Behind Enemy Lines: Bills/Patriots Part II

We finish up our 10-pack of questions for Patriots Insider's Jon Scott. Is New England's aura fading? What specific soft spot in New England's defense must Buffalo attack? Did "Fourth-and-2" psyche out the Pats? These answers and more inside...

BFR: Is New England's aura on invincibility fading? Is this a team on the decline?

Jon Scott: I think the Patriots were given too much credit for their wins. Some of those were luck, plain and simple. With that said, they've won games many teams wouldn't have. All teams have to come back to the pack a little bit, and I think we're seeing some of that here.

One conversation I heard recently from Jimmy Johnson on FOX Sports, mentioned the part where this is a rebuilding year for New England. Many people tend to forget this is a team undergoing major transition on defense. In a few years, that will be the same case on offense. Yet, despite all of the changes, the team continues to win and challenge for the division lead even when the teams in the division have improved dramatically.

So, no, I wouldn't say the Patriots are a team in decline. I have no idea if their aura is in decline, but I would venture to say this. Once Brady heals up, gets a year under his belt and the Patriots find a third dangerous wideout, they're going to get a lot more dangerous than they are right now, and that ought to concern defensive coordinators who already have to figure out a way to stop the No. 2 offense in the NFL.

And I'm surprised to see the volume of media outlets questioning what's wrong with the Patriots when Brady was No. 2 passer in the NFL and Moss was No. 1, Welker No. 2 receivers just a over a week ago.

BFR: What is one weakness in the Patriots' defense that Buffalo should exploit?

Scott: Take your pick. The defensive line has masked issues at linebacker this season. The team has switched between the 3-4 and the 4-3 schemes just to try to slow down opposing runners. Fortunately it's worked for the most part, though there have been big chinks in the armor to exploit.

What teams are finding out is that you can pick apart the secondary with a solid dose of short to medium passing. Crossing routes tend to confuse the deep secondary, and the Saints were exceptional at stacking routes. Those absolutely exposed the inexperience in the Patriots defensive backs. Players completely blew assignments, let receivers run free over the middle, or gave then too big of a cushion for each first downs.

Peyton Manning used play-action to move the safeties, and it worked well because New England has a heavy focus on jumping to the ball. Brandon Meriweather has been caught looking into the backfield when he should be manning up on the receiver running downfield.

For Buffalo to get going, I would say it needs to run, and keep running the ball. With Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren hurting from last week, the rush defense is going to be suspect. Without the ability to stop the run with the front four, expect the Patriots to move the backers and possibly bring up a safety to stop the run. When they do, the Bills will be able to hit the big play downfield.

BFR: Jairus Byrd (nine picks) has been having an unbelievable rookie season here in Western New York, single-handedly keeping the Bills in games. Any chance Brady throws some passes up for grabs Sunday? How has his accuracy been?

Scott: I would expect at least one interception this week, unless the Patriots can get their running game rolling. Brady has a hurt rib, and a sore finger on his throwing hand. His accuracy looked OK last week in the beginning of the game, but then he forced some throws and overthrew another couple of big plays. Whether that's due to injury is debatable, but it keeps happening.

If the cornerback can blanket Moss with help from Byrd in the form of double coverage, then New England could have the same issues they usually do. They'll need to find Welker or watch the drive stall. I do not think Brady is going to just throw the ball up for grabs, but I do expect him to try to get the ball to Moss deep.

The impact of this for Byrd will depend on how Buffalo plays the run. If they're not respecting the bubble screen to Welker or Edelman, or they let Kevin Faulk gash them on draw plays, while holding Byrd back deep, then the Patriots may – and I stress may because they haven't done this so far – be content to just eat the game clock and chew up yards on long plays. I don't have the stat in front of me, but I believe New England is top, or near the top, of teams that have drives of 10 plays or more this season. It's one reason they lead the NFL in TOP (34:00).

BFR: Of course hindsight is 20/20, but did "Fourth-and-2" psyche this team out? Is New England playing for a first-round bye right now if it converts that first down against Indianapolis earlier this season?

Scott: Yes. And yes. They'll never admit it, but the team hasn't been doing well with their fourth down gambles. The part I don't understand is when you see their fourth-down formation (not the Indy one), you know what's coming. So why are they running that play (hand off to the up back)? To me, it seems like a complete lack of imagination – or maybe experience – in the playcalling.

Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien took over for Josh McDaniels. McDaniels had his detractors, but he seemed to call a much better game than what is happening now. That may be why you see Belichick standing right next to O'Brien as those calls are being made. Belichcick has also had the play chart in his hand.

If New England didn't try to hit the home run against Miami – failed fourth down early when a FG would do, or a missed overthrow when a first down would do, then NE is in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Now, they can still get the No. 2 seed, but San Diego has to completely fall apart, and Denver has to follow suit. That's highly unlikely. The Pats are probably headed for the No. 4 seed. If they're lucky, they'll get the No. 3 spot and avoid Indy until the Championship game.

BFR: What's your prediction for Sunday's game, and why?

Scott: I have said this before, and I think it holds true for this game. As long as New England doesn't make a big mistake (turnover, blown play, missed tackle), I think they have the ability to control the outcome. New England's offense is just too powerful to stop completely (I think), but the amount of damage they do could be mitigated. The Patriots struggle in the Red Zone (often), and Buffalo could keep the game close that way, which I think leads to field goals and a close game through the first three quarters. In my opinion, I think New England scores on 5 of their possessions (Maybe 3 TD, 2 FG) and Buffalo only scores on 4 (2 TD, 2 FG). Patriots 27 Bills 20


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