Patriots Game Day Strategy vs. Bills

It's a safe bet that Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel will come up with something new for the Bills this week. Back in Week 1, it was like Lawyer Milloy was listening in on the game plan meetings.

Then again, maybe he was, assuming the Patriots began Bills preparation for the season opener during the preseason and before the Wednesday of game week when the plan is typically installed.

The Patriots have a much different look now than they did then when they were trying to recover on the fly from Milloy's release. Antwan Harris started for Milloy at safety in that game and has barely seen the field since in what was a terrible debut low-lighted by Ty Law screaming at him after Eric Moulds caught a 49-yard pass.

Rookie cornerback Eugene Wilson stepped into the lineup at safety the following week and the pass defense improved immediately. "He's been pretty steady," Belichick said. "There have been some good things and some that could be better, but he's been steady back there."

The only game in which Wilson seemed to struggle was at Indianapolis when Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison went after him, but other than that he has been barely noticeable other than some big hits and interceptions.

"I feel I have a good grasp of what's going on," Wilson said. "It's not like I was going from cornerback to quarterback. It wasn't that dramatic of a change."

But it represented a dramatic change for the defense at a position that was a huge question mark. Wilson solidified the back of the secondary while bringing a coverage element to the safety position that previously didn't exist. That has given the Patriots some schematic flexibility.

The key for the Patriots defensively in this game, besides pressuring Drew Bledsoe, will be how well Wilson and the rest of the secondary match up against the Bills three-wide sets along with the tight end, who they like to feature on corner routes out of their three-wide receiver formation.

S Chris Akins, who has missed the last four games with a calf injury, remains questionable.

G Joe Andruzzi is probable with a foot injury.

DE Bobby Hamilton, who has played in all 48 games since joining the Patriots in 2000, drew some praise from Belichick for his dependability and consistency. "He's played in every game and I don't think he's ever missed a practice," Belichick said. "He's been solid this year and a real constant in the lineup. He's a true professional and nobody puts more into it. He's team oriented; takes coaching and he's conscientious.

LB Willie McGinest was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his 11 tackle, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception for a touchdown game against the Jets last week. McGinest is having arguably the best season of his career with 76 tackles, 5.5 sacks, an interception, four passes defensed, two forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

T Matt Light hopes that Antowain Smith's 121-yard rushing effort is the start of a new trend. Smith has received a bulk of the carries over the last three weeks and the offensive line has now played 11 straight games together. The continuity could pay some dividends as the Patriots advance. "Any time you can keep a unit together for an extended period, you obviously should get better. I don't care whose running back there, but when a guy gets in a groove, you like to stay with him."

WR Bethel Johnson is out of his one-week doghouse and back as the Patriots featured kickoff returner. He will likely see some action this week as the fourth receiver in the Patriots spread formations, which could be utilized to create some matchup advantages and to make the Bills blitz easier to diagnose.

CB Ty Law needs just one interception to tie former Patriot Raymond Clayborn for most career interceptions by a Patriot. With six this season, Law now has 35. Clayborn had 36 between 1977 and 1989. Law has returned six of those 35 for touchdowns, which is the franchise record in that category.

DT Dan Klecko, who doubles as a fullback, received the Shaw's Supermarket 12th Player Award this week, which is awarded to the Patriot who exceeded expectations. Klecko will likely be back at fullback in short yardage situations this week and don't be surprised if the Patriots throw the rookie the ball, especially in a goal line situation.

Pressure. That's going to be the key for the Patriots defense. Drew Bledsoe has been rattled easily this year since he seems to have lost what little mobility he had within the pocket. The Patriots didn't come after him much in the first meeting, but could unleash the hounds in the rematch because of the trust they have in the defensive backfield.

Don't be surprised if the game plan resembles the blitz happy plan employed by the Cowboys against Buffalo earlier this year. Rodney Harrison will be used in the box and the Patriots will send bodies from everywhere while trying to confuse a banged up Bills offensive line that could have trouble identifying the blitzers.

For that strategy to work, the Patriots corners must play well, as they have all season, because the Bills will take some shots downfield to try to force New England out of that scheme. Bledsoe has lost nine fumbles this year so New England will be trying to get the ball out on every rush.

Offensively, the Patriots will take their own shots downfield to keep the secondary honest and try to get the corners to back off and open some of the short routes, a plan that has served them well this season. But they will try to use the deep middle of the field early to get the linebackers off the line of scrimmage and try to force them into deeper drops to create space up front.

Running the ball might be a problem against the Bills big interior lineman inside and the faster, more athletic linebackers outside. The Patriots will try to maintain some balance, but field position will be critical, especially given punter Ken Walter's inconsistencies. The Patriots will need to put together a couple of first downs and give Walter opportunities to pin Buffalo deep to win a defensive struggle as this game could turn out to be.

Patriots CB Ty Law vs. Bills WR Eric Moulds. Law leads with six interceptions and 22 passes defensed and is headed to his fourth Pro Bowl in what is arguably the best season of his career. Moulds leads Buffalo with 57 receptions and caught his longest pass of the season, 49 yards, against the Patriots in Week 1, a game in which he caught four passes for 81 yards and drew a pass interference penalty against Law in the end zone.

Patriots DT Richard Seymour vs. Bills G Ruben Brown. This is Pro Bowler vs. Pro Bowler. Seymour leads all Patriots defensive linemen with 78 tackles and 8.5 sacks to go with 10 pass deflections and a forced fumble. Brown has tackle athleticism in a guard's body, which makes him equally adept in protection and in run blocking.

Patriots LT Matt Light vs. Bills DE Aaron Schobel. Light has fared better this season against the league's best pass rushers even though he lacks the quickness he often sees. Schobel gave Light all he could handle when the two first faced each other back in 2001 when he had four sacks in two games. Last year, he managed only one-half a sack against New England and he did not have one in the season opener this year. But he does have a career-high 11.5 sacks, including eight in his last four games.

Patriots WR Deion Branch vs. Bills CB Antoine Winfield. Branch leads New England with 51 receptions for 745 yards and is the Patriots most balanced receiver in terms of his route running and ability to threaten all areas of the field. Winfield is a solid, aggressive cover man and Branch will have to make some plays on the ball against Winfield for the Patriots to generate a consistent passing attack.

The Patriots two-man injury report is as short as it's been all season. Guard Joe Andruzzi will play despite a foot injury. Safety Chris Akins will likely miss his fifth straight game, which leaves the Patriots filling his spot on every special team.

Bethel Johnson, Antwan Harris, David Givens and Shawn Mayer will share his duties in the kicking game. Akins' 20 special teams tackles is still third on the team behind Larry Izzo (29) and Don Davis (21) despite his absence in the last four games.

Patriots Insider Top Stories