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
--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
--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.
GAME PLAN: 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
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
--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.
GAME PLAN: T
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.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
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
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.
Patriots - Bills: Game Plans & Matchups
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