The Bills pass rush has emerged each of the past two weeks and performed much like the coaching staff and fans have expected in the team's two victories. Buffalo's front four has been consistent in getting pressure and that will be a key in helping to reduce Tom Brady's effectiveness in New England's high-powered offense. It also could take one of the Patriots' most valuable passing targets out of the equation as well.
Consistent pressure on Brady has been an elusive objective for the Bills over the past decade, and is a large reason why the Patriots have won 15 of the past 16 matchups. It's also a big reason why New England tight end Rob Gronkowski has seven touchdowns in his last four games against the Bills.
The additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency however, have Buffalo as well equipped as ever to put Brady on the move instead of letting him stand and deliver from the pocket.
"They really count on those front four to get to the quarterback and they do it," said Brady of Buffalo's defensive line. "It's not like you can stand back there and figure everything out all day. They have some guys that can really rush the passer. Bringing in Mario and Mark obviously added a lot to their defense."
New England has had problems at times protecting Brady through the first three weeks of the season. The Patriots rank 29th in sacks surrendered per play giving up seven so far this season. To capably handle Arizona and Baltimore's pass rush the past two weeks New England has kept extra players in to protect. That's prevented them from using their spread formations the way they typically do.
Chief among the players kept in the formation to protect has been Gronkowski, taking a valuable weapon out of New England's passing attack.
"If that rush is able to get there you've got to bring a guy in," said Bills tight end Scott Chandler. "If you get there with four then you keep seven guys in coverage and you really neutralize the receivers as well. The pass rush is the cure for all pass coverage problems. When you've got to bring a tight end back in and they can double up on some receivers it makes it tough."
That's what both the Cardinals and Ravens did each of the past two weeks against New England. They got enough pressure rushing just four and dropping seven into coverage. Arizona and Baltimore took away the deep threats forcing the Patriots to settle for the underneath routes for completions making New England dink and dunk their way down the field.
"Arizona did a good job of rushing the passer too," said head coach Chan Gailey. "I think there's a common denominator there where if you can get some pressure on the passer in this ball game you up your chances of slowing (Brady) down and getting the ball back."
Baltimore only pressured Brady on 10 of his 45 dropbacks in part because Gronkowski spent more time on the line next to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The Patriots tight end finished with just two receptions and was targeted just three times in the game.
"He's a big player for us and I think as a tight end you have a different role," said Brady of Gronkowski. "You're run blocking, you're pass blocking, you're catching passes. This last game he wasn't as productive in the pass game, but he has his weeks also. He's a big player in this offense."
"Getting guys on and around Brady and making him do things that he's not comfortable doing and Baltimore did that and obviously Gronkowski is a huge part of their offense," said Chris Kelsay. "In my opinion he's the best tight end in the league. To neutralize him as best as you can is beneficial and good for your team's success."
Bryan Scott, who has drawn Gronkowski as a coverage assignment in the past, wouldn't mind at all if Buffalo's front four was effective enough to keep Gronkowski on the line of scrimmage to block Sunday.
"Our D-line is playing great and if we can get that pressure especially with just four and they're kind of forced to keep another tight end in to pass protect that's big," he said. "His pass numbers are down a little bit, but he's still a huge piece of that offense."
One might wonder why the Patriots would choose to take such a potent weapon out of the passing game to stay in and block. Why not another offensive tackle or tight end?
"When you look at their roster he's also probably one of their best blockers as well," said Scott. "It surprises me a little bit."
Mario Williams believes part of New England's problem is their player turnover on offense. Brady is still developing chemistry with receiver Brandon Lloyd outside. Ryan Wendell is new at center and tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have flipped sides from last year.
"They've got a bunch of different guys up front as far as faces are concerned with Matt Light being gone," said Williams. "We've got to take advantage of that. We've got to go out there and apply pressure and keep them uncomfortable. That way you take them out of their game."