ReFo: Patriots @ Bills, Week 4

| October 2, 2012

The two halves of Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills could not have look more different. For the visiting Patriots, the first half was marred by uncharacteristic sloppy play as they fumbled the ball away twice and were unable to capitalize when the Bills handed it back to them. The second half was different, however, as the New England offense was embarrassingly efficient and the Bills had no answer for them either on the ground or through the air.

The biggest play of the game came at the end of the first half as the Bills were deep in Patriots territory on their way to going up 21-7. Instead, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes jarred the ball loose from Bills running back C.J. Spiller and a New England recovery prevented a possible 14-point deficit heading into the break.

With the momentum swung, New England went on to score 35 straight points on their way to a 52-28 victory. They find themselves in a three-way tie atop the AFC East with both Buffalo and the New York Jets, though “tie” may not be a fair word to describe the three teams.

For the Bills, offseason excitement about an AFC East overtake must be put on hold as they search for the consistency needed to become a playoff-caliber team. The season is still young, but for now, the Patriots proved an emphatic point that the division is still theirs for the taking.

Let’s take a look at the performances that shaped the game.

New England – Three Performances of Note

Running Game Dominates

The offseason in New England was all about shoring up the deficiencies the kept them from a Super Bowl championship in 2011. As I detailed back in March, even their vaunted offense had weaknesses. such as their inability to run the ball against the lighter fronts they were seeing on a weekly basis. Consider it corrected, at least for this game.

The Bills stayed with their nickel package for 67 of their 76 snaps and the Patriots were able to run the ball with little resistance. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski (+4.6 run block) and Daniel Fells (+4.1 run block) sealed the edge with ease throughout the game allowing running backs Stevan Ridley (+1.3 rushing) and Brandon Bolden (+2.5 rushing) to combine for 243 yards on 38 carries. The offensive line saw all five starters grade positively as the Patriots dominated the Bills up front.

It was a curious move by Buffalo to stay with their five defensive back package, especially with LB Kelvin Sheppard (+3.1 on the season) relegated to the bench. New England appears to be building a team capable of handling any situation a defense throws at them and this performance will go a long way to showing that they’re capable of playing a power game when opposing teams show no respect for their running attack.

Spikes Hits Hard

It was a classic game for Spikes who showed almost everything in his on-field repertoire. Primarily known as a thumping run stopper, Spikes often looks lost in coverage as he did when asked to man-up on tight end Scott Chandler at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter. Spikes lost contact with Chandler on his seam route, allowing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick an open throw in between the Patriots’ safeties.

After that play, Spikes became a game changer for the New England defense as he forced the aforementioned fumble at the end of the first half and added another with 13:33 to go in the fourth. He performed his usual duty of blowing up running plays so his teammates can make plays and he even redeemed himself in coverage by deflecting the next seam pass thrown Chandler’s way. For the game, Spikes graded at +5.1 with a +4.6 run D grade, highlighted by the two forced fumbles.

Pass Rush Denied

Despite picking up the first three sacks registered against the Bills this season, the Patriots’ pass rush was largely ineffective. Rookie DE Chandler Jones (-1.3 pass rush) has had an outstanding start to his career, but he was largely held in check by fellow rookie, offensive tackle Cordy Glenn. On the inside, DTs Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork were shut out in the pressure department, though Wilfork did bat a pass that led to a Jerod Mayo interception.

The final score ended in their favor, but New England cannot be pleased with their pass defense, particularly the lack of pressure up front. Fitzpatrick sat in a comfortable pocket for much of the game, and if it wasn’t for some ill-advised decisions and throws on his part, the Patriots could have surrendered more than the 28 points they did.

Buffalo – Three Performances of Note

Lost in the Slot

No Bills defender was targeted as often as CB Justin Rogers (-3.3 coverage) who gave up all eight passes thrown his way for 125 yards. The main source was Wes Welker who picked up 79 yards on the six passes into Rogers’ coverage. The biggest gaffe of the game came when Rogers let Gronkowski get by him for a 41-yard gain, though safety George Wilson appeared disinterested as the route ran right past him, so that did not help matters.

The fact that Rogers saw a season-high 67 snaps brings me back to my original question about the Bills’ defensive strategy. Why stick with the nickel package when you have no chance of stopping the run and the player who gets subbed in to support the pass (Rogers) is getting torched? Rogers didn’t pick up any negative grades in the running game, so it’s not as if he was a liability, but it’s not as if he was attacking on the edge as some slot cornerbacks can.

The strategy would have made a bit more sense had Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez been active, as most teams treat him as a wide receiver when matching personnel. With him out of the lineup, there was no need for the five defensive back sets and Bills fans have to be left wondering if Sheppard would have helped the defensive cause.

Bad Day for the Running Backs

Our Elusive Rating absolutely loves the Bills’ running backs as Spiller boasts an absurd 163.2 on the season and, before getting hurt last year, Jackson led the league at 80.7. We didn’t see that type of elusiveness in this clash and the ball security issues changed the face of the game.

Jackson saw his first action since the opener and he was unable to make anyone miss on his 13 carries. He picked up only 29 yards on the day and fumbled with the Bills only down seven points in the fourth. Like Jackson, Spiller has been battling injuries and he was an unknown coming into the game. He showed a little better with 33 yards on his eight carries and three missed tackles forced, but it was a far cry from the game-breaking ability he’d been showing the first three weeks of the season.

When healthy, the Bills may possess the scariest duo of running backs in the league, but this was not their best day.

One Williams Can Rush the Passer

All of the offseason hype surrounded the signing of Mario Williams, but after picking up three hurries Sunday on his 36 pass rushes, he now has 12 QB disruptions on his 136 attempts for the season to go with his -2.5 pass rush grade — not exactly what the Bills were hoping for with the signing.

On the interior, Kyle Williams is doing his usual fantastic work as a pass rusher and Sunday was no different. He was the lone bright spot on the Buffalo defense, grading at +4.2 on the day including +4.0 rushing the passer. He picked up five hurries, a hit, and a batted pass on his 31 rushes while adding solid work in the run game as well. His lone blip was the roughing the passer penalty he picked up while attacking Tom Brady’s knees. Other than that, Kyle has been the better Williams to this point, but they’ll both be needed if the Bills want to make any kind of playoff run.

Game Notes

- The Bills sent only one blitz on Brady’s 38 drop-backs. The result was a 25-yard touchdown to WR Brandon Lloyd.

- Ryan Fitzpatrick was pressured on only six of his 44 drop-backs. He graded at -2.3 on those six plays.

- The Patriots rushed 27 times for 181 yards to the left of center.

PFF Game Ball

No player changed the game as much as LB Brandon Spikes. His first forced fumble prevented a 14-point halftime deficit, while his second halted a potential game-tying drive from the Bills.

 

Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve

  • Qusus

    There’s a mistake about the score at the beginning of this article.

    The Bills were not driving to go up “28-7″ at the end of the half, as the article claims. The score was 14-7 and they were driving to go up 21-7 prior to the Spikes forced fumble. Consequently, New England was never in danger of a “21 point deficit” heading into the break.

    Oh what’s that? Why yes, I will take a free annual subscription to PFF Premium Stats for noticing this error. How generous of you gentlemen!

    • Rick Drummond

      :hattip: Thanks Qusus

    • Matt

      Yeah, I don’t see how that fumble recovery could be a momentum turner either, as the Pats didn’t score after the recovery, and in fact were scored upon at the start of the third quarter to go into a 14 point hole anyways…

  • RobDX

    told all the pats fans, sit mankins, let him heal, thomas did fine in week 2 and was better at LG which is his natural position. Everyone was freaking out not knowing how bad Mankins has been so far. point proven here “the Patriots rushed 27 times for 181 yards to the left of center.”

    • roguepatriot

      Great post.

      Along those lines, I wonder if Wilfork is playing at less than 100%. Outside of a few anecdotal plays, he’s looked pedestrian at best.

      Make me wonder if the Pats are going to reevaluate Mankins and Wilfork after the season. Perhaps Gostkowski too,

      • RobDX

        Mankins is going nowhere, he just signed a huge contract. I think the hip injury is because of him having to overcompensate for the bad knee.I disagree on Wilfork. He has gotten some push, but he isn’t a blitzing type of guy. That is where I get iffy on PFF with ranking him so low. Sometimes they don’t put a player in context. He is a not a blitzing lineman, he clogs up lanes, which allows players like Chandler to push thru TE blocks instead of LT blocks or players like Spikes to hit the RB and finish of the play. And if a play comes to him, Wilfork 90% of the time, disengages and makes the tackle.

  • roguepatriot

    Wendell is a keeper at C.

    DT is a problem, especially on passing downs.

  • roguepatriot

    Fitzy has played like a backup QB since he inked his extension last year.