It's the question of the week for the Bills-Patriots matchup at Gillette Stadium Sunday. Who will New England start at quarterback? Both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett are coming off of injuries that could impact their delivery of the football in the passing game. Though both are practicing this week, the possibility also exists that only one will be healthy enough to play Sunday. So how does a Bills defense prepare for an offense without knowing who the quarterback will be?
As far as head coach Rex Ryan is concerned, the best way to prepare his players is to focus on the offensive scheme that the Patriots have employed for the better part of the last 10 seasons. That's why prioritizing preparation for one quarterback over another really isn't a major part of the process.
"It's not going to be focused on one (quarterback)," said Ryan. "The passing game is the passing game. New England hasn't changed their passing attack. So all that stays the same. The rushing attack will have more options."
Garoppolo has a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder suffered in Week 2 against Miami. It forced rookie third-round pick Jacoby Brissett to start on a short week this past Thursday night. He suffered a thumb injury on his throwing hand in the win over Houston.
It's no secret that the offense looked more like it has for years with Tom Brady when Garoppolo has played quarterback during the perennial All-Pro's four-game suspension. He's completed more than 70 percent of his passes, is averaging more than eight yards an attempt, and has four touchdowns and no interceptions and a passer rating of 119.
With Brissett last week there were only 19 pass attempts as the Patriots relied on their league-leading rushing attack en route to a shutout victory over the Texans. Brissett has completed just under 61 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 81.7.
Garoppolo can clearly be more of a playmaker for New England in the passing game than Brissett, and Buffalo's defenders will do their homework on the skill sets that both bring to the field, but that's not what is going to dominate their preparation.
"It does matter a little bit. Obviously it's good to know who you're going against," said Corey Graham. "This situation is a little different. We don't know who is going to be out there. But we're playing the Patriots. They're a smart team and smart coaching staff. No matter who is out there they're going to know what to do that's best for them."
"We just need to understand that whoever is back there is going to manage or control the game," said Jerry Hughes. "They are a complete team. They do a great job on special teams. Their defense pitches a shutout on primetime TV so we know we have to come with our 'A' game."
The wild card is Edelman. The former Kent State quarterback may need to serve as a backup QB if either Brissett or Garoppolo are unable to dress for the game. Ryan believes there would be a lot more read option tendencies if Edelman had to line up under center for New England.
There's no debating that the preparation is easier if the opponent's starting quarterback is known, but it's not going to deter a Bills defense determined to build on a successful performance in Week 3.
"They are going to have game plan specific things for who the quarterback is and we understand that and we'll be prepared," said Ryan. "It may take a little more time than it normally would, but I'd rather do that than face Tom Brady so I'm OK with that."