But let's take a closer at what the Patriots will be up against this weekend when Buffalo travels to Gillette Stadium.
Offensively, the Bills have a talented herd of running backs but little else. Marshawn Lynch figures to get starting-type carries, and he's a bowling ball of a runner who is tough to tackle and has a mix of speed to go with his strength.
Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller are more dangerous running to the outside of the tackles and also in the passing game, where they can be deadly in dump-offs and screens. At this point, it's tough to get a great gauge on each players' role, but it seems unlikely that Spiller will get many carries, and when he does, he's not as good up the middle. The Patriots know Spiller will try to get to the outside to use his speed, and that type of predictability is something the rookie will have to overcome.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is making his first start of the season, isn’t exactly a world beater down the field, so the Patriots need to make sure they limit Buffalo's running back production. The Pats did a great job of that against the Bengals, but they wore down in the second half against the Jets, which was a major reason for New York's offensive success. If the Pats can succeed in this area, Fitzpatrick won't have much of a chance to do much damage.
Buffalo's offensive line is still very much beatable, too. Veteran right tackle Cornell Green is the only new face to the unit that allowed 46 sacks last year and is already on pace to give up 56 this season. New England got to Fitzpatrick four times in one meeting in 2009, and they'll be hungry to hit him again this weekend.
Defensively, the Bills switch between a 3-4 and a 4-3, which makes them a little more difficult to prepare against. They've got 4-3 personnel and a 3-4 coaching staff, which makes them a little more schizophrenic. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who will play the nose in 3-4 schemes, has drawn a lot of attention from the Patriots' locker room, and they're also looking at defensive end Marcus Stroud up front.
The Bills aren’t a blitz-heavy team, as it sounds like they'd prefer to try to match up man for man and try to win those individual battles. The front-seven isn’t a fast group, either — although, they've been called strong — with 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin as their only real speed rusher. Maybin, though, has had his problems getting to the quarterback.
Buffalo's defensive talent is in its secondary. They ranked second in passing defense in 2009, despite their 19th-ranked overall defense. The Bills start cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence, and sub in Leodis McKelvin and Reggie Corner. The Bills' starting safeties — Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd — are ambitious ball hawks, and Pats wideout Wes Welker went as far as to say Byrd is like a wide receiver out there. Buffalo will also play some big-nickel sets, very similarly to the Patriots, so the Pats are expecting to see a lot of packages with five defensive backs Sunday.
Therefore, the Patriots are going to need to establish a running game, or at least a multifaceted short passing attack, to offset the Bills' talented secondary. With inside linebacker Paul Posluszny expected to miss the game with a knee injury, the Patriots should have a lot of success if they can get into the second layer of Buffalo's defense.
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