The Patriots will travel to Buffalo this Sunday as they open up AFC East division play against the 2-1 Bills, winners of consecutive games.
Head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia each chimed in on Buffalo during their Tuesday conference calls.
Belichick began by offering an overview of their personnel.
“They move the ball well, they score a lot of points, they gain a lot of yards. Defensively they’re very disruptive up front. They have a lot of good corners and coverage players and they play quite a few of them in the game, sometimes as many as seven defensive backs, but frequently five or six so they have a lot of those players,” he said. “High draft picks, good athletes, that type of thing. Of course, the addition of their ends, [Mario] Williams and Mark Anderson going with [Chris] Kelsay is a good group up front. Of course, their inside players are very disruptive. They’ve bumped [Alex] Carrington inside, along with [Marcell] Dareus and Kyle Williams, so that’s tough. Those guys really do a good job. Of course, they’re strong in the kicking game. Good specialists with [Rian] Lindell, [Brian] Moorman and of course [Leodis] McKelvin is a guy similar to Patrick Peterson – big, strong, fast, athletic player that when he gets the ball in his hands can do a lot of damage.”
He also believes that Buffalo, led by head coach Chan Gailey, is a well-prepared team.
“I think that Chan [Gailey], as usual, does a real good job with this football team. They’re well prepared, they’re tough, they’re hardnosed,” Belichick said. “They’re an explosive team, both running the ball and throwing it offensively, they can sack the quarterback, stop the run and play good pass defense as well. [Special Teams Coordinator] Bruce [DeHaven] has done a real good job with the kicking game and [Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator] Dave [Wannstedt] and [Secondary Coach] George [Catavolos] and those guys on defense always do a good job, they play good sound defense and they make you earn it.”
From an offensive perspective, the Patriots will have to be ready to block defensive end Mario Williams, who inked a lucrative free agent deal with Buffalo this offseason after spending the first six seasons of his career in Houston. He, along with former Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson, bookend what has become, according to Belichick, a defense that mostly relies upon a four man front.
“I’d say that’s pretty much the way it was by the end of the year last year,” he said of the defense playing a four-man line. “I think they sort of transitioned there somewhere around the middle of the season. We played them real early and then real late. The way they’re playing now is pretty similar to the way they played at the end of the year last year. I’m sure acquiring those two players probably really solidified it for them but they’re pretty much an exclusive four-man front, other than some situational calls and all that but there’s a lot of four-man line.”
McDaniels says that the Bills’ pressure up front and tight coverage in the secondary are two challenges his offense will face this week.
“They’re an aggressive team up front. They don’t have to blitz you to create pressure, which I think is always something that defensively that’s a big plus and something we have to do a good job of taking care of,” he continued. “They’ve got a really good front four and they rotate some guys in there that play behind the starting group so that they keep them fresh. They get a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They play a lot of tight coverage in the secondary and that going hand-in-hand with the pressure they create on the quarterback presents problems.”
It appears unlikely that the Patriots will face running back C.J. Spiller, as he left Buffalo’s Week 3 game with a shoulder injury. That would present a major break for New England, as Spiller leads all NFL players with an astronomical 9.3 yards per carry average.
But Patricia warns that the Bills have strong depth at the position, including veteran runner Fred Jackson, who may return to the lineup after suffering a knee injury in the season opener.
“What’s been amazing is that Fred Jackson is a tremendous player for them, a very multiple player. With him being out there for a little bit, Spiller stepped in and kind of took over the role. I think what they’ve done there is have an attitude in their backfield where one guy can come in and replace the next and they have still been very productive,” he said. “Spiller obviously is a very, very fast player, quick, explosive. He and Jackson and put Johnny White in that category and [Tashard] Choice also. Those are guys that come right in and do a good job filling in the offense. Obviously Spiller has had some great yardage here in the past couple weeks. Like I said earlier, both of those guys are players – Spiller and Jackson – that they get the ball to in the run game but also in the pass game and that the complexity of what they do really amplifies with those two players.”
Perhaps no player is more important to the Buffalo offense than quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a player Belichick echoed praise for.
“He’s athletic, he can scramble, he has good command of the offense, obviously a smart player and very well schooled by Chan [Gailey] and his staff,” he said. “He does a good job at the line of scrimmage recognizing defenses, he can change plays, make adjustments, that kind of thing. He does a good job of getting the ball to his playmakers, which is a pretty long list. … He does a good job of using everybody, getting the ball out quick, attacking down the field, managing the game, handling different looks up front, changing plays, all those kind of things. He has good quickness and the ability to avoid people in the pocket.”