Patriots-Bills preview review

Patriots-Bills preview review
September 9, 2013, 12:30 am
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Well, there’s your week’s worth of answers. The Patriots win 23-21. You can look at the little details – a fumble-return touchdown and a blown play on the Buffalo goal line – and see that this wasn’t destined to be as close as it was, but facts is facts. Those plays happened and the Patriots had to survive with less than their best stuff. And they did.
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The Bills have good players in their front-seven – Manny Lawson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams – but they were 31st in the league last year against the run. The Patriots – as always – will want to be diverse offensively but establishing an offensive identity as a team that can play “tougher than thou” when it wants to means they are going to pound Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount a fair amount. Expect them to work the body with the run and Danny Amendola in the intermediate before going to the head down the field. Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Stevan Ridley, Shanee Vereen and LaGarrette Blount will be the names I’m expecting to be featured. And Tom Brady. Brady will be involved. Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was with the Jets long enough to have plenty of experience seeing Brady flustered and also having him kick his defense’s ass up and down the field. It’s not a stretch to think Pettine was hired in Buffalo specifically to bother Brady and the Patriots offense. Big day for him in Western New York.
 
It was a long, hard slog for the Patriots offense and the clearest takeaway was the fact that the rhythm of the offense and inter-receiver communication is going to take a long time. Amendola and Shane Vereen were outstanding, with 263 of the Patriots 431 yards. Tom Brady had his patience tested – as expected – and responded well in crunch time as Julian Edelman stepped up with seven catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He’s likely going to have a big role going forward as the younger players figure things out. Stevan Ridley’s role will not be quite as big.
 
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Doug Marrone and his team can approach the first game of his head coaching tenure in one of two ways: hang around and play conservative; throw widow-makers from the start. I don’t know enough about Doug Marrone to anticipate which way he’ll go. But I am going to presume that letting EJ Manuel try to carry the day with his arm when you have C.J. Spiller and – to a lesser extent – Fred Jackson on your offense is a recipe for second-guessing. If Spiller doesn’t handle the ball 25 times, the Bills won’t win. Done. The Patriots may well be a more attacking defense later in the year, but in this one they’d be well-served to play conservatively to get an idea what Buffalo is all about. And for the simple reason that E.J. Manuel will likely step in dog mess on his own a few times in his first NFL start.
 
The Bills put the exact right amount on the plate of Manuel, who went 18-for-27 for 150 with two TDs, no picks and no sacks. The Patriots defense didn’t allow a play of 20-plus and they caused three fumbles. Terrific day for Kyle Arrington with two strips, a pass defensed (near pick) and a tackle for loss. Jerod Mayo had 15 tackles to lead the defense which didn’t take many risks. The Bills were 4 for 13 on third down.
 
THE KICKING GAME
Dan Carpenter is kicking for the Bills this week as their new kicker, Dustin Hopkins, went down with an injury already. Shaun Powell is the punter. The always-solid Leodis McKelvin is their main return man. The Patriots kicking game is more intriguing. Ryan Allen beat out Zoltan Mesko for the punting job and will be punting as an undrafted rookie in his first NFL game. He also figures to be the holder for Stephen Gostkowski. So we have some unknowns to evaluate there. I’m dying to see LeGarrette Blount return kickoffs. Not sure if he will, but he got some reps in the preseason back there along with Shane Vereen and Josh Boyce. Leon Washington got dusted in the final cuts and his forte is kick returns so that’s a position with questions. Julian Edelman figures to be the main return man.
 
Huge game-winner for Gostkowski. Up and down day for the rookie Ryan Allen with three inside the 20, a 65-yarder but also one shank and another 35-yarder.
 
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Mike Pettine vs. Josh McDaniels. This, to me, will be fascinating. You can’t go into this game if you’re the Bills expecting to score more than 20 points. Your only shot is slowing down the Patriots offense. Do you do it by being exotic and trying to confuse Tom Brady with coverages? By playing the bully and whacking around those young receivers? By bringing blitzers? All that is leading with the chin and Brady can and has seen it all before. And he often knocks mouthpieces into the fourth row when defenses lead with their chin. The coordinators will have a busy first quarter deciphering each other’s game plans on the fly.
 
Pettine had a terrific game plan defensively. You can’t coach having the opposing team’s quarterback fumbling at your 1, but jamming the receivers and disrupting timing while making sure everyone rushing got their hands up and clogging the area between the LOS and 15 yards down field made it a challenge for Brady.

PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP . . .
C.J. Spiller.  The kid averaged 6 yards per carry in 2012 and caught 43 balls out of the backfield. He’s their best weapon. By far. Lock him down and the punts will follow.
 
The Patriots certainly did the job with Spiller, holding him to 55 yards on 22 touches. Fred Jackson still has it, though. I think he was prematurely interred by all of us.
 
BILLS GOTTA STOP . . .
Danny Amendola. The only perimeter player of note who has seen an opening day in the NFL, Amendola – despite the groin tenderness he apparently has been feeling – is going to be the hub of the Patriots passing game on Sunday.
 
He wasn’t just the hub of the passing game, he WAS the passing game with 10 catches for 104 yards.

DON'T BE SURPRISED IF
It takes a while for the Patriots to get the separation they are expected to. It is EJ Manuel’s first game, but it’s also the first game for a ton of Patriots so expecting things to run like clockwork is a little unrealistic. (That won’t stop people from tweeting, “Same old secondary ...” at me after the first completed pass on a third down).
 
Not that I’m a soothsayer but it kinda rolled out that way, didn’t it? Right down to the bitching about the secondary after back-to-back Bills touchdowns through the air.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP, PATRIOTS STYLE
“There are quite a few new players at the linebacker spot and the secondary, guys that I haven’t played against much, so I tried to study as much film as I could on those guys so I could understand how they like to play. They’re going to establish their own identity. It is certainly not the Jets or the Ravens. Coach Pettine, yeah, that’s where his familiarity comes from, but he has different players with different strengths. How he chooses to implement his system will probably depend on how well they do. We’re kind of preparing for everything up here. We’ve established a database of plays that we’ve run against them over the years, and we’re trying to prepare for everything.” – Tom Brady on getting ready for the Bills. Johnny Unitas never needed a damn database!
 
Pettine had a terrific game. Seemed like his defense was put in positions to create havoc in the middle and confuse the Patriots and they did. The Patriots weren’t as much confused as they were unable to execute because they haven’t gotten to that part of the semester’s teaching yet.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP, BILLS STYLE
“To give you some insight to what I talk to the players about, obviously I told the players today who the starting quarterback was. And I told the players that you’re going to get a lot of questions from the media that say “Hey, you’ve got this young quarterback playing and how do you feel about that, what do you need to do differently?” And I told the players, we don’t need you to do anything differently. We need Stevie Johnson to be Stevie Johnson. We need our running backs to be our running backs and kind of down the line and that’s what we need.”- Doug Marrone, Bills coach, on prepping with a rookie quarterback
 
Really, E.J. Manuel was the least of the Bills’ problems. In fact, if Stevie Johnson played like Stevie Johnson and made that simple third down catch Manuel laid out there for him with 8:54 left, things might have worked out differently.

THE WINNER IS . . .
Patriots 31, Bills 13. I don’t see how the Bills get to 20.
 
Patriots 23, Bills 21. I should have specified that I didn’t see how Bills’ offense would get to 20.