Guess the game plan: Patriots-Bills

PatriotsBillsThese Patriots are not an easy bunch to figure out. One week they’ll try to ram the ball down an opponent’s throat with the run, the next they’ll spread it out and attack through the air, and they’ll follow that with an ultra hurry-up approach to rattle a defense and open up holes. What’ll it be this Sunday against the Bills? Our three Patriots reporters try to get into the mind of Bill Belichick and guess the game plan for Sunday.

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Mike Reiss: Pats will take what Bills give them ... and be successful

The first layer of the Patriots’ offensive game plan will likely be to gather information on how the Bills prepare to match their personnel groupings. This is the case each week, but based on what unfolded Sept. 30 in the first meeting between the teams, it is a great week to highlight this aspect of X’s and O’s.

On Sept. 30, the Bills stayed in their smaller nickel defense almost the entire game. It didn’t matter if the Patriots were in their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB grouping or their 3 WR/1 TE/1 RB grouping, the Bills stayed small and that dictated that the running game would be a huge part of the Patriots’ plan (247 rushing yards).

The projection is that the Bills will alter their approach and play more base, as they did last Sunday against the Texans. In that case, the passing game figures to be a more prominent part of the Patriots’ attack, and the potential return of Aaron Hernandez will be key. With Hernandez in the lineup, the Patriots would have added flexibility against a base defense because of all the things he can do. That should help create some matchup issues, as long as the protection holds up. If Hernandez isn’t back, it looks like a prime time for Visanthe Shiancoe to make his Patriots debut.

Defensively, it starts with the idea that the Bills are going to want to get running back C.J. Spiller more involved. He had just 11 touches last week vs. the Texans. The Patriots must tackle well and account for him at all times, likely doing so out of their sub packages (that’s what they played the majority of the time on Sept. 30).

The Patriots had six turnovers in the previous meeting. It’s going to be a challenge to match that total, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can be generous to the opposition.

Mike Rodak: Pats will again run it down Bills’ throats

There's not a whole lot of mystery here, as the Bills have one of the NFL's worst defenses, especially against the run. The Patriots had their best rushing performance in three decades the last time the teams met in September. They most likely won't have Brandon Bolden like they did in that game, but between Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, look for the Patriots to run the ball until the Bills prove they can stop it.

When (or if) that happens, look for the Patriots to test the Bills secondary. Other than ball-hawking free safety Jairus Byrd, they lack a bigger safety to match up with tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, who historically performs well against Buffalo. Unlike their last contests, the Patriots will likely have Hernandez, who will also make life difficult for the second level of the Bills defense.

In their last game, the Patriots tested rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and he passed, holding Brandon Lloyd to three catches on seven targets. If the Patriots feel that the chemistry between Lloyd and quarterback Tom Brady has improved since Week 4, then that's a matchup worth testing again.

On the opposite side of the field, the Bills will be without starting cornerback Aaron Williams, with Leodis McKelvin the top candidate to take his place. Rookie cornerback Ron Brooks, who was activated from injured reserve last week, could also be part of the mix. In either case, it would make sense for the Patriots to try to find a favorable matchup there, particularly with receiver Wes Welker.

Field Yates: Patriots will be balanced and aggressive early

The Patriots cruised to 247 yards rushing against the Bills in Week 4, so the game plan for Week 10 should be simple enough to predict, right? As they say, if some is good, more is better. But don’t count out the possibility of the Patriots capitalizing on a beat-up Bills secondary, and look for New England to aim for balance to open up the game.

What worked for the Patriots in Week 4 was an ability to run the football against the Bills in their sub defense. If Buffalo adjusts its attack and opts to play more of its base defensive alignment, look for New England to ramp up the aerial attack, which could return Hernandez into the mix after he was missing in Week 8.

This game could also serve as a mini-snapshot of the team’s second half, which will be about playing consistent, complementary football for 60 minutes. Look for the Patriots to come out balanced, fast, and aggressive in order to put the Bills back on their heels early in the game.