By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills to open the 2013 NFL season on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. Both teams have made quite a few changes in the off-season and will be looking to start things off on a good note.
The Bills have a new coaching staff in place, bringing in Doug Marrone from Syracuse University and someone who had NFL experience, having served as the Saints offensive coordinator for three years. They’ve also made wholesale changes at the quarterback position and now go into the season with two rookie signal callers.
The Patriots will look to continue their dominance over Buffalo on Sunday in the season opener. (FILE:USPresswire)
The Patriots totally redid their wide receiver position, and have brought in a slew of new faces. They’re also without TE Rob Gronkowski for the time being as he recovers from multiple off-season surgeries.
We here at PatsFans.com are going to try something a little bit different this season. We’re going to run a column, the “Razor’s Edge” to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots have had their way with the Bills offensively the past few years and have had no problem scoring a lot of points. In 2012, the Patriots scored 89 points and racked up nearly 950 yards of offense in sweeping the series. The Bills are switching their defense to a more attacking unit, but will have their issues stopping the Patriots balanced attack.
Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven- Edge Patriots
With Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, the Bills boast a pair of impressive DTs. But the Patriots will look to take advantage in the running game against the Bills LBs, who are good in coverage but smaller. Stevan Ridley and LaGarrette Blount should have a solid day against the 31st ranked run defense in the NFL in 2012. Rush defense is still a weakness for the Bills.
Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary- Edge Patriots
Much was made of the players that left New England this spring, but the big story this summer should be about the players who are now here. Danny Amendola has looked impressive all summer and the sharp, sure-handed receiver has looked like he’s been in Foxboro for years.
Rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and TE Zach Sudfeld have all looked impressive and should be ready for their first NFL action. Tom Brady has traditionally had big games against the Bills secondary and this one looks the same.
Buffalo will try to counter with an aggressive blitz package, but with their two best secondary players out with injury, (CB Stephon Gilmore, S Jarius Byrd) and having issues jamming WRs at the line, this is a daunting task.
The Bills offense has also had success against the Patriots piling up 950 yards of offense in 2012. They scored 59 points but were victimized by nine turnovers in the two games. With Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills had some highlight reel moments but also too many forgettable ones with poor decisions, bad interceptions and could never seem to get over the hump.
With EJ Manuel, Buffalo will have to allow him to learn on the job and rookie quarterbacks suffer the inevitable growing pains. Even with a pair of talented running backs in Spiller and Jackson, Johnson and Chandler catching the ball, the Bills offense will take time to find their way. On Sunday, they’ll have a hard time scoring.
Bills RB vs NE Front Seven- Edge Patriots
Buffalo has a good offensive line with Erik Wood at C, and RG Kraig Urbik and they’ll be going against Vince Wilfork trying to open holes for Spiller and Jackson. But their LG position is in flux due to the injury suffered by Doug Legursky.
The key here are the Patriots linebackers who are big and physical and defend the run extremely well. Brandon Spikes should play a big role on early downs filling the holes. And with the cut-back ability of Spiller, they should be careful not to over-pursue. Buffalo will have a tough time running with consistency on Sunday.
Bills WRs vs NE Secondary-Edge Patriots
Quarterback EJ Manuel is a rookie playing in his first NFL game, and he missed some valuable time during the preseason while out with his knee injury. He can run, so the Patriots probably won’t release the dogs on him, but expect a lot of different looks in the secondary coverage to confuse him and create turnovers.
Stevie Johnson is the Bills biggest deep threat and he’ll be matched up with Aqib Talib which should be a great matchup to watch especially after Johnson’s claim that no one on the Patriots could cover him.
The player to watch for Buffalo will be TE Scott Chandler who had two big games against the Patriots in 2012. With the safety situation on New England still in flux, Chandler will pose a tough matchup. It could be a good time to see what OLB Jamie Collins can do in coverage, look for them to test him out.
Special Teams- Edge Bills
Buffalo always has excellent special teams and KR/PR Leodis McKelvin is one of the best at both with excellent averages (28.3, 18.7 yard per return respectively) and is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
The Patriots STs have been a mess this preseason, in both coverage and returns. KR Leon Washington was let go (for now) and now the onus will fall on Blount and Boyce on kicks and Julian Edelman on punt returns. But Buffalo has a decided edge in both the return and coverage departments. This is an area that Buffalo could hang around with the Patriots deep into the game if they are not on top of their game.
Player to Watch- Tom Brady
Brady has been razor sharp all summer as he’s had to break in an entire new fleet of wide receivers and tight ends. He turned heads during combined practices and preseason games with how accurate and in control of the offense he was.
He’s traditionally had great numbers against the Bills and he wants to get the team and his new receivers off to a good start. Look for him to have a very big game on Sunday.