1 – Run defense victimized
The talk going into Sunday’s game was how porous New England’s run defense had been in their last three games, giving up 7.5 yards per carry to their opponents over that span. Unfortunately, for the Bills, it was their run defense that proved to be victimized in similar fashion.
Sony Michel, who was injured and missed the first meeting with the Bills in Week 8, rolled up 63 yards and a touchdown on 10 first-half carries. Cordarrelle Patterson was the Patriots’ leading rusher at halftime with 66 yards on four jet sweeps as he outflanked the Bills defense for big gainers including a 27-yard run to the edge. On jet sweep plays alone, the Patriots gained 79 yards on five rushes.
“It was pretty frustrating,” said Jordan Poyer, who had six tackles and a sack. “They found a run that they liked and went to the same two or three runs. Whether it was the jet sweep with the counter action or handing the jet sweep. They ran a lot of the same things. We just weren’t able to fit it right.”
Buffalo’s run defense was giving up nine yards per carry at halftime, as the Patriots rolled up 179 yards on the ground in just the first two quarters.
“Yeah give credit where credit is due,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “They had a good plan coming out. I thought we made some adjustments during the early part of the game, but in the end you can’t allow a team to run the ball on you like that.
“Fundamentals are certainly in that when you talk about run defense, shedding blocks, getting off blockers and tackling. There were times in there where I didn’t think we tackled well enough. We had them behind the line of scrimmage and we were throwing shoulders instead of wrapping up.”
The Bills were aided by the exit of Patterson from the game in the third quarter with a knee injury, but Michel was over 100 yards rushing after just three quarters with 116 yards on 16 carries. He was pulled from the game early in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo came into the game with the 10th ranked run defense, giving up an average of just under 105 yards per game on the ground, but New England rumbled for a total of 273 yards, a season high against the Bills and the second-most rushing yards in a game in Bill Belichick’s 19-year tenure with the Patriots.
“There are a few different things that go into having a poor day like that,” said Kyle Williams. “They threw a few different things at us. We didn’t adjust well and didn’t tackle well and it kind of snowballs on you. Getting outexecuted, not tackling well and not having disciplined eyes for a lot of us it’s frustrating.”
Only three of New England’s 47 carries went for negative yardage.
2 – Takeaways yield little
Despite Buffalo’s struggle to stop New England’s run game, they were proficient in taking the ball away. The Bills got a pair of takeaways in the first half and another in the second half, but only got three points combined.
“They forced three turnovers and we got three points off that. That starts with me,” said Josh Allen of his defense giving him chances. “We were terrible on third down. We had a fourth down in the red zone and didn’t get it. Just missed opportunities on our part. That starts with me. I’ve got to be better.”
The first came on a forced fumble by Corey Thompson when he collided with ball carrier Rex Burkhead. Micah Hyde recovered and advanced the ball in New England territory.
Unfortunately, Buffalo’s offense only advanced the ball 16 yards leading to a 43-yard field goal attempt, which Stephen Hauschka clanged off the cross bar for a miss.
Before the half was over, Lorenzo Alexander stepped in front of a Tom Brady pass intended for Burkhead on a route out of the backfield to take points off the board for New England in the second quarter. But again, Buffalo’s offense could not convert the takeaway into points.
The Bills offense finally cashed in on the third takeaway by Buffalo’s defense. Jordan Poyer pulled in a pass that went off the hands of Rob Gronkowski on the first play of the second half giving Buffalo possession at the Patriots 24-yard line.
Though they could only manage seven yards on three plays, Hauschka was true on a 35-yard attempt to cut into what was 14-point deficit (14-3). But their three points off turnovers were far from enough with Buffalo coughing up the ball themselves on three occasions, leaving them even in turnover margin.
“Against a good football team, you’ve got to be able to cash those in and get points and not just field goals,” said McDermott. “You’ve got to be able to score touchdowns against good football teams in those situations.”
The Bills did manage one first with their takeaways, as their two INTs marked the first time Buffalo intercepted Tom Brady two or more times at Gillette Stadium.
“You rarely get that game from the Patriots as far as turnovers,” said LeSean McCoy. “We didn’t capitalize at all. So it was very frustrating. You get turnovers like that against any team you have to take advantage of them or it doesn’t matter. We didn’t capitalize.”
3 – Run game again not clicking
Buffalo’s run game has been a season-long struggle, and despite having LeSean McCoy back in the lineup, they could not seem to gain any traction against the Patriots run front.
“Offensively, you have to be able to run the football and stay balanced as best you can,” said McDermott. “It starts with creating the line of scrimmage. We had a couple of good runs early and then we couldn’t get anything going after that. And it was third and long a lot. I give them credit.”
In a familiar narrative, Josh Allen was the team’s leading rusher until the waning moments of the game with 30 yards on scrambles and read options.
The men up front could not reset the line of scrimmage with their ground attack as they managed just 2.8 yards per carry through the first two quarters. They finished with an average of just 4.0 thanks mainly to some scrambles by Allen.
It led to the decision by the offensive staff to depend largely on the pass come the second half of the game. Granted, being behind on the scoreboard contributed to the decision to pass more, but Buffalo’s offense ran the ball just five times over the final two quarters.
“When teams don’t get their run game going it’s tough for them to win football games,” said Allen. “They were forcing us to throw it and when they do that we’ve got to convert, and we have to make plays. I’ve got to make throws and we didn’t do it enough.”
McCoy finished the game with a mere nine yards on six carries.
“It’s been a real tough season,” said McCoy. “For sure one of the harder years for a long time. It is what it is. I can’t control that.”
Rookie Keith Ford was marginally more successful with 33 yards on seven carries. Buffalo’s running backs averaged just 3.23 yards per carry.
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