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Tuesday, 14 October 2014

New England at Buffalo: 3 Things We Learned

The New England Patriots continued to dominate the Buffalo Bills, defeating their AFC East rival, 37-22, to take sole possession of first place in the division. Including today’s victory, the Patriots sport a 26-3 record against the Bills since Bill Belichick became head coach. Not a great start to Terry Pegula’s ownership, but the Bills did hang in for three quarters, and if not for some first-half mistakes, they could have been in the running for a win.


Here are three things we learned from this game


  1. Buffalo Isn’t Good Enough To Overcome Mistakes


The 13-7 halftime score should have given Bills fans hope. However, all the New England scoring came after Buffalo turnovers. And the way the Buffalo defense dominated the first half, the game could easily have been 7-0 or 10-0 Bills.


Buffalo came into the game tied for the league lead with a +6 turnover ratio. And their mistake-free/opportunistic formula gave them a legit 3-2 record and a share of the division lead. But against the Patriots they lost the turnover battle 3-0, dropped multiple passes, missed assignments in the secondary, and committed 8 accepted penalties for 107 yards.


The Bills are good, almost certainly the second most talented team in the AFC East. But they can’t overcome that many mistakes, especially against teams that don’t beat themselves. The good news is that if they can get back to mistake-free football, they will be contenders for a playoff spot.


  1. Patriots Offense Still Finding Its Way On The Road


Before you say it, yes, 37 points is a very good showing against any NFL team. But the offense struggled in the first half, scoring only on short-field drives after turnovers. To their credit, their halftime adjustments were excellent, and the team scored on four-of-four meaningful possessions in the last 30 minutes.


However, the offensive tackles still struggled. They got zero push in the running game (50 yards total, with a 1.9 ypc average) and gave up the edge too quickly in pass protection. This coming a week after they dominated a comparable Cincinnati front-seven at home.


The difference is crowd noise. Offensive line play is about communication and working as a unit; and when O-line has this little experience together, going with a silent count makes the job doubly difficult. On many plays in this game, you could see the Bills defenders get a better jump off the ball than the Patriots linemen.


On the plus side, improved performance in the second half indicates better in-game adjustments. And the decision to bail on six-linemen sets in favor of second (and sometimes third) tight ends paid big dividends the last two games. And of course, any offense will improve as its stars get healthy, and tight end Rob Gronkowski is rounding into form.


The line will likely struggle on the road until at least Thanksgiving, when their continuity should start to improve their cohesiveness. And the good news for the Patriots is they play only one road game between now and Thanksgiving. If receiver Brandon LaFell and tight end Tim Wright continue to improve, the offense should be clicking nicely by December.


  1. Two Dominant Tight Ends


Sunday featured two great performances by tights ends, one for each team.


The Bills Scott Chandler was their go-to receiver, catching 6 passes for 105 yards. Five of his catches went for first downs, as he repeated exploited the Patriots pass coverage weakness at linebacker. New England simply had no answer for Chandler.


The Patriots would be well advised to worry a bit more about him for the rematch in December. Nothing they did could slow him down, and sliding coverage his way could cause matchup problems with the other Bills receivers.


Patriots Tight end Rob Gronkowski looked uncoverable at times, ending the day with 7 catches for 94 yards (and one touchdown called back on a penalty). The team flanked him out wide several times, and the one-on-one matchup went in Gronkowski’s favor, whether the Bills covered him with a safety or a cornerback.


Other teams should take note, because this alignment either spreads the field laterally or causes a physical matchup problem. As for how the Bills should attack that formation when the teams meet again in December, they double Gronkowski and take their chances with the other tight ends.


But regardless of how the teams adjust for the next matchup, it was impressive to see tight ends be the center of the teams’ offenses. Both players work hard in pass protection and the running game, so it’s nice to throw them a bone once in a while.


Hope you enjoyed the game!


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