting Dareus down for the first half after Dareus was late for a team meeting. Dareus didn’t do much to redeem himself in the second half, encroaching on a chip-shot field goal try to extend a Patriots drive that wound up ending with a touchdown.
Julian Edelman. In the first meeting, Edelman and Amendola combined for 17 catches for 183 yards. The over-the-middle stuff will come open against the Bills. Meanwhile, Edelman (40 receptions in past five games) keeps making a case for just how valuable he is to the New England offense.
Edelman had another big game. His numbers – nine catches for 65 yards – aren’t absurd but given the conditions he was the surest thing the Patriots had going in their passing game. Tough elements and Edelman rose to the occasion. He finished the season with a remarkable 105 catches for 1,056 yards. An offensive afterthought became the most important and consistent weapon.
This game is quite similar to the opener and has plenty of drama before it ends.
The Patriots appeared to have the game salted away when they turned Buffalo over on downs with 5:38 left while holding a 27-17 lead. But a pick three plays later and a Bills field goal returned it to a 27-20 game. But the Patriots recovered the onsides kick and the game wasn’t done until Blount chugged in from 35 yards out to seal it with 2:40 left.  
“Two of their best players play the same position – running back. They use both guys. They get a lot of production out of both guys. They don’t change their offense when [Fred] Jackson or [C.J.] Spiller is in there but those two players add a different dimension to the running game because of their skills.” – Bill Belichick on the Bills potency.
The Bills ran it effectively with both Jackson (105 yards) and Spiller (60) and gained 169 overall (4.8 per carry).
“Where do you want to start? We can start with being the only team in our division to have a winning (divisional) record. That would be important for what we want to be able to build on. Winning three games in a row, being a Buffalo team that’s gone out there in the new stadium that can win and have the opportunity to win up there which would be a great challenge for us. Really just trying to change things. Change is, we’re going to make these little changes and we have been making them, but this is an important one. It’s our last time out and we understand that. It’s the last time the 2013 Buffalo Bills football team is going to play together as a team. We’re in a league that is constantly changing, there is change everywhere and we’re together and we want to go about and win a game.” – Doug Marrone, Bills coach, on what the Bills have to play for.
The Bills certainly didn’t embarrass themselves. To see the quotes coming from their locker room, they believe they are a team headed in the right direction.


Patriots 27, Bills 13
Patriots 34, Bills 20