Stopping LeSean McCoy is a priority for the Patriots on Sunday (photo source: usatoday.com)
Welcome back to Rex's world. Twice a year we get the pleasure of witnessing Rex Ryan's cockiness and humor on the podium during his press conferences leading up to the Bills-Patriots contests. The Patriots seem to be getting healthier and only need one more win to hand the reigns over to Tom Brady with a perfect 4-0 record. The following are some keys to the game the Patriots need to execute in order to ensure a win over Buffalo.
1. Set the edge: This defensive strategy will serve two purposes. First of all, to put it simply, don't let Tyrod Taylor beat you with his legs. It's doubtful Taylor will beat the Patriots pass defense in the pocket but he can be dangerous when he escapes the pocket. With 112 yards, Taylor is the 2nd leading rushing QB in the NFL, only trailing Cam Newton, but his 7.0 yards per carry is more impressive. It's likely Buffalo won't be able to sustain long drives unless Taylor can pick up a few on his own, either on the ground, or by utilizing his other strength, which is making throws on the run down the field after the original play breaks down. The Patriots secondary needs to make sure they maintain their assignments through the whistle so that Taylor isn't able to expose broken coverage down the field after the play is extended due to his mobility. Patriots defense ends need to set the edge and keep Taylor in the pocket, even it means forgoing the pass rush.
2. Be physical with McCoy: Shady McCoy not only is 10th in the league in rushing and 2nd in the league in rushing TD's but he's also a serious threat out of the backfield. The Patriots need to redirect him off the line with defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, as well as with linebacker Jamie Collins. Eliminating McCoy as an outlet to Taylor will further confuse the young quarterback, likely leading to poor decisions. Also, McCoy is more of a flashy back that works well in open space and doesn't thrive on grinding out yardage between the tackles. The more the team funnels him between the tackles and hits him with authority, the less anxious he will be to come out of the backfield with gusto.
3. Shadow Clay: Whether he was a Dolphin or a Bill, Charles Clay has always been a problem for the Patriots. With Sammy Watkins and old friend (sort of?) Greg Salas inactive for the game, Miami's receiving threats are quite limited. Look for Patrick Chung to cover Clay one on one for much of the game. Clay will be a key target for Taylor in the short and intermediate passing game on third down when Buffalo needs to drive the length of the field.
4. Mix up the coverages: If the Patriots can confuse Taylor it will force him to hold the ball and scan the field, likely leading to poor decisions. He's not the most accurate passer (61%) so disguised schemes and tight coverage will force Taylor to make pinpoint throws. Last season, the Patriots played a lot of zone vs. Taylor and he made some poor throws leading to some costly interceptions.
5. Protect the quarterback: This week only one of the keys focuses on the offense because if the team can protect Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots should have no problem putting points on the board. If Jimmy G gets knocked out of the game due to poor protection, the team will have to revert back to the college-style offense they ran against Houston and hope for their defense and special teams to keep the score low and provide field position with great execution and turnovers.
PREDICTION: Rex Ryan takes a lot of heat for his recent-poor record vs. the Patriots but most of the games have been close. Both games last season came down to the last possession and untimely Taylor turnovers were the difference in each contest. Look for Ryan to dial up schemes to shut down the Patriots' running game and confuse Garoppolo early but expect the defense to force Taylor into turnovers once again. Once again, the Bills will get the ball at the end with a chance to win but they will need a touchdown to do so. Logan Ryan will come up with the game-winning INT. Patriots 22, Buffalo 17.
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