Much has changed for the New England Patriots since their 40-32 victory over the Buffalo Bills in the second week of the season. The one thing that remains the same is the Patriots record is still unblemished on the season. Will that record continue to be unscathed come late Monday night or early Tuesday morning?
The Patriots will come Monday Night Football on ESPN having won their previous nine regular season games. The tilt is at home in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. The Buffalo Bills however will be looking to be an unfriendly foe. It’s Bills week so that mean Rex Ryan and his ever so large mouth are coming to town. What does that mean for the Patriots? This is not a walk in the park as the Bills are winners in two straight games and are looking to close the gap in the AFC East. The Patriots have had a rash of hurtful injuries in the last two weeks as Dion Lewis was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL and Julian Edelman is most likely out until the Playoffs after breaking a bone in his foot.
The loss of these two play makers will be felt, against the Bills in week two they combined for 235 yards and three scores on the day. The Patriots need to figure a way to replace what they lost. For Lewis one can look no further than James White. White caught one pass last week for five yards, the pass however was an important first down conversion on a scoring drive. The game plan against the Giants called for more LeGarrette Blount and pounding the rock, than spreading the ball around and passing. Part of the plan was due to the injuries on the offensive line, more on that later, and part was due to the Edelman injury. The last time these two teams faced each other the Patriots all but abandoned the running game. If they do the same thing Monday night, odds are we will not see Blount as much. White might not have the same jitterbug moves as Lewis, but his pass protection was key against the Giants and he can catch the ball if need be. It is up to Josh McDaniels to use plays that will play to the stregnthof White and allow him to get into the flow of the game.
Replacing Edelman is another story. While most casual observers will look at Danny Amendola as the obvious choice there are more differences than similarities in their games. Edelman plays a combination of an outside receiver of the line, the “Z” receiver and the slot. Amendola is at his best strictly in the slot. The Patriots should use a combination of Amendola and Keshawn Martin presuming he is healthy. Martin is interesting, before his injury he was starting to get a big look in the offense. He has been out the past four weeks with a hamstring injury. Tom Brady mentioned Martin on his weekly interview on WEEI. Another receiver who could be looked upon is Aaron Dobson. Dobson had his best game of the season against the Bills with seven catches for 87 yards.
The Patriots will need tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler to step up. Gronkowski is almost a given, but without Edelman there will be more attention focused on the big tight end. This could help Chandler have a breakout game. Brandon LaFell has been coming on lately and he is now the leader for the Patriots as an outside receiver. Expect James White to have a real breakout game as a check down receiver in this game. The Patriots need to put the ball into the hands of players that can make plays.
The Patriots defense will face a Bills offense that ranks second in the running game. The Pats defense ranks second in rushing yards against. Something is bound to give. For the Patriots they will be without Jamie Collins for a third straight week. Against the Bills vaunted running game it will be up to the strong Patriots rotation at defensive tackle to stop Shady McCoy and rookie Karlos Williams. New England will need Chandler Jones to continue his dominate defensive play. He will be counted on to hold the edge and funnel the Bills running backs back inside to the waiting arms of the Pats interior front.
When the Bills throw the ball the Patriots have shown the ability to get after the quarterback. In coverage Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have really stepped up their game. The Pats will be without third corner Justin Coleman. Expect the Patriots to go with a big nickle (three safeties) to cover the Bills. Patrick Chung has done a fine job covering the slot receiver (TY Hilton vs Colts) and running back (Shane Vereen vs Giants) Chung has the ability to play down in the box as a linebacker in some situations. With defensive backs, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Jordan Richards all having the ability to play safety or corner the Pats look to be ok against the pass.
The Patriots should improve to 10-0 with a tight contest against the Bills. Last weeks win vs the Giants was the type of victory that champions are made of, the Pats need to continue their run with a win against the Bills. With a victory against the Bills the Patriots will all but seal up the AFC East.