Though the matchup between the Bills’ offense and the Patriots’ defense won’t be pretty, when the 11th-ranked defense in the league steps on the field to take on Tom Brady and the 9th-ranked Pats offense, we can actually expect a high level of football on New Era Field Monday. Who will have the advantage? Let’s give it a look:
New England’s offense is ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing yards, led by rookie running back Sony Michel. The former Georgia Bulldog has 422 rushing yards and four TDs on the year and is becoming a consistent complement to Tom Brady and the passing attack. He suffered an injury in his last game but has a chance to play against Buffalo. If so, he’ll be sharing the backfield with James White, who is more of a threat in the passing game than running the ball.
#Patriots RB James White's Red Zone Touches
1st downs 0
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) October 26, 2018
The real key to the Patriots’ success on the ground is the offensive line play. Led by Shaq Mason, Pro Football Focus’s best guard in the league this year with a 79.5 overall grade, this unit is paving the way for Michel and White, allowing Brady to operate a well balanced offense.
— PFF (@PFF) October 21, 2018
After being gashed out by the Colts’ rushing attack, the Bills’ defense will need to step up their game if they want to contain Brady and the Patriots. To do so, they’ll need to shut down the running game, making New England’s offense one dimensional. Star Lotulelei, Kyle Williams, Harrison Phillips, and Jordan Phillips will have important roles in doing so. Their success against the Patriots’ interior OL will determine the Bills’ chances on this side of the ball.
"They weren’t really runs that we haven’t seen, we just didn’t defend them as well as we’re capable of."
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) October 24, 2018
With Josh McDaniels spreading the field and having so many weapons on the passing game, the Bills’ defense will need to play well versus the run out of their nickel and big nickel packages. Rookie nickel CB Taron Johnson is doing an impressive job in this department so far and should help. Anyway, Buffalo’s defense will be so concerned about stopping Brady and his weapons in the passing game that it makes it tough to believe they’ll be able to stop Michel and the running game.
Here’s the true strength of the Patriots’ offense. Tom Brady leads the 13th-ranked passing offense in the NFL and has amassed 1876 passing yards, 16 TDs and just 7 INTs on the season. According to PFF, he leads the league with seven touchdowns under pressure and is ranked eighth with a passer rating under pressure of 82.9. Jerry Hughes will lead Buffalo’s pass rush with his league-best 90.2 PFF pass rush grade. He has 36 total pressures on the season so far, trailing just Kansas City’s Dee Ford, who has 37. Hughes is the Bills’ best hope of pressure on Brady, but even if he finds success against the good Patriots OL, Brady is more than capable to do his job under duress.
The Patriots’ QB should have the help of his star TE, Rob Gronkowski, who is coming back from an injury. Another major weapon since being acquired via trade from the Cleveland Browns, Josh Gordon will look to continue to grow in his new team’s offense. He is already the Patriots’ highest-graded WR, according to PFF, and is gaining 2.24 yards per route run, good for 17th in the league. Tre’Davious White should be tasked to follow him outside, and this will be a fun matchup to watch. White is allowing just 0.56 yards per coverage snap and already found success this season matching up against top competition, like Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins.
.@TreWhite16 has been 🔒⬇️, he ranks 2nd through the first 7 weeks of 2018 in coverage snaps per reception. He's only allowed 12 receptions on 264 coverage snaps which is 1 reception every 22.0 snaps. #BillsMafia #GoBills
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) October 26, 2018
Nickel CB Taron Johnson will draw a difficult matchup, taking on Julian Edelman in the slot. Phillip Gaines should face Phillip Dorsett most of the night. At the end of the day, the biggest challenge for Buffalo will be the linebackers and safeties trying to contain Gronk and White in the passing game. New England can hurt you in so many ways, the Bills’ secondary will have their hands full all game long.
Denzel Ward continues to impress at cornerback for the Browns, but where does he rank currently in our Race for Rookie of the Year?
⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ https://t.co/BWJeE5EDZu
— PFF (@PFF) October 24, 2018
The Bills’ defense, when playing at its best, has the pieces to slow down any offense in the league. The problem is a lack of consistency, especially with little to no help from the offense. If forced to stay on the field for long stretches, Brady and OC Josh McDaniels will find ways to move the ball and put points on the board. It’ll be a difficult game for the Bills’ defense, one they’ll have to be almost perfect in to give the team a chance to win.