Rubber Meets Road for Bills v. Pats in Primetime

<B>Where to begin…: </B> <P> Why all the hoopla and renewed hope over a team that has struggled offensively all season and yet still only put up 10 points offensively on their own merits is beyond me. Let's just call it the emotional part of the game and of being a fan, but a ten point offensive effort still does not do any more for me today than it did in weeks one or two.

To expect the defense, which has mostly played bottom third offenses this season, to continue to put up enough points or set the offense up T-Ball style for 10-14 points in every game is unrealistic, especially vs. teams with offenses unlike the stagnant offenses off of which the Bills have been able to play as such.

To date, of the 137 points that the Bills have scored, only 60 of them have come off of scoring drives originating within their own end of the field. Of those, 18 points worth of them have originated from the Bills own 38-yard line or beyond leaving only 42 of 137 points scored having originated on typical starting field position, in this case within the Bills own 37-yard line

I will eventually run the analysis, but it seems to me offhand that the team was able to move the ball better for points last season. There has been much talk about an offensive revival of sorts. But what puzzles me is that of the 51 points that the team has put up over the last two weeks, 34 of the 51 were set up by the defense or special teams within the opponents' 30-yard line.

This is an offensive revival?

Methinks that the Bills may be in for a rude awakening and a cold slap back to reality this Sunday!

Defense:

Rush D: Bills 3rd, Pats 19th
Pass D: Bills 5th, Pats 14th
Yardage D: Bills 3rd, Pats 19th
Scoring D: Bills 5th, Pats 11th

Offense:

Rush O: Bills 19th, Pats 17th
Pass O: Bills 27th, Pats 14th
Yardage O: Bills 26th, Pats 14th
Scoring O: Bills 27th, Pats 5th

Key Players and Matchups:

Humpty vs. himself:

Which Humpty shows up this weekend will remain a mystery until game time. But its never a good sign if when your QB simply puts up six or seven solid plays in a game, again, nothing spectacular, simply decent plays, and it's hailed as a milestone game.

Will it be the minimized Humpty or the turnover and sack generating Humpty? That's one of the fun things about watching the Bills, you never know which one is going to show up. I have a hunch however since it will take a passing game this week to put points on the board. I've said it before, and I'll say it yet again, Humpty does not have it within himself to do what is necessary in this type of game and vs. such an opponent. Pin it to the exit door of the Bills locker room on Sunday! Maybe it'll help.

Bills Defensive Backfield vs. Tom Brady:

This may be a dry run for Brady prior to carving up his Thanksgiving turkey. Wire is out, Vincent is questionable yet likely to play. The Bills are "safety challenged." But the defensive backfield has not been good this year and that has been largely vs. non-efficient or non-stellar passing teams. N.E.'s passing game rates among the top regardless of their rankings. Brady is one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, QBs in the league and can exploit a dicey defensive backfield the way that a neurosurgeon goes about his profession.

But still, McGee, while solid at kick returning, stellar in fact, still needs work at CB which is where he will be if Vincent makes the start at one of the safety spots. Either way, Brady and his cadre of receivers put up nearly 300 yards of passing in the first game between the two teams and there is no reason to expect less in this one. Brown and Branch were also out in game one. Brown is back while Branch remains questionable.

Bills LBs and Ss vs. Daniel Graham:

The Bills safeties and London Fletcher will be inadequate against Graham. Wire, the Bills' largest safety is out. Rumors have Vincent possibly playing safety in this game as well, which would be about time. While Graham has been quiet over the past few weeks, he will likely rebound in this game. Posey or Spikes are the best cover options, but using them to handle Graham will take away from the pressure that the front-seven struggles to exert. Handling "Graham" type of receivers has been weakness in recent seasons for the Bills.

Bills DL vs. Corey Dillon:

It is this simple. The Bills must shut down Dillon if they are to win this game. Doing so does not guarantee a win due to the Pats passing game, which is masterful. However, allowing Dillon to run in spite of that passing game will have this game over by the half. In fact, the Bills are very fortunate that Dillon fumbled on a second down play at the Bills 2-yard line in game one or that game may very well have been over by the half as well. The Bills defense has allowed some extremely substantial quantities of first half yards to running backs that had no business running for that much. So it will be interesting to see the outcome here. The Bills will not be able to stack the line here, so the line will largely be on its own often.

Willis McGahee & OL vs. Pats Front-7:

Expect more pressure via blitzes this game than last due to the banged up state of the Pats secondary. The Bills will clearly need McGahee to be on game and in stride in this one. This is his moment to shine. If he can, and if Humpty can provide the other element to this offense, which again, is thus far statistically below last season's pace, then the Bills have a shot here. If McGahee cannot generate anything, then expect this game to have disastrous results.

Mike Williams is questionable for this game likely not being an enormous factor. What will be an enormous factor and will expose this house-of-cards offense is the sub-tier line that the Bills do have overall. They faced a relatively simple array of looks in game one but under somewhat different circumstances. If last week's game vs. the Rams for New England serves as the guide, then this line will have its hands full on Sunday night.

Summary:

With Constantin Ritzman "out" on the injury report, the Bills could be in a world heap of trouble…NOT. Just a little humor in an otherwise grey season. Seriously however, there are a host of key injuries on both sides of the ball in this game. Given the necessity for the defense and special teams to have to set up drives [read points] for the offense of the Bills this season, it stands to reason that the key to this game is how well the Patriots can move the ball, especially with their defense all banged up. There will be no winning streak to distract the Patriots this time either.

Simply put, thus far going back to last season, offenses which are well-rounded and solid, the Bills defense has been unable to prevent from putting up near or over 30 points regularly. The same can be expected on Sunday. The question of how competitive the Bills can be today will hinge entirely on their ability to score themselves. They will not stop this Pats offense.

It is still unfathomable the extent to which the offense has been set up to score this season. There has not been one game this season whereby the Bills have been able to score more than 10 points on starting field position within their own 37-yard line. There have been only three games whereby they have had two scoring drives from within that range and all three of those games were home games.

On the road, the Bills have averaged only 10 points-per-game overall by the offense, only 9 points-per-game out of their offense on drives starting in their own half of the field, and only 4 points-per-game on drives begun at their own 37-yard line or closer in. What this suggests is clear, that if the special teams and defense can continue to set the Bills up within the Patriots half of the field, then they have a shot at putting some points on the board. If not, well, based on this season's history, they'll be fortunate to break the ten-point barrier offensively.

The Bills' offense will be aided by injuries to the Patriots' two top cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole who will both sit in this game. This will likely bring an interesting dynamic to this game for which the Bills must plan around. For whatever reasons thus far this season, opponents have not blitzed the Bills' offense frequently. That may change in this game due to the injuries to the Pats' defensive backfield and will be something that the Bills will need to be fully prepared for in order to eke out a win on Sunday night. If the offensive line can protect Humpty, then he may have a very good game vs. this banged up secondary. As all Bills fans realize however, good protection is a luxury in Buffalo these days, and even given solid protection, this does not assure solid play from Humpty.

Bottom line:

The Bills had a decent game last week and perhaps their best game of the season in beating the Jets at home to end the first half of the season. They had to rely little on Humpty and the passing game as two of the team's scoring drives were all running plays, and it was a full team effort although the offense's contributions on their own merits were still subdued.

Meanwhile, the Patriots demonstrated a masterful coaching effort last week taking it to the Rams in St. Louis with a 40-point offensive effort. While the Rams are not among the defensive stalwarts this season, forty points, all from the offense is still impressive on the road. But the thing that the Bills need to keep in mind is that it is the Pats offense will have to be stopped given the reasons for the limited offensive success the Bills have experienced to date. If the Bills continually begin their drives within their own 40-yard line, history this season suggests that the offense will not be able to crack the 10-point mark.

Therefor, for the Bills it all boils down to field position. If they can stymie the Pats' offense and control field position, which means the special teams and defense setting them up on the Pats' side of the field several times, then they have a shot at winning this game or keeping it close. Even then, the Bills are a paltry 40% in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations. Either way, if the D/STs cannot assist, again, then the potential for a blowout exists.

As well, the Bills will not be able to rely solely on McGahee in this one. Humpty will need to contribute which is never a good sign for the Bills. "Contribute" in this sense means more than simply handing the ball to another player and throwing an occasional TD pass once the offense is handed the ball T-Ball style inside the opponent's red zone. He will have to be relied upon if the Bills are to put up any more than 10 points or so and to move the ball downfield on drives begun well within their own half of the field.

The Patriots played very conservative in the first game which was at home at the Ralph and still managed to put up 31 points and that was with a Dillon fumble on a goal-to-go. They will likely be more aggressive given the banged up state of the defensive backfield putting more of the onus for applying pressure on their front-seven. This is something that Humpty and the Bills' offense have not seen all that often this season. How they react will be interesting to say the least. Expect exactly what similar situations during the Humpty-era have produced.

When I look at the particulars of the Bills three wins, among them being that two of them were vs. teams that are presently a combined 4-13 and that all three were home games, I am not nearly as impressed as some of the other fans and media in the region and even nationally seem to be. This will be a good game to determine how good this team really is. That can be analyzed following this game. No matter how this season is sliced however, the offense has been more putrid than last season's offense to be sure and as outlined in detail in my "Midseason Grades" piece.

The Bills will not be able to hang with the Patriots in this game in spite of the Pats banged up secondary.

This game will come down to offense vs. offense. This Pats offense is the most balanced that the Bills have seen this season by a long shot even more so than the Jets' offense. The Pats put up 31 points in the first game including a sack/fumble/TD-run of 68 yards in Seymour's one-man-wrecking-crew play. The average starting field position for the Patriots was their own 25-yard line in putting up the other 24 points. Corey Dillon also fumbled at the 2-yard line going in on second down.

The Bills on the other hand were able to muster only 10 points from their offense, the touchdown of which came on the extremely fortunate "Moorman fumble botch" play. Terrence McGee scored the other TD on a kickoff return. The odds of the circumstances surrounding either touchdown recurring this week are not high. The Bills would have scored only 3 points in game one otherwise. Why the ability of the Bills to move the ball will change this week in New England in front of a raucous crowd is beyond me. This is not Arizona or Miami.

Prediction:

Bills 13, Pats 38.

The Bills house-of-cards gets blown over this week.

Originally the weather forecast called for wind and wintry conditions. Presently the forecast is for sun and temps in the 40s, perfect football weather. If worse conditions are present on Sunday, scoring on both sides will likely suffer offensively and scoring overall will likely be reduced.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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