Patriots run 'D' faces challenge vs. Bills

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Patriots run 'D' faces challenge vs. Bills

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn FOXBORO It would be easy to dismiss the Buffalo Bills' early success as nothing more than an improved team getting a long overdue break from the football gods by having them open up against the putrid Kansas City Chiefs and the so-so Oakland Raiders.

But the Patriots, even with their dominance over the Bills in recent years (15 straight wins and counting), are in no position to take them for granted.

And while there are several facets of the game that will determine the outcome, it's hard to see anything being a bigger difference-maker than Buffalo's top-rated ground attack against a Patriots defensive line that was built in the offseason to control the line of scrimmage.

While New England has given up a ton of total yards (479 per game, actually) -- only one team (Miami Dolphins) have given up more yards per game than New England -- their defense against the run hasn't been too shabby with the Patriots being just one of 11 teams giving up less than 100 yards rushing per game.

New England's ability to stand pat against the Bills' attempts at stampeding them on Sunday, will go far in determining which of these two will remain among the undefeated.

"We have our hands full," said Patriots defensive tackle Vincent Wilfork. "It's going to be challenging for us once again. Every week so far, we've been challenged."

Buffalo's spread offense has shown the ability to hurt teams both on the ground and through the air.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former standout at Harvard, is the NFL's sixth-rated passer thus far this season.

He shares the NFL-lead of seven touchdown passes, with New England's Tom Brady and Detroit's Matthew Stafford.

On the ground, Fred Jackson is the league's top rusher with 229 yards. And his power rushing attack is complimented by C.J. Spiller whose speed and quickness make him a potential matchup problem for New England as well.

The Patriots have done a solid job of rotating their defensive lineman, a trend you'll see continue on Sunday at Buffalo.

"We have guys that can get it done," said Pats defensive end Shaun Ellis. "We just have to become more consistent throughout the year."

And that comes with more playing time, which is critical for a defensive unit that features a number of new faces -- Ellis included.

"You have to get a feel for each guy, and where they're going to be . . . it's all getting a feel for it," said Ellis, who spent the previous 11 seasons with the New York Jets. "I kind of put it in mind like, a jump-shooter goes out and shoots a whole bunch of jumpers all day long; just get that feel so that when he gets in games, it just comes naturally."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

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Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss the aftermath of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video. Curran interview Matt Light ahead of the AFC Championship. They dissect the press conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and look at how to beat the Steelers.

SUBSCRIBE iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | AudioBoom

2:29 Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live aftermath

13:14 Stopping Le’Veon Bell

27:16 heywassyonumba? with Patrick Chung and Kyle Van Noy

32:30 Injury report updates for AFC Championship

36:51 Brady and Belichick’s press conferences

44:50 Matt Light interview

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick knows that how you play, not where, is what matters most. 

That's why when he was asked on Wednesday about the advantage the Patriots will have by playing at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game, he wasn't willing to go all-in on how a comfortable environment will positively impact his team.

"I don’t know," he said. "Go ask Dallas and Kansas City."

The Patriots apparently thought enough of home-field advantage that they played their starters throughout their regular-season finale win in Miami, exposing their best players to potential injury in order to maintain their positive momentum while simultaneously ensuring a better road to the Super Bowl. 

The Patriots fans in attendance on Sunday will help when the Patriots take on the Steelers, Belichick acknowledged. But there's much more to it than that. 

"Yeah, of course," he said, "but the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games – the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night."

And if you needed any further proof, just ask the Cowboys and Chiefs how helpful their home crowds were in the Divisional Round.