Re-Focused – Patriots @ Bills, Week 3

| September 27, 2011

Buffalohad won its first two games of the season but nobody was buying the hype until we saw how they fared against one of the AFC’s heavyweights, the New England Patriots.
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It looked early on like they were the same old Bills, falling to a 21-0 deficit and going for a 4th-and-forever to try and stay in the game. Then they remembered what they’ve been about so far this season, and began to mount their comeback. Buffalo scored twice before halftime thanks to a Tom Brady interception and eventually came all the way back, icing the game with a final Brady pick, this one returned for a touchdown.
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For Brady it was a day of four interceptions, and this figure, like the four he threw all of last season, does not tell even half the story or represent with any validity his care with the football. In the end the Bills probably deserved the win, but it was shaky enough that some concerns will still linger.
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New England – Three Performances of Note
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1. Wes Welker might be the toughest cover in the NFL.
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With no Aaron Hernandez coming into this game, the Bills were fully aware that Wes Welker would be the biggest threat, the Patriots’ most frequent target, and their best route to moving the chains. They knew they had to stop him to stop the Patriots from moving the ball. So how did they do? Welker caught 16 of 19 targets for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns … so, not that great. Welker is too quick to be covered in man coverage, and his routes too complicated. At one stage, Brady was able to stand in the pocket, waiting until Welker’s third move shook his coverage loose, before delivering the ball. He can’t be played with zone either because he is too good at sitting in the soft spots and picking up yards. In a game where the Bills knew Welker would be trouble, they completely failed to contain him.
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2. Tom Brady threw four picks.
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That’s the reason his 2010 season was so fantastic, and the reason his game this week was so poor. Only neither of those things are really true. Just as in 2010 his interception figure didn’t accurately reflect his care with the football – relying on several dropped interceptions from defenders to stay so low – his game against the Bills didn’t mean he threw wild, scattershot passes all day. One of his interceptions was off the hands of Danny Woodhead, and one came from a pass batted at the line by Marcel Dareus. One was from a poorly underthrown pass, but the remaining throw was arguably a result of Chad Ochocinco drifting up field on his route as much as the Brady throw. Brady (+8.7) actually had an extremely good game, and was unerringly able to bring the Patriots down the field and threaten the scoreboard.
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3. McCourty attracting targets
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I’m not sure what Devin McCourty did in 2010 to attract the volume of targets he’s faced so far in 2011, especially when you consider there are other, more obvious weak links in the Patriots’ secondary. McCourty was thrown at 11 times in this game, allowing nine receptions for 104 yards. This game was actually down a fraction from his season average in targets, and he has now been thrown at 36 times in just three contests. His play hasn’t exactly been poor, but he isn’t playing well enough to stop teams from throwing it at him.
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Buffalo – Three Performances of note
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1. Ryan Fitzpatrick is legit?
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Ryan Fitzpatrick (+14.0 passing this season) may well still be the same guy (capable of picking a team apart when he isn’t surprised by coverages post-snap, but in real trouble and incapable of adjustment if he is) but the Patriots weren’t able to make the bad Fitzpatrick show up. New England knows how to force him to make an appearance, but only one of Fitzpatrick’s interceptions was a poor throw, the other coming off his receiver’s hands, and he looked comfortable dissecting the New England secondary all day. Perhaps Fitzpatrick has grown and developed past some of the flaws that have limited his play in seasons past.
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2. Fred Jackson is the best HB of 2011
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It’s time to say it, Fred Jackson (+3.9) is the standard so far in 2011. He is running with power, speed, vision and moves and so far has not been contained by any of the Bills’ opponents. Buffalo has been getting much improved play from their O-line this season too, so the chances that Jackson is slowed down because of those blocking in front of him is pretty slim compared to years before. He still tops the Elusive Rating for the season with a score that remains ridiculous compared with the previous three years of data (119.5) and if anything, was even better in this game despite arguably his toughest test of the season.
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3. Don’t drop Chris Kelsay into coverage. Ever.
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The Bills seem to have this utility player approach to Chris Kelsay.  He’s linebacker, he’s defensive end, he’s covering a zone 15-yards down field. Wait, what? Unlike most teams with one of these hybrid linebacker/defensive end types, the Bills seem intent on dropping Kelsay as if he was a 230-pound 4-3 linebacker, and they’ve found disastrous consequences. Kelsay (-3.1) is clearly not only uncomfortable, but often completely lost in his zone. Teammates believe that zone is accounted for so they don’t cheat over to help – which they’d need to do if they were watching receivers wander into it completely uncovered. The Bills are giving up too many big plays directly as a result of this at the moment.
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Game Notes
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●  Bills inside linebacker Andra Davis played just four snaps in the game.

●  If the Patriots weren’t throwing to Welker it was to Gronkowski, who had seven receptions on nine targets for 109 yards and two TDs.

●  Kyle Arrington was thrown at five times, allowing just one reception for seven yards. Oh, and he got a pair of picks.
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PFF Game Ball:

Wes Welker, WR, New Engalnd Patriots

Welker was the reason the Patriots could move the ball, and the Bills never found a way to slow him down, let alone stop him.
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Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and give our main Twitter feed a follow too: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • asmitty

    Re: Welker

    The Bills dared Welker to beat them, and he couldn’t. If you watch the game, you’ll see Buffalo doubled Branch all game long, and blanketed Ocho Cinco as well. The Bills wanted Brady to throw the ball over the middle, and they picked him four times in the process, including another tipped ball that should have been intercepted. They took away the outside routes, jumped the inside routes, and got their hands up at the line of scrimmage to disruopt the throwing lanes.

    It didn’t work great, as the Patriots still scored plenty, but it worked enough to force four turnovers, and it’s the first time in recent memory I can recall someone getting the better of Brady without pressuring him. Great, innovative coaching by Buffalo, and I say that as a Detroit fan.

  • roguepatriot

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Vince Wilfork getting blown up by Andy Levitre all game long. I expected to see Vince in the red, but it apparently was worse than it looked in game when I saw his overall grade. Watching the game, it looked as if the secondary for NE would be the usual suspect in the loss, but you overall grades put the blame on the lack of a pass rush. I agree. It’s obvious that the loss of Pryor, Wright, and Haynesworth is hurting the defense.