Five storylines to watch for

Seymour-less defense in spotlight

September 13, 2009, 7:27 PM

By: Mike Reiss

The Patriots have won 11 straight games over the Bills and 16 of the past 17. When analyzing tonight's season opener, here are five X's and O's storylines of note:

  • Richard Seymour fallout creates unexpected individual matchup. Eight-year veteran Jarvis Green is the likely replacement for Richard Seymour at right defensive end -- whether in the 3-4 alignment or the 4-3. Meanwhile, Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell is expected to be making his first career NFL start after Buffalo released Langston Walker. At times, Bell and Green will be locked up against each other, creating an individual matchup that few could have seen coming just a few weeks ago. In addition to Green, the Patriots have five-year veteran Mike Wright and rookie Ron Brace as options at end.
  • The Patriots' defensive front -- 3-4 or 4-3? The Patriots pride themselves on being a multiple defense, with the ability to play a 3-4 or 4-3 at any time. They played more 4-3 in the preseason, but they have good reason to consider playing the 3-4 tonight. The Bills were 1-8 last season against teams that played the 3-4, while they were 6-1 against the 4-3. One of the benefits of playing the 3-4 is that defenses can better disguise where the fourth rusher is coming from, which can challenge a young offensive line like the Bills' unit.
  • Terrell Owens factor could dictate defensive shift. The Patriots' defensive approach against the Bills has been straightforward in recent years: make sure there is help over the top against receiver Lee Evans, create a sturdy six- or seven-man box to hold up against Marshawn Lynch and the running game, and force the other skill position players to make plays. The Bills hadn't found consistent success against the approach. Now, with Terrell Owens on the opposite side, the Patriots might have to rethink their strategy.
  • Protection on the offensive edges. The Patriots ran 62 percent of their offensive plays last season in either a three- or four-receiver grouping, which puts duress on the offensive line to hold up in more one-on-one matchups, especially on the edges with tackles Matt Light (left) and Nick Kaczur (right). The Bills have traditionally had some success pressuring the edges against the Patriots; end Aaron Schobel has more sacks against Tom Brady (11 in 14 games) than any player in the NFL.
  • Special teams coverage and field position. New England special teams standout Matthew Slater is out with a left arm injury, which affects the team's coverage units and is likely to factor in to some of the final personnel decisions on the 45-man roster. The Bobby April-coached Bills special teams units are one of Buffalo's best weapons, which makes the strong leg of Stephen Gostkowski (17 touchbacks, tied for sixth in the NFL last season) and the directional punting of Chris Hanson a key factor in the game.

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