What to watch for tonight in the Monday night showdown between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium:
1) Without Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis, what does this Pats offense look like? Heard a lot of chatter about taking more deep shots, or leaning on the run game a little more. The latter makes some sense because the Bills are average at best at the linebacker level and Mario Williams has a suspect motor. But pushing the ball downfield makes limited sense to me. It exposes Tom Brady to a pretty good pass rush, especially from Jerry Hughes on the edge and Marcell Dareus up the gut. Yes, the Pats should have all their offensive linemen in place tonight but these guys have struggled with the Bills rush before. Why risk Brady to that? I still think the Pats can operate their short, controlled passing attack with precision, using Rob Gronkowski -- Gronk, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell in that 0-to-10 yard range. Force the Bills to creep forward, then maybe take that shot. Ronald Darby has been excellent as a rookie, but the Bills like him to play off man coverage. Stephon Gilmore has been more of their in-your-face corner. Not remotely impressed by the Bills safeties, and Leodis McKelvin has been getting run there of late. A former first-round pick at corner, McKelvin wasn't great as an outside cover guy. Can he transition to dealing with the third wideout or someone like Gronk? If I'm the Pats, I'd take that matchup 100 times out of 100.
2) Is Tyrod Taylor any good? Watching him on the All-22s all week, and I can't answer the question. Maybe he is. Maybe he's not. Taylor has nice, easy mechanics and there are times he looks so calm in the pocket. But that's usually on the short stuff, where it looks at times as if it's predetermined as to where the ball's going to go. It's the moment he senses pressure -- or that clock in his head hits around two seconds -- that everything changes. That's when you see the flight instinct take over. And look, when you have the wheels that Taylor does, it's easy to see why he would want to go, however that puts the Bills signal caller in harm's way (he's already missed a couple of games because of his desire to run). It also tells me his eyes aren't remaining downfield, which has to be frustrating for what is a pretty solid receiving crew. Taylor can make all the throws, but there's a fair amount of times when he just won't let himself be in position to make those throws. We saw that way back in Week 2 and I don't think all that much has changed in that regard for Taylor.
3) The right side of the Bills offensive line hasn't been good pass protecting this year. At all. Tackle Seantrel Henderson and rookie RG John Miller have allowed a ton of pressures, hits and sacks. They're better at the run game, but some of that is because LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams are just so damn good.
4) That leads me to McCoy. He looked like his old self in that Thursday nighter versus the Jets. Quicks and cuts for days. He and Taylor pose quite a threat when the Bills go with the read option, although McCoy doesn't like blocking. Not one bit. Either guy can crease the defense. Williams provides more of that nastiness between the tackles, but I won't sell him short in the open field. He's fast and powerful. Think the Bills need to run effectively tonight to have a chance.
5) The Pats miss Jamie Collins when he's not playing because, well, the dude is a freak, capable of being a game-changer defensively. But they got by versus the Redskins and Giants because neither one of those teams had what the Bills do, in Taylor, McCoy and Williams. I think the Bills can take advantage of his absence, as Collins is probably the only guy at the linebacker level with the speed to stay in the ballpark with the aforementioned trio. Jon Freeny is not the answer. Not sure Jerod Mayo is in this kind of game, either. Wonder if we'll see more of those three-safety alignments the Pats have employed this year, with Pat Chung down in the box essentially acting as a linebacker. It's the route I would go.
6) X Factor. Rex Ryan has had and extra four days to cook up something special for Brady. His players have been talking about how they can fool Brady, that they're in a much better place than they were in week 2. Watching them, I'd agree. So what will Rex do? He knows he can't use the same plan as last time, even without Edelman and Lewis. But he trusts his corners, and usually that allows him to fool around with the other nine players on defense. Can't. Wait.