When the Bills Have the Ball...
The number one priority for the New England defense should be to stop Willis McGahee, the Bills' most potent offensive weapon. With a great combination of size and speed, McGahee racked up over 1,400 all purpose yards last season despite being surrounded by an extremely sub-par offense. The last time these two teams met, the resurgent New England defense held the Bills to just 14 yards on the ground. That outstanding effort, coupled with the offense putting up two touchdowns in the first half, allowed the Patriots to take McGahee out of the game (so far in McGahee's short career, he has not been a factor in the passing game). If the Patriots are to stifle the Bills' running game again, there's a chance they may have to do it without Tedy Bruschi who is currently listed as questionable on the team's injury report. The latest indication from Foxboro is that Bruschi has been practicing, and there's a good chance he could line up on Sunday.
Should the Patriots successfully stifle the Buffalo running game, the burden will again be on the shoulder's of the young J.P. Losman to put up some points through the air. In their last meeting, Losman failed miserably, completing just 10 passes of 27 attempts as well as throwing 3 interceptions. Losman's poor performance was not exactly an anomaly either, as his 2005 campaign was very disappointing overall. Losman is mobile and is capable of throwing the deep ball, but he is extremely inconsistent and often very inaccurate - he failed to complete 50% of his passes in 2005. He was benched on more than one occasion in favor of the veteran Kelly Holcomb, but after a brief pre-season battle, the Bills have declared Losman their starting quarterback once again. This could very well be a make-or-break year for Losman, and if he doesn't show marked improvement from last season, the Bills could decide that he is not the answer, and pursue other options in the off-season. The good new for Losman is that, with regard to performances against the division rival Patriots, there is a lot of room for improvement.
|Buffalo Bills wide receiver Peerless Price left Buffalo in 2002,making stops in Atlanta (2003-04) and Dallas (2005). Price appeared in two playoff games while in Atlanta (Getty images)|
To make things more difficult for the third year quarterback, the Bills watched their number one receiver Eric Moulds sign with Houston in free agency during this past off-season. Moulds caught 81 balls last season, and his solid, consistent veteran presence should be sorely missed in the Buffalo passing game. Lee Evans, who now ascends to the Bills #1 wide receiver role, is a talented deep threat who also has a nose for the end zone. Losman's limited success in 2005 included 8 touchdown passes, and 5 of them were caught by Evans. The Bills have recently named Peerless Price as their second starting wide receiver over Andre Davis and Josh Reed, and while Price has produced very little in the NFL over the past few years, his best years as a pro were in Buffalo, including a 1200 yard season there in 2002. The Bills will have to rely on both of these receivers a great deal if the Patriots can shutdown the running game as effectively as they have in the past.
When the Patriots Have the Ball...
You can hardly call yourself a Patriots fan and not know about the Deion Branch saga and the gaping hole it has left at the top of the Patriots depth chart at wide receiver. The Patriots have brought in a number of receivers to hopefully fill the hole left by Branch's holdout as well as the departure of David Givens to the Titans via free agency. Reche Caldwell as signed during the off-season, but as not looked good so far in the pre-season; rookie Chad Jackson has been kept out of pre-season action with a lingering hamstring injury, and his availability for week one is still unknown. Doug Gabriel, recently acquired from the Oakland Raiders for a draft pick, has not had much time to learn the complex Patriot offensive play book. The Patriots will be relying on Troy Brown a lot more than they have in the past two seasons, and a big season is expected from Ben Watson. The Bills boast a very talented duo of cornerbacks in Nate Clements and Terrence McGee, and some of the New England wide receivers may have trouble getting open. Look for Belichick to try and create mismatches in the secondary with Ben Watson and, to a lesser extent, Daniel Graham.
|Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots runs for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills on Dec 11, 2005 (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)|
Even more than Watson and Brown, the Patriots will be relying on Tom Brady to elevate the game of those around him, as well as a more reliable running game. The New England backfield received an injection of youth and explosiveness by adding rookie running back Laurence Maroney, who, despite earlier reports from some media outlets, is healthy and good to go for this weekend's gamut. Maroney and a healthy Corey Dillon should provide the Patriots with a 1-2 punch and a much more consistent game than last season. This could be the focal point of the New England offense as the Bills defense went from a top 10 powerhouse in 2004, to a bottom 5 defense in 2005 (the Bills finished 29th in the league at stopping the run last season). This can, at least partially, be attributed to the Bills losing weak-side linebacker Takeo Spikes to an Achilles injury early last season. He has since recovered and been moved to strong-side linebacker, with Angelo Crowell keeping the weak-side job that he had last season. The Bills spent two first round picks on defense players in the draft, bringing in strong safety Donte Whitner and defensive tackle John McCargo to help replace Lawyer Milloy and Sam Adams respectively, both of whom left in free agency.
Ultimately, the Patriots have the edge on both sides of the ball. They put up 56 total points against the Bills in two games last season, and they should not have a problem moving the ball at home on Sunday. The key to stopping the Buffalo offense will be just what the Patriots did last December - take away Willis McGahee, and force JP Losman to beat them through the air. With a healthy Rodney Harrison and a deeper secondary overall, Losman will meet with as little success as he did last season.
You can find more stories about the players in the HOT NEWS section or in their player profiles. Michael Reardon is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. Comments or suggestions send us an email
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