Patriots - Bills: Game Plans & Matchups

The New England Patriots have plenty of matchups to work on vs a Bills defense which struggled to hold the Raiders in check. But New England's secondary has plenty of their own worries.


 The Bills still have confidence that veteran OLB Shawne Merriman will be a factor in their ability to rush the passer, but for now they are being cautious in how they use him. Merriman played about 35 plays against the Raiders and wasn't on the field for many third-down situations. Through two games, he has four tackles and no sacks. As a team, Buffalo has just two sacks.

   "I think it's probably unrealistic to think he can go out and play 70 snaps," coach Chan Gailey said. "I think we have to be smart about how we use him. The guy has not played in two years."

   Merriman led the NFL with 39.5 sacks his first three seasons (2005-07) in the league while playing for San Diego. But leg injuries (groin, Achilles) began to take a toll. He was released and signed by Buffalo late last season but never took the field after being injured in his first Bills' practice.

   "He showed flashes of what we all think he will be down the line," Gailey said of Merriman's productive preseason. "We've got to make sure we keep him in a rotation while he's getting back into it these first few weeks, until he can work himself into an entire ball game. I think that's sort of the plan right now to make sure we don't overextend him because we want him here. We talked about preseason wanting him for the first game and we also want him for game 16 and beyond."


  --WR Stevie Johnson, who is nursing a groin injury, practiced fully. That's good news for a Buffalo receiving corps already without Roscoe Parrish, who went on IR this week with an ankle injury.
   --DL Spencer Johnson practiced fully in preparation for Sunday's game with New England. He has a hip problem that forced him to sit out Wednesday. The Bills need his presence in a pass-rush rotation against Tom Brady.
   --NT Torell Troup, who has missed both games so far with a bad back, practiced fully for a second consecutive game. He plans to play Sunday against the Patriots but will need to test himself pre-game.
   --CB Terrence McGee is out for the Patriots game with a hamstring injury. He could miss at least one more week.
   --LB Kirk Morrison is nursing a hamstring problem. He's questionable for Sunday.

During their 15-game losing streak to New England, the Bills have gotten close to upsetting their chief nemesis but have succumbed to the pressure with ill-timed mistakes. To get over that hump and prove they're a contender in the AFC East, Buffalo has to play a complete game against New England, and that includes the coaching staff. Chan Gailey vs. Bill Belichick is a premier chess match between offensive-minded and defensive-minded coaches respectively. With a quarterback he can finally rely on, Gailey needs to test the Patriots' 31st-ranked defense with everything he's got and try and win a shootout. Because for as much as Buffalo's defense has improved, it will be difficult to shut down Tom Brady completely. That said the defense has to come up with a takeaway or two. Brady threw six touchdown passes vs. zero interceptions in beating Buffalo both times a year ago.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bills secondary, which is battling injuries and gave up 323 yards and two scores to the Raiders a week ago, vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady, who has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in just two games. He has owned Buffalo for a decade.
   --Bills SS George Wilson or OLB Nick Barnett vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, who is averaging 17.2 yards per catch and has scored three touchdowns. He's one of Brady's favorite targets and will be even more of a factor with Aaron Hernandez doubtful with a knee injury. Gronkowski is nursing a tender hamstring.
   --Bills offensive line, led by C Eric Wood, which has allowed just one sack so far, vs. Patriots big defensive front led by 325-pound NT Vince Wilfork. The Patriots intercepted frazzled Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick five times in two games last year.
   --Bills RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller vs. Patriots' 11th-ranked run defense. Running the ball and eating clock keeps Brady off the field.


 Center Dan Koppen and DL Myron Pryor have been placed on injured reserve, which means they're out for the season.

   Koppen injured himself in the season opener against Miami and will be replaced by Dan Connolly, who has made the successful transition from guard to center. Pryor's loss will hurt; he had played well in a limited role before suffering an injury Sunday against San Diego.

   To fill those roster spots, the Patriots signed DT Landon Cohen and DB Phillip Adams. Cohen was released by the Patriots before the start of the season and will likely be used in sub-defense packages. Adams will add depth to New England's banged-up secondary; Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo are all battling through injuries this week.

   --C Dan Connolly will now be the starter for the foreseeable future with Dan Koppen on injured reserve. Connolly has experience in this role, so it's unlikely the Patriots will make a move to replace him.
   --DL Mike Wright still hasn't practiced this week and it's unlikely he'll play Sunday in Buffalo due to another concussion -- the same problem he had last year.
   --P Zoltan Mesko should be ready for Sunday despite injuring his knee, though his status is still uncertain heading into the final round of preparations.
   --OL Sebastian Vollmer was not on the practice field, but should be available this weekend after playing Sunday against San Diego.
   --TE Aaron Hernandez wasn't on the practice field Wednesday and will likely be out of the lineup Sunday due to a torn MCL. He's expected to miss two weeks.

his isn't the same Buffalo team the Patriots have faced in each of the past two years, though it's worth noting the Bills did come close to stealing a win in New England's home opener two years ago.
At this point, Ryan Fitzpatrick has emerged as a legitimate deep threat at quarterback, and last week's 38-point performance against the Raiders -- including Fitzpatrick's game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds -- is proof the Bills have the skill and savvy to compete with anyone.

   The problem is their defense, which is still prone to giving up big plays and big chunks of yardage. Expect to see more of the same from New England, which means 40 to 50 pass attempts and perhaps another shot at AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

   Last week, Philip Rivers proved the same thing Chad Henne proved in the opener -- you can throw on this secondary, but you can't turn the ball over four times. If the Patriots continue to force turnovers the way they did this past weekend, Buffalo will have a tough time keeping pace.  


   Bills LB Shawne Merriman v. Patriots LT Matt Light -- Merriman isn't the same explosive pass-rusher he was with San Diego, but he's played pretty well through two games and will present a new challenge to the Patriots now that he's in a new system. Light is responsible for protecting the blind side of the team's most important player, so his performance will be scrutinized heavily.

   Patriots LB Jerod Mayo v. Bills RB C.J. Spiller -- Granted, Spiller isn't a starter or an every-down back, but he's a versatile weapon coming out of the backfield and can present problems in short-yardage situations. Mayo will need to keep an eye on him at all times since he's the only linebacker with enough speed to cover him consistently.

   Bills TE Scott Chandler v. Patriots S Patrick Chung -- Chandler has been a beast thus far with three touchdown catches for the unbeaten Bills. Everyone knows the Patriots tend to struggle with big tight ends, though Antonio Gates wasn't much of a factor last week. Chung has played well through two weeks and will again be asked to help contain a major pass-catching threat over the middle and in red-zone situations.

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