FOXBORO -- In their meeting with the Bills last month, the Patriots missed a fleet of tackles on both LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor in part enabling Buffalo to hold the ball for 12 more minutes than New England.
Certainly, there were other factors at play that day but the ability of both Taylor and McCoy to make guys miss aided the Bills early on third down.
“Some of our problems [in the first meeting] were directly related to that,” explained Devin McCourty on Friday. “We can talk about wanting to do a bunch of stuff but if we don’t fix that we’ll still have some of the same issues. I think some of that game was just missing a tackle. It’s something we work on daily. It was just a matter of not executing. It’s not going to get any easier, they have a lot of tough guys to bring down.”
McCoy didn’t practice all week because of a hamstring injury and is listed as doubtful for this game. But the Patriots will still be dealing with Taylor and McCoy’s shifty backup Mike Gillislee. Last week, New England did a good -- not great -- job of holding down Steelers’ back LeVeon Bell.
The key, McCourty said, is leverage as a tackler. Positioning your body so that the ball carrier is funneled to where the defensive help is.
“Just knowing where your help is, knowing where your help is coming from [is what leverage] is all about,” he explained. “More to the point tackling wise is getting all 11 guys to the ball. I think if that becomes our focus missing a tackle won’t be as big if we’ve got three or four guys behind us to help us.
“[Leverage] is something we always talk about but when you play against really good open-field players like a Reggie Bush or a LeSean McCoy, [Mike] Gillislee or Tyrod Taylor, this is what they do week in and week out, we need to get more guys to the ball to help out.”
The Bills have done a good job offensively in recent weeks of scheming things to stress defenses and get their best skill players in space.
“Between the wildcat, the unbalanced line, the kind of two different option packages, that’s kind of what they force you to [prepare for],” Bill Belichick explained Friday. “They sprinkle those plays in, they make you work on them, but they also have I’d say some of the more conventional plays but they also have the speed sweeps and things like that, reverses and quarterback runs that are wildcat runs but it’s a quarterback that actually runs the ball instead of a running back or wildcat guy.
"So, they have a lot of things like that that force you to make adjustments even though they’re essentially running the same play but they get to it in different ways. Again, whether you want to call them wildcat, unbalanced line, option, but all of those things; they all kind of fall into the same category. And with them you’re not going to see anything like 30 times.
"You’re going to see they have five of these, six of these, five of these, six of these, maybe eight of something else, maybe two of something else. But that’s kind of what they do. It definitely stretches you and forces you to prepare for those things that you’re going to get a handful of times in the game. You might get them more if you don’t stop them but that’s what they do and they’re pretty successful at that because they do force teams to eat up a lot of practice time working on things they’re going to see only a couple of times but then they’re on to something else.”
In the end, despite the practice reps and fundamentals stressed, the ability of the players carrying out the plays has to be dealt with.
“You always practice that stuff but when you have LeSean McCoy coming at you, you know you have good leverage, he knows you have good leverage and he knows how to play to that,” McCourty explained. “That’s what’s hard. These players in this league who are very good at making guys miss and LeSean McCoy excels at that.”
McCoy might be a scratch Sunday and that will be a bullet dodged. But the Patriots will still need to do a better job tackling this time around to ensure a better result.