Picked-up pieces from first-quarter review of the Patriots’ 34-20 win over the Bills:
1. The first thing looked for is how the teams decided to match up based on specific personnel groupings. The Patriots opened the game in their 2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB grouping and the Bills countered in their base 3-4 defense. The Bills also stayed in their base defense against the Patriots’ two-tight end package. When the Patriots brought a third receiver on the field, which wasn’t a big part of the overall plan, the Bills spun the dial and played base, nickel or dime depending on the situation.
2. Defensively for the Patriots, they played with base personnel against the Bills’ 2 WR/1 TE/1 FB/1 RB package. When the Bills brought a third receiver into the game, the Patriots countered with either a nickel or dime, depending on the situation. The nickel would sub out bigger linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes in place of Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher, which was a change-up from the norm. One of the reasons the Patriots probably went with a Collins/Fletcher combination at linebacker in sub was to counter the Bills’ dangerous running backs as pass-catchers. The Collins/Fletcher combination is a bit more fluid in pass coverage compared to a Spikes/Hightower tandem.
3. There were two notable breakdowns on Bills running back C.J. Spiller’s 24-yard run (9:07 remaining). While safety Steve Gregory missed a tackle as he attempted to shoot a gap, defensive end Chandler Jones was powered back by tight end Lee Smith, opening up the edge. Jones has mostly been solid against the run this season, but that looked like a play where he was still getting a feel for the footing on a rainy day. So while it’s easy to pin that one on Gregory, as his miscue was easier to see, the lack of a strong edge was just as much a part of the breakdown, almost creating an additional obstacle for Gregory to deal with as he attempted to make the tackle because Jones was blocked into his path.
4. On another big play, Robert Woods’ 24-yard catch over Kyle Arrington (1:42 remaining), it was a small thing that made a big difference. Arrington aligned in the slot and got tied up with fellow cornerback Logan Ryan and Bills receiver T.J. Graham, who was running an in-breaking route. It wasn’t necessarily a pick, but it was that type of concept, and that explained why Woods gained such quick separation. We wonder if Arrington could have helped himself by jamming Woods at the line.
5. Similar to last week against the Ravens, the Patriots’ initial offensive play foreshadowed what was to come. The Patriots had fullback James Develin aligned in the backfield in front of LeGarrette Blount and the Bills brought safety Jim Leonhard down as an eighth man down into the box. The Patriots decided to run right into it (Blount for 9 yards), with solid blocks from right tackle Marcus Cannon, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and receiver Julian Edelman to open a running lane on the backside after Blount cut in that direction.
6. The second run of the game, out of the same personnel grouping, further showed the Patriots were intent on establishing the ground game. Right tackle Marcus Cannon displayed his athleticism by pulling all the way to the other side of the line, like we sometimes saw left tackle Matt Light do in past years. The Patriots owned the edge, with Develin delivering a lick on end Mario Williams and the left side of the line – Nate Solder and Logan Mankins – doing their part as well. This was “attitude” football.
7. Develin’s play is standing out in film review. Among his solid blocks over the last two weeks included a strong effort against Kiko Alonso on Stevan Ridley’s 29-yard run (4:06 remaining). The final play of the first quarter, a Blount 9-yard run, saw Develin explode into the hole and rock linebacker Nigel Bradham.
8. Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga is another player whose “dirty” work is showing up. For example, at the 2:16 mark, he took on an initial double-team from center Eric Wood and right guard Kraig Urbik, then controlled Urbik with his outstretched arms after Wood released to the second level, located the ball, and then shed to get in on the tackle on a Fred Jackson 1-yard run. Nothing fancy, just good solid work up front; at 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, Siliga has desirable physical traits and he seems to be starting to marry those with better technique on a more consistent basis.
9. The Patriots were creative at times with their formations, at one point lining up Blount, Develin and Hoomanawanui in the backfield together (12:54 remaining), before motioning Hoomanawanui to the left side at the last moment. The Bills didn’t look set defensively and the Patriots took advantage (5-yard run). But later in the quarter, when they tried something similar, Hoomanawanui wasn’t set after motioning out to the end of the line and was penalized for illegal motion (3:39 remaining).
10. Production from running backs is often measured in yards, but we’d point to Shane Vereen’s excellent blitz pickup on surging linebacker Kiko Alonso (third-and-3, 11:46 remaining) as equally important. If Vereen doesn’t make the tough block, giving Tom Brady additional time to throw, officials probably don’t call a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Stephon Gilmore (drawn by receiver Danny Amendola) and the initial drive stalls.
11. It wasn’t a big part of post-game review, but credit is due to the Patriots’ snap-hold-kick operation for field goals of 43 and 35 yards in the soggy conditions. On the 35-yarder, holder Ryan Allen did a nice job to bring in a Danny Aiken snap that was slightly off the mark. Along the same lines, very impressive 51-yard field goal by Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter to the open end of the stadium.