Welcome to Week Eight of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ eighth game of the 2018 season will take place on Monday Night Football as they host the Patriots. Here’s what to watch for:
BILLS’ DEFENSE TO TRY AND BOUNCE BACK
After a stellar performance against the Houston Texans which saw Buffalo rise to third in the NFL in yards allowed, sixth against the pass and eighth against the run, the Bills’ defense took a major step back against Indianapolis to the tune of 220 rushing yards ceded – 126 of them by Colts running back Marlon Mack.
It was an uncharacteristic performance, given that defenders were inconsistent in filling gaps and being late to the ball. The team also struggled to apply any sort of pressure on Andrew Luck, as he wasn’t sacked once, and also granted the Colts over 33 minutes in time of possession.
Against the Patriots this week, the Bills’ defensive braintrust likely has the right idea in order to try and stop Tom Brady and company. More often than not, the general blueprint has been to have an effective four-man pass rush and play stifling coverage behind it – especially in press-man, in order to not allow New England’s wide receivers to use their leverage against them in their vaunted option routes. The best examples of this came in three Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants (2007, ’11) and Philadelphia Eagles (2017), and in the 2015 AFC Championship Game versus the Denver Broncos.
Working against Buffalo, however, will be the team’s lack of depth on the defensive line and at cornerback. While Tre’Davious White and Jerry Hughes are consistent, their counterparts haven’t had quite the same impact. The other boundary cornerback spot has been a revolving door all season long – with a combination of Phillip Gaines, Ryan Lewis and Lafayette Pitts holding down the fort – and Trent Murphy will miss Monday night’s game with an injury, paving the way for former first round pick Shaq Lawson to start.
Will Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier make up for this lack of depth with more blitzes and zone coverage on the back end? Time will tell. What is working in Buffalo’s favor though is the presence of former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll, who worked for Bill Belichick for 11 years, so he should provide some insight for the Bills’ defensive staff into what Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could try and do.
ANDERSON SHOULD BE MORE COMFORTABLE
After throwing three interceptions last week – some maybe not all his fault – quarterback Derek Anderson should be more immersed in Daboll’s system by now. Having had more time to absorb the playbook – and having some starting experience with it – should only help Anderson get on the same page as his teammates.
Aiding Anderson should be the return of running back LeSean McCoy from injury. However, McCoy’s effectiveness is in question, as he’s eclipsed 70 yards rushing just twice this year, and he is running behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines.
Daboll might try and utilize McCoy in the passing game more this week, as New England ranks just 27th in that area. Shifting him and the rest of Buffalo’s receivers and putting them in motion to create alignments and matchups in their favor is a trait he learned from his Patriot days, and he could do that more often on Monday night.
PATRIOTS TO ATTACK THE BILLS IN ATYPICAL WAY
Tom Brady has played in a bunch of different types of offenses in his career. From a power running team featuring Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon in his early years, to a spread, pass-happy team with Randy Moss and Wes Welker, to an offense revolving around Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady has seen and done it all with fantastic results.
While their passing game is built around concepts – check out Chris B. Brown’s excellent piece about it here (http://grantland.com/features/how-terminology-erhardt-perkins-system-helped-maintain-dominance-tom-brady-patriots/) – recently it has become one that has had a good mix of vertical and horizontal plays. Slot receiver extraordinaire Julian Edelman – almost a clone of Welker in every way – is still as quick and shifty as ever (as is running back James White) and Josh Gordon and former Bill Chris Hogan are very good in the intermediate and deep parts of the passing game.
All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski – by all accounts the league’s best at his position – will likely return from injury as well. He can do it all – blocking included – and can run almost any route and catch any ball that Brady throws to him.
The good news for Buffalo is that both of the Patriots’ offensive tackles – Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon – have been in and out of their lineup with a myriad of ailments, so perhaps the Bills can find a way to exploit that.
NEW ENGLAND’S DEFENSE NO LONGER MULTIFACETED
Early in Belichick’s tenure in New England, his defenses were versatile and unpredictable, with intelligent veterans on that side of the ball. But for nearly a decade, it has done a complete about-face.
According to the MMQB’s Andy Benoit, “(Belichick’s) Patriots were known for being a certain defense one week and a totally different defense the next. They could run any coverage, play out of any structure – be it 4-3, 3-4 or a blend – and disguise pressures and post-snap rotations like none other.
“Belichick’s defense is, and has been for roughly 10 years, a simple bend-but-don’t-break unit….. They play a lot of straight man coverage, often with one safety deep and the other robbing over the middle. They blitz rarely….. Their defensive line does little stunting and slanting after the snap, and even presnap disguises can be few and far between. When the Patriots do get aggressive is usually when the offense approaches scoring range. That’s the ‘don’t break’ part.”
Heady veterans Patrick Chung, Devin and Jason McCourty and former Bill Stephon Gilmore hold down the fort on the back end, while Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts will be the starting linebackers (Don’t’a Hightower has been dealing with a knee injury and may not suit up). Trey Flowers is their only proven pass rusher, and Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Adrian Clayborn make up the rest of their front four.
THIS AND THAT
- This will be the first time the Bills have hosted a Monday Night Football game since November 2008, when the Cleveland Browns beat Buffalo 29-27.
- Tonight’s game will be the 45-year anniversary of the Bills’ first game on a Monday night, which came on October 29, 1973 when Buffalo defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 23-14.
- The Bills haven’t won at home on Monday Night Football since September 26, 1994 – a 27-20 victory over John Elway and the Broncos.
- Belichick’s career record against the Buffalo Bills as the Patriots’ coach is 31-5 – with two of those losses being in Orchard Park (2003, ’11).
- Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas will have his number 34 retired at halftime – joining former teammates and fellow Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith as the only Bills players who have had the honor bestowed upon them.