By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
After atrocious road losses to the Saint and Dolphins, the Patriots followed them up with a lackluster home win against the lowly Panthers which left fans grasping for answers. This week, the airwaves were filled with angry callers disgusted with Randy Moss’s supposed lack of effort and apocalyptic rhetoric about the end of the dynasty. However, the season is not over and there is still a chance that we can all look back on this mid-season stumble with a hardy laugh.
As Bill Belichick said this week, “It’s a one game season” and ‘this season’ is against the Bills. This Sunday, look for these matchups:
1. Patriots Running Backs vs. Buffalo front 7
In recent weeks, the Patriots have been giving a concerted effort to mount a balanced attack by establishing the run and staying committed to it throughout the game. There are several reasons for this new found affinity towards the running game. 1) The high powered aerial attack of 2007 has had difficulty getting off the ground; mostly as a result of a lack of a consistent 3rd receiver presence. 2) Maroney is healthy once again and is in the midst of his most productive year. He is running over people, finding holes and dancing less, albeit still to much for many fans’ liking. 3) A running game is an integral component in cold weather playoff games and the kinks need to be ironed well in advance to the playoff run. On top of all that, Buffalo ranks 32nd in run defense letting up 170.5 yards per game and a whopping 5.0 yards per carry. Such a glaring weakness will definitely be exploited.
2. Vollmer/Light vs. Aaron Schobel
It is well known that Aaron Schobel has more sacks against Brady then any other individual in the NFL. So he will clearly be a marked man, as the offensive line is still trying to reassert itself after the shellacking they received against the Saints three-man rush. Now with Vollmer back, look for the offensive line to protect an ailing Tom Brady.
3. Patriots Linebackers vs. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch
The Bills have a very formidable running back tandem that can break tackles, catch balls in the flat, and with the speed to bust open big plays. This is the Bills greatest strength and the Patriots will look to mitigate possible damage done by these two running backs. Look for Guyton and Banta-Cain to mirror Jackson and Lynch when they come out in the flat.
4. Patriots Corners vs. Buffalo Receivers
There was some significant turnover in the secondary last week with James Sanders and Shawn Springs returning to the starting line-up. It will be interesting to see if the secondary can handle their assignments now that the ‘dumbed-down’ schemes will be in place for the second straight week.
5. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Patriots Blitz
Fitzpatrick is a fleet-footed young quarterback who will look to break out of the pocket and scamper for first downs. The Patriots will try to keep Fitzy in the pocket and blitz from the outside in obvious passing situations.