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From the Booth: Patriots at Bills

Posted Oct 2, 2012

It doesn’t take long to identify the Bills biggest problem in their blowout loss to the Patriots Sunday—the run defense.

After showing signs of improvement in the first three games, the Bills run defense got steamrolled by New England, to the tune of 247 yards on the ground.  They sunk back to the form of their rush defense form of 2011, when they were fifth worst in the league, giving up 139-yards per game on the ground.

We’ve got some thoughts on the Buffalo run defense and other issues in this week’s installment of “From the Booth”

  • The Bills were unable to stop New England’s ground game when they put their nickel defense on the field, which was most of the game.  In an effort to handle Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Wes Welker, Buffalo played with their smaller defense which included undersized linebacker Bryan Scott and nickel CB Justin Rogers.

    So what did the Patriots do?  They ran the ball.

    “They had some little guys on the field with our big personnel groupings, so at that point you have to try and take advantage of it,” Tom Brady said.  “You can’t just keep throwing into a heavy pass defense, so we ran it.”

    Pretty simple--especially when New England can use Pro Bowl Tight End Rob Gronkowski as an extra blocker.  As good as Gronkowski is downfield as a receiver, he looks just as solid as an extra blocker in the run game.

    Early on, the Patriots used “12” personnel with Gronkowski on the field with the other tight end, Daniel Fells.  The Bills kept their smaller nickel defenders on the field, and in fact, had trouble making substitutions when the Patriots shifted into no-huddle mode.  It turned into a mismatch on the ground.
  • As far as solutions for the mismatch, the Bills say they tried to walk one of their safeties down towards the line of scrimmage, to get 8-men in the box to handle the running game. The problem with that, of course, is that it exposes the back end of the defense to potential Tom Brady aerial assaults.  And without much of a pass rush from the front four, the Bills would be vulnerable to quick strikes from the Patriots offense.  It would seem the key for the Bills would be to generate consistent pass rush from the front four so they’re better equipped to load up against the run when they need to.
  • It looked like a mixed bag of production from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick Sunday.  He had his misfires, but his two touchdown passes to Scott Chandler were things of beauty.

    Fitz spotted one-on-one coverage on Chandler on the first one, after the TE lined up in a bunch formation on the right side, and the Bills looked like they were going to throw another WR screen.  Instead, Chandler streaked down the sideline getting past Safety Patrick Chung.  Fitzpatrick’s pass was perfectly thrown, high enough to avoid Chung, and just low enough for Chandler to reach up and bring it down.  It was one of the best catches Chandler has made in his Buffalo tenure.

    On the second Chandler touchdown, Fitzpatrick and the tight end both took advantage of New England’s cover-two look and split the safeties with a perfectly thrown pass.  Fitzpatrick did a great job scanning the field before delivering the pass, holding up the safeties for just a half-second.
  • Wide Receiver Donald Jones demonstrated his unique combination of size, strength, and speed on his 68-yard touchdown play in the second quarter.  Jones was strong enough to avoid a jam from Patriots CB Kyle Arrington at the line of scrimmage, and then slanted over the middle.  Once he caught the pass, Jones put on a speed show, blowing past Chung, and turning around the other safety, Steve Gregory, once he got into the open field.  It was the type of play that makes it clear that Jones has a role to play as a complementary receiver opposite Stevie Johnson.
  • Rookie CB Stephon Gilmore may have had his best game of the four he’s played so far.  He had a near interception in the first  quarter, and another nice breakup early in the third quarter.  He had a chance to make a game-changing interception early in the fourth quarter, when Tom Brady tried to hit Gronkowski in the end zone.  The next play, Patriots RB Steven Ridley ran it in from two yards out for a 35-21 New England lead, and the rout was on.
  • The road ahead will not be easy for the Bills, with four of their next five games away from home.  Three of those opponents made the playoffs last year (San Francisco, Houston and New England).  Two of those opponents are unbeaten so far this year (Arizona and Houston).  The winning percentage for the Bills next five opponents is .700 (14-wins  6 losses).