Commentary

Same old Bills shouldn't pose threat

Buffalo is a team with nothing to lose, but is still no match for New England

Updated: November 8, 2012, 3:42 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Every week during the season, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week is Sunday's home game against the Bills (CBS, 1 p.m.):

Mike: Let's kick things off with some thoughts on the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib at the trade deadline. That seems to be at the forefront for many Patriots followers who are curious if Talib might help turn the team's secondary around.

Tedy: I was surprised that Bill Belichick made a move at this point in the season because he has always stressed how much he wants to get better through coaching, through practicing, through meetings. He's always trusted his own coaching, so by the time December comes around, he's going to feel good about who he has and he'll get the right combinations and answers figured out. So to make this move tells me that he's seen what he has back there in the secondary and he doesn't like it. I commend him for making a move.

Mike: The book on Talib is that he's a top-rated talent with baggage. The Patriots are hoping the strong culture they have here brings out the best in him as Talib is in the final year of his contract. Talib can't join the team until Monday (Nov. 12) as he serves the final game of his four-game suspension.

Tedy: He knows he has to play well if he wants another contract. He knows he's with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots: a high-profile team that will be on TV and in meaningful games. Every big play he makes, everyone will see. This isn't a pick-six in Tampa, against a losing team in December when no one cares. I think he will fall into line because of his situation: the next contract coupled with the opportunity to win football games.

Mike: Then the question becomes what happens with Devin McCourty. Does he move to safety full-time?

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
AP Photo/Bill WippertTedy Bruschi sees more value in Devin McCourty sticking at safety than moving back to cornerback.

Tedy: I think McCourty's cornerback-playing days could be over for now, because McCourty does do the best job for them back there at safety. He has the most range, the most athletic ability in terms of playing the deep part of the field. It's the biggest problem for the defense -- giving up explosive plays of 20 yards or more in the passing game. You can't get beat deep. So just leave him back there. In one sense, it's unfortunate because he's a Pro Bowl cornerback. But in another sense, it says a lot about who Devin McCourty is that he's willing to make the sacrifice, and also the superior athletic ability. He has to be able to play corner and then be back there and be the best free safety on the team. It's a very valuable trait. I think he's the best you have in terms of a deep safety. So leave him back there and finish the year that way. Then when the offseason comes, you can reshuffle things again. You have to stop the bleeding, and the bleeding is quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson and struggling teams such as the St. Louis Rams still being able to get deep on you. Let's foreshadow a little bit here: There is the potential challenge of facing Peyton Manning again. When you're in the playoffs, the AFC Championship Game, that's what this move is for. You need it to raise another Lombardi Trophy. That's why you leave McCourty back there.

Mike: OK, let's get into this matchup. The Patriots and Bills met Sept. 30 in Orchard Park, N.Y., and the Patriots trailed 21-7 early in the third quarter before roaring back for a 52-28 victory.

Tedy: The Patriots came back with a fury and ended up destroying them that day. It reminded me who the Buffalo Bills are. They have splashes and I knew that splash and explosion of big points was possible, but they just couldn't maintain it. They also couldn't contain it last year against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. I think that speaks to their lack of depth. It's either when they have injuries or start rotating guys in there, they are just not as good as that first unit. That's really who the Bills are, and now they're struggling, with the Patriots putting some early distance between them. Starting with that loss to New England, Buffalo has dropped four of its past five games.

Mike: Let's get into some of the differences between the Bills team we'll see Sunday compared to the one we saw Sept. 30.

Tedy: Offensively, I don't think there has been much change in terms of who they want to be. They really want to use those two tailbacks in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and they're one of the top rushing teams in the NFL -- No. 6 overall and No. 2 in yards per rush. Jackson is a guy I have always respected, both when I played and now as an analyst. There are so many things he can do -- running the ball inside or outside, catching the ball out of the backfield. And Spiller, I think he's the guy this offense is starting to morph around. They were very disappointed in his touches last week against the Texans. They felt like he didn't get the ball enough. The Texans wanted to take them out of their running game; that's how much they respected the running game.

Mike: That approach contributed to the Bills' attempting 38 passes against just 16 runs in that game against the Texans. I think the Patriots would take that split if it works out that way Sunday.

Tedy: The Bills aren't a team that will really test you down the field. There are quick passes. Slants to the receivers. But it's really built around those two tailbacks and you figure they'll get the ball in Spiller's hands early in the game to try to get him going. If you're the Patriots, you know that is coming because the Bills made an error last week with one of their most explosive offensive players. He's becoming a player where you have to account for him at all times, even when he doesn't have the ball. He reminds me of LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia, or like a Marshall Faulk in St. Louis when he played. The Patriots might use a defensive end to chip him, which is a staple of what Bill Belichick often wants to do.

Mike: We discussed Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in our Sept. 27 "Bruschi's Breakdown" and not much has changed there. He's fearless with some of his throws, but he'll also give the defense a chance for some turnovers.

Tedy: It has to be disappointing for Bills fans that Fitzpatrick isn't showing more growth. He just hasn't developed in terms of attacking teams down the field more. Fitzpatrick has attempted only 19 passes over 20 yards this year and has completed only four, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The whole dink-and-dunk concept, teams can game plan for it. Tackling is such a big key because of who they have at the receiver position -- when they get them on those quick slants and quick passes, the bad angles taken by the safeties can lead to big yards after contact. Elsewhere, their rookie left tackle, Cordy Glenn, was hurt earlier in the year. Getting him back solidifies their offensive line that much more, and gives them a different look.

Mike: Defensively, it looks like end Mario Williams is coming off his best game as a Bill. The other end, former Patriot Mark Anderson, isn't expected to play because of a knee injury. On Wednesday, Belichick pointed out that the Bills are doing some different things since the Sept. 30 meeting -- different fronts, more base defense, and some more pressure.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/Eric GayComing off his best game with the Bills, Mario Williams is someone the Patriots will need to account for on Sunday.

Tedy: Williams gets all the attention, and I see the Patriots saying, "Let's not allow this sleeping giant to wake up with us." You still have to account for him in different ways protection-wise. But from the Patriots' perspective, you look at the run game. It was so blatant last time, with Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley each going for more than 100 yards, and also big production in the passing game, it was almost like they could pick what they wanted to do against these guys. I think the one thing that will remain consistent against this team is that you have to bring back that running game. The Bills are allowing 170 rushing yards a game. That's 31st in the league. That slows down everything -- Williams, his pass rush, and everything else. It tests their defensive discipline as well.

Mike: It was a different type of running game that day, right?

Tedy: Up until that game, the Patriots were a big zone running team. But then they brought the counter-toss, and the counter-zone play, and that really caught the Bills off guard. It will be interesting to see how Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDainels attacks that front with runs this week.

Mike: We remember Tom Brady saying the Bills basically dared the Patriots to run by keeping their smaller lineup on the field for most of the game. That will be a matchup within this game to watch. Do the Bills do it differently this time?

Tedy: The Bills have Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams at defensive tackle on the inside; they are two very good players. The Patriots got them moving a little bit with the counter-action, and using their own strengths against them. Those guys are like anchors in there, so running the ball, getting those guys moving on similar runs could really help.

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Mike: Belichick is drilling home the importance of special teams this week, noting that the Bills rank first in the NFL in punt returns with Leodis McKelvin, who can produce a big play quickly.

Tedy: Yes, and I'd just add the Bills (3-5) don't have anything to lose. Those types of teams can be dangerous. You're playing one of the most explosive offenses in the league, so how do you steal a couple of possessions? Do you fake a punt, or do something similar to that? The Patriots will want to be heads-up for that.

Mike: Let's get to some predictions. I don't think we'll see the Patriots run for 247 yards like they did last time. With the Bills changing some things on defense, it could lead to more opportunities for the Patriots through the air. Coming off the bye and an impressive performance against the Rams in London, the Patriots have decisive advantages in many areas. They should win. Patriots 35, Bills 17.

Tedy: I felt the Bills were a team on the rise before the first meeting, but it seems like this team is a similar version of last year's -- minus-seven in turnover differential and one of the worst defenses in the league. Money can bring in good players, but it rarely brings immediate results. This Bills team has a long way to go, and the Patriots will continue to play the role of "big brother" to this team and win. Patriots 41, Bills 20.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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