The course of an NFL season can be altered in as little as one play, one bounce, or one twist of fate. For a total of 3 plays last Sunday, it looked as if fate had intervened on behalf of the Lions. Play #1, saw a freakishly bad pass deflect off of Watson then Prioleau finally ending its anabasis in the waiting arms of Az-Hakim to tie the game at 7. Play #2 occurred on the ensuing kickoff, when a gust of air stopped the kickoff mid flight, causing Rodgers to muff it, and giving the Lions back the ball from the Bills 20, and eventually the lead at 7-14. Play #3 saw Travis Henry take a helmet in the mouth in the closing minute of the contest with the Bills trying to kill the clock, ball hit the carpet and the Lions were in business with the Ball at the Bills 20 and trailing by 7. As a fan of this team I’ve seen fate intervene like this before. However, the Bills found a way to overcome fate. What we all saw happen in the closing 2 minutes of that game was significant. We saw the Bills learn how to win dirty. This upcoming weekend we will see the NE Patriots stroll into the Ralph. With the possibility of the Bills gaining possession of 1st place in the AFC East heading into the bye and if the weather turns out as nasty as it sounds it will be, we’ll get to see just how well the Bills learned that lessen last week. Drew Bledsoe vs Tom Brady; Pats vs Bills; isn’t it great to be a Bills fan?
This weekly review will follow the structure of the previous reviews, with a look at the match-ups, and a prediction on the score. For the gamblers, you have my apologies, as the Bills tied the point spread last week, making Vegas happy but no one else and to add insult to injury the Bills failed to cover the over-under. These two events have brought my predictive record down further into mediocrity, as I’m now hovering at .500 (4-4) at predicting the point spread winners, and have now dropped two straight over-under predictions bringing my record to 6-2. The silver lining in last week was that I’m now a stellar 7-1 at predicting game winners.
When the Bills have the ball and are…
Running: This weekend should see the return of Big Mike Williams (BMW) to the Bills starting OL. With Marcus Price filling in admirably the Bills ran the ball effectively in his absence, and they should continue their success on the ground on Sunday against a very week and slow and an over pursuing NE front seven. The biggest factor in this upcoming game will be the weather, because as of today (Wednesday) the weather looks like it may be bordering on nasty on Sunday, with gusting winds and snow. If this comes to pass, look for the ground game to be a big key, as Gilbride will turn to it early and often. Considering that NE has one of the weakest run stopping D’s in the NFL (they have now allowed 5 consecutive 100yard rushing performances), this should be an area the Bills succeed in regardless of weather.
Passing: The Bills passing attack righted itself against the Detroit Lions last Sunday, as the shredded the Lions to he tune of 300+ yards through the air. Drew had time in the pocket, and caught the Lions cheating several times on the blitz. This is a developing trend for the Bills, as it has become apparent in recent weeks that Drew has been often audibling out of called runs at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of a look the D has been giving him. Three times last week he saw a safety cheat up, and checked to a pass, finding a Bills receiver open deep on every play (one he over threw to Moulds, another bounced off Price’s hands, and a third was complete to Moulds for 40+yards).
That alertness will be needed this week against the Pats as they like to give opposing QBs multiple looks, sometimes sending three safeties onto the field, sometimes sending 4 or 5 LB or showing a rare 5-2 with 6 DBs on the field (2 disguised as LB). In all the Pats rarely blitz more than one (5 men sent) man, and just jump around (faking blitzes) and shift a lot in the secondary. Unless B.Belichick has found a flaw in Drew's protection, expect the Pats to blitz rarely and send very few men (sometimes only 2), perhaps playing a style close to the game plan they showed the Rams in the Super Bowl, as they will try to make the Bills beat them with Travis Henry. Belichick tends to be a dynamic yet conservative thinker, and he’ll try to force the Bills to earn every yard and force them to have to string together a lot of plays in order to score.
When the Patriots have the ball and are…
Running: The Bills running defense has apparently turned the corner over the last few weeks. The biggest reasons for the turnaround are that the two DTs are making plays and London Fletcher seems to finally be adjusting to the defensive scheme, as in the last two weeks he has been swarming around the ball. The run D will be put to the test this weekend if the weather forecast holds, as Brady will struggle in he winds of the Ralph. As a result the Pats will try to get A.Smith going.
If you were going to point to the reason for the Pats offensive woes, it has been their lack of dedication to and success in their running game. Part of the failure of the Pats running game has been that the offensive line has been horrendous this year. The other part is that the Pats seem too enamored with Brady to make use of the “less-than flashy” Smith. Expect the Bill DL to make mincemeat of the mediocre Pats O-line, forcing Brady to throw.
Passing: The Bills pass D has eaten up two fairly poor passing attacks in the last two weeks. Watson is showing us why we got rid of Ken Irvin, as he has started for the injured A. Winfield in recent weeks, and has performed admirably. It seems clear his struggle this year had to do with his job in the Bills nickel defense. Now that he is filling in for Winfield he seems more relaxed, and has been making numerous good plays on the ball. Clements and the Safeties have done a remarkable job over the last 10 quarters, as the Bills coverage unit has been doing a great job blanketing to field. On a side note, I’ll admit that I was surprised to see the Bills passing D ranked 16th in the league this year, as it always seemed to me that the unit has been giving up an awful lot through the air.
You can say many things about the Pats this year; but that they have a poor passing attack is not one of them. Any team which tears up the passing Ds of the Steelers(29th), the Chiefs(32nd) and the Jets(27th) have to be good… right? Ok, so Brady schooled three of the worst ranked passing defenses in the NFL. His performance against the better passing defense has been atrocious, as he has proven to the league that he is only dangerous when the weather is perfect, and the passing attack sticks to his bread and butter play, the 10 yard slant. Take that play away, and Brady’s second rate arm shows its inaccuracy as he struggles with a variety of throws such as the “out,” “fade” and “go.” When the slant is covered Brady becomes indecisive, and holds the ball for a very long time, as he feels the pressure poorly when confused. It is when he is indecisive that he starts tossing up INTs and taking sacks. That said it will be a great challenge for he Bills pass defense, and barring some insane blizzard like weather, the Bills pass D will be where we win or loose this game.
It might be a little bit early to say this but, “could the Bills be this year’s Pats?” With a win on Sunday, I know I’ll be dwelling on that question a little bit more. The Bills are now on a three game winning streak, and have the chance to go into the bye with a hold on first place in the AFC East. The Patriots are now losers of 4 straight, and are now doubting themselves. With the weather looking poor, the Pats porous run defense and slow cornerbacks, and our BMW lining up again; it looks as if the Pats will drop their 5th straight to the Bills on Sunday 27-20.