By Tanya Fox, Contributor.
The Patriots meet another 2-0 AFC East team this week when they head to Buffalo to take on the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium this Sunday. If there were ever a game that is a lock, this is it. The Patriots have not lost to the Bills since September 7, 2003, when they were shellacked 31-0 in Week 1 of the season. As you may recall, they went on to win the Super Bowl that year and the Bills continue to slip slowly yet deeply into obscurity and irrelevancy.
It would be easy to sit here and say something to the effect that this Bills team is different, with a healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, dynamic if unpredictable wide receiver Stevie Johnson and the reliable running game of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. I could reminisce on the incredible comeback they had last week against the Raiders in which they scored five times in the second half to overcome a 21-3 halftime deficit, topping it off with a perfectly executed 4th and 1 touchdown pass to David Nelson.
I could definitely point out that their rush defense hasn't looked too shabby either. They held the explosive Darren McFadden to just 72 rushing yards last week, and kept Jamaal Charles to 54 yards the week before in their thrashing of the Kansas City Chiefs. Keeping two of the NFL's elite rushers to 126 combined yards is pretty good, especially for a team that hasn't had a .500 season since 2004, and last saw the playoffs in 1999. Things have been rough for the Bills, and the future is finally looking a little bright for them.
All of that is a great sign for the future of the Buffalo offense, now that they have begun to build a core that can have longevity and grow in a system. Despite all of this, they are going to lose to the Patriots in Week 3. Tom Brady is 17-1 against the Bills in his career, with the Patriots outscoring them 500-228 in those games. He's offensively on fire, continuing the regular season dominance that made him last year's unanimous league MVP. In his two best statistical years, 2007 and 2010, he put up 94 point and 72 points respectively on the Buffalo Bills in their two usual regular season meetings.
Defensively, the Patriots still have their work cut out for them. As do the Bills. The Bills defense against the rush will help them force Brady to go through the air, but is that really even an advantage for them at this point? The Buffalo secondary can't win won matchup with any of the Patriots receivers, let alone try to matchup with the massive Rob Gronkowski. The offense will obviously be working around the injury to Aaron Hernandez that will keep him out of the game this week, but even without the glorious two tight-end sets, an offense with Tom Brady at the helm is truly always at an advantage.
With that said, here are a couple things to watch in this weeks' game against the Bills.
Who Brady looks to in the red zone without Hernandez
Although Gronkowski is the more targeted end zone player, Hernandez already has two touchdowns on 14 receptions and 165 yards in 2011. The kind of coverage that those two demand when they are on the field together almost always opens things up for a receiver, which is part of the reason why Wes Welker and Deion Branch have had the chance to be so impactful so far this season. History tells us that Brady will always find other targets if one is taken away, so who will it be this week?
My money is on Danny Woodhead having a big day. They'll have him on the field a lot, because the Bills have the ability to stop BenJarvus Green-Ellis as mostly first and second down rusher. Woodhead can fit in to a variety of looks from screens to play action, especially if Brady continues to work in the no-huddle as much as he has been.
The Patriots secondary
This has surprisingly been the weak link so far in the defense, and it looks like they may in some more trouble this week with the questionable status of Pat Chung. Chung had surgery on thumb earlier in the week, and has not been practicing. There are already depth issues at safety and Chung who has 14 tackles and a sack this year will absolutely be missed if he can't play. Last year's rookie sensation Devin McCourty has had a little bit of a sophomore slump so far this year, but has also shown a lot of good decision making and read his coverage well against great offenses like San Diego last week.
McCourty and Leigh Bodden have still not played to their potential, and somewhere along the line they are going to need to step up for their defense to continue growing and being more successful. If they can get themselves into the turnover battle, the Patriots have a chance to again have the best turnover ratio in the league. Stevie Johnson is no slob either, so he can certainly be a helpful test for these guys this Sunday.
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