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Patriots Scouting Report - Week 17

Posted Dec 27, 2013

The Patriots can chalk up a lot of their wins to being one of the best 4th quarter teams in the NFL.

Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Jerry Hughes vs. Logan Mankins –
Mankins, normally the Patriots’ left guard, had to fill in at left tackle last week for the injured Nate Solder and may need to do so again this week. Handling speed rushers is not exactly Mankins specialty. Hughes comes into the game hot with eight sacks in his last eight games.

2 – Nickell Robey vs. Danny Amendola – The Patriots slot receiver was the primary reason New England was able to pull off a come from behind win over the Bills in Week 1. In that game Ron Brooks was the nickel corner. He’s given way to the rookie Robey, who has been solid all season long.

3 – Erik Pears vs. Rob Ninkovich – Neither of them are glamor players by any stretch, but Ninkovich is extremely effective in his role and will pose a challenge to Buffalo’s veteran tackle. Ninkovich is third on the team in tackles, second in sacks and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.

Bills Top 2 Advantages
Pass rush –
It’s hard to get Tom Brady on the ground, but the Bills did it twice in their Week 1 meeting with New England. With a beat up offensive line for the Pats, Buffalo’s pass rush, which is significantly better than it was in Week 1, should have some success Sunday.

Run game – Buffalo didn’t run wild in the first meeting, but they did average four yards per carry and New England’s run defense has taken a tumble since the injuries to starting DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The Bills ground game is peaking right now.

Bills Number 1 Must
Win fourth quarter –
Too often the Bills have let potential victories against the Patriots slip through their fingers by getting outplayed in the fourth quarter. New England is again a strong fourth quarter club (see below) this season. Over the last 25 meetings the Patriots have outscored Buffalo in the final stanza of their games. In fact the Pats have outscored Buffalo in the fourth quarter of those 25 games since 2001 by almost a 2:1 margin (214-106).

The only two times the Bills have posted victories in that stretch they won the fourth quarters (10-0, 17-7). Buffalo has to outscore New England in the fourth quarter if they want to post their first win at Gillette Stadium.

Scouting Eye
Nicked up secondary
No player in the league that gets regular time on the field every week is truly healthy at this point in the season, but New England’s secondary is beat up. Safety Devin McCourty is still recovering from a concussion. Fellow starting S Steven Gregory has been dealing with knee and finger injuries and was limited in practice. Starting CB Alfonzo Dennard has knee and shoulder injuries. Primary subpackage cornerback Kyle Arrington has a groin injury and the other starting CB Aqib Talib, though he has played, is dealing with a hip injury. Opponents over the last four games have averaged 309 yards passing  and have averaged over eight yards an attempt (8.1) with six touchdowns.

Tackle trouble
New England’s offensive line has been about moving parts the past couple of weeks. Starting LT Nate Solder missed last week’s game with a concussion and he’s iffy again for Sunday’s game. Left guard Logan Mankins was kicked out to tackle to spell Solder and undrafted rookie Josh Kline stepped in at Mankins’ position. Meanwhile starting RT Marcus Cannon is dealing with an ankle injury and was limited in practice this week. Even backup OT Will Svitek was limited in practice with an ankle injury.

No stops on first
The Patriots run defense has slipped noticeably and it was somewhat expected after the team lost both starting defensive tackles in Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork to injury. New England now ranks 29th in the league against the run. They’re giving up almost 120 rushing yards a game. Two rookies are currently manning the starting roles on the defensive interior in Chris Jones and Joe Vellano.

The problem is the yards the Patriots are surrendering on first down. Opponents are rushing for four yards or more on first down more than half the time (51.4%). That ranks New England 31st in the league in that category. In fact overall opponents run for four yards or more on any down against the Patriots 49 percent of the time, which ranks 30th in the NFL. Opponents average 4.81 yards per carry against New England on first down.

Potent pass rush
While much has been made all week about Buffalo’s league-leading pass rush, New England’s pass rush has been very formidable as well. Led by Chandler Jones’, who has 11.5 sacks on the season, the Patriots rank sixth in the league with 44 sacks this year. They have nine sacks in their last three games.

Tilted fields
One area where New England has been pretty steady all season is in setting up field position for their offense and defense. At home the Patriots have the third-best average starting position in the league at better than the 31-yard line (31.6). In fact New England’s offense has the third-most drive starts in their opponent’s territory (26) this season.

On defense it’s much the same. Their average starting position is their own 24-yard line, which is third-best in the NFL.

Points late is Pats calling card
It’s common knowledge that the Patriots are a top-five scoring offense with 410 points on the season, 389 of which have been put up by the offense. However, it’s the fourth quarter where New England’s point production has truly shined.

While the point differential in the first three quarters of games with their opponents has been marginal, the Patriots have proven to be vastly superior come the fourth quarter.

In the final stanza of their games this season New England has outscored their opponents by a nearly 2:1 margin (160-86). Their point differential in the fourth quarter of games (74) accounts for 80 percent of their point differential on the season (92).

Buffalo Chips
Stat of the Week
The Bills rank first in the league in 3rd-and-medium defense (4-6 yards) allowing just a 29.3 percent conversion rate. The Patriots rank last in the league in the same category allowing conversions at a rate of 51.6%.

Quote of the Week
“To have a 4-2 record in the division is something we can build off of so it’s going to go a long way for us and it’s something we’re focused on and hopefully we can go out there play well and get the job done.”
--RB Fred Jackson

Milestones in reach
Dan Carpenter (31) needs three field goals to set the franchise mark for most field goals made in a season (34).

Scott Chandler can set a team record for most consecutive games with a catch by a tight end with one reception Sunday (32).

Brian Moorman will play in his 190th game in a Bills uniform Sunday, good for fifth-most in team history.

Final Note
A Bills win would give Buffalo not only their first winning record in the AFC East since 2007, but would also make them the only team in the division with a winning mark in their six division games.