Tyrod Taylor (5) and the Bills pay the Patriots a visit in Week 4. Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
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As we get closer to kickoff between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in Week 4, let’s scout the opponent a bit.
Here are four things Patriots fans should know about divisional rival Buffalo entering Sunday’s home game:
4. The Bills are throwing the ball worse than any other team
Tyrod Taylor and the Bills rank dead last in the NFL having produced just 491 net passing yards through Week 3. That’s an eyesore if there ever was one, and the team’s Week 3 upset of the Arizona Cardinals didn’t entirely bandage it.
Marquise Goodwin is currently the offense’s leading receiver with 118 yards, but when you realize that 84 of those yards came via an 84-yard bomb in Week 2, it really paints a picture of the Bills’ struggles throwing the ball. Furthermore, Sammy Watkins has just six catches for 63 yards, and although Robert Woods leads the team with 11 receptions, he’s converted that into just 81 yards.
For a Patriots secondary that just shut down DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the work gets a bit easier in Week 4 against the Buffalo aerial attack. But you can never sleep on a divisional opponent, so the Patriots’ pass defense will have to stay sharp.
What the Bills lack through the air, however, they make up for running the ball…
LeSean McCoy (25) will look to have another big game running against the Patriots. Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
3. The Bills have an effective ground game
Piloted by LeSean McCoy and his 227 rushing yards, the Bills boast one of the league’s most efficient ground games. The unit ranks fifth in the NFL with an average of 4.8 yards per carry, and it was McCoy’s 110-yard effort on Sunday that lifted the Bills past the Cardinals.
This is where the Bills could make this game interesting. Establishing the run early against the Patriots would allow Taylor to utilize the play-action fake throughout the afternoon, as well as bust outside on bootlegs.
Bill Belichick spoke at length this week about the threat of McCoy, so it’s clear that the Patriots are going to make stopping the elusive running back their top priority on Sunday. The Bills’ offense pretty much runs exclusively through McCoy, whether he’s running or catching the ball.
Jerry Hughes (55) and the Bills will look to pressure the Patriots quarterback. Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
2. Pass rush is heating up
Rex Ryan’s pass rushing unit is looking much better already in his second season as the Buffalo head coach. The Bills are currently tied for fifth in the NFL with 10 sacks up to this point, with Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes leading the charge with three quarterback takedowns apiece.
As we all know, Ryan has demonstrated success blitzing against Tom Brady. Without Brady on the field, Patriots fans can be legitimately worried about a non-Brady quarterback standing up against Ryan’s dizzying blitz packages. In fact, the most direct path to victory for the Bills is through putting intense constant pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett, whoever is up to the task of starting in Week 4.
Regular pressure on Garoppolo or Brissett will only mean good things for the rest of the Bills’ defense, including a secondary that had a big day against the Cardinals. Speaking of the secondary…
Ronald Darby (28) of the Bills. Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
1. The Bills have an active secondary
Active, because they rank fifth in the NFL with 17 passes defended. Starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby have been instrumental in producing that ranking with five passes defended each; Gilmore went above and beyond last week by reeling in a pair of interceptions.
All this really means for Garoppolo or Brissett is that they have to be decisive and confident with where they place the ball. Gilmore and Darby are two of the better cornerbacks in the league, but neither of them can keep pace with Julian Edelman, and you can also bet that former Bills wideout Chris Hogan will be looking for a big stat line against his old teammates.