Patriots vs. Bills: What to watch for tonight


Patriots vs. Bills: What to watch for tonight

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.

Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins


Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The number of points the Patriots allowed in their 27-20 loss to the Dolphins on Monday night was the most they'd given up in more than two months. And they were lucky it wasn't more.

New England's defense had breakdowns across the board against Adam Gase's offense, allowing Jay Cutler to complete 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Had it not been for four Dolphins drops -- including one that nearly went for a long touchdown to Jakeem Grant -- Cutler's numbers would've been even better.

Here's a look at some of the issues the Patriots exhibited at Hard Rock Stadium. If they're going to get them cleaned up before next weekend's game in Pittsburgh against one of the NFL's best offenses, Matt Patricia is going to have a busy week on his hands.

The once-retired veteran has been a mostly dink-and-dunk style quarterback this season, but he aired it out with some success on Monday. Credit Gase and his staff for drawing up a plan that forced the Patriots to cover "every blade of grass." Without much pressure from the Patriots defense (more on that later), they stretched Bill Belichick's defense both horizontally and vertically. They found open crossers for much of the evening, utilizing Cutler's mobility to roll out and find receivers running across formations. They also caught the Patriots on some deep attempts. The first that had a shot came early in the second half when Julius Thomas let a big-gainer slip through his hands. Three plays later, Cutler found Grant for a 25-yard touchdown when Grant out-jumped Malcolm Butler for the 50-50 ball.

"Should've been more aggressive," Butler said after the game. "Should've went up, played the ball a little better. Think I competed well, but I think in that case competing wasn't good enough."

Butler gave a step to Grant again in the fourth quarter, but Cutler's pass bounced off of Grant's fingers and fell the would-be touchdown pass fell incomplete.

The entire front seven for the Patriots had their issues on Monday night, which made sense given the personnel. Without Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers and Alan Branch (ruled out with a knee injury during the game), the Dolphins hovered around 4.8 yards per carry until late in the contest. In coverage, Patriots linebackers -- in particular Elandon Roberts, who allowed 77 yards on three catches -- had their issues. But the team's pass rush has to be a concern as well. The Patriots managed just three hits on Cutler in the game. Two were sacks. Both Devin McCourty and Adam Butler came up with one. The other hit came in the first quarter when Eric Lee put a lick on Cutler as Cutler let an incompletion fly. Lee was the team's most productive rusher with three additional hurries. Eric Rowe also had a hurry on a corner blitz in the fourth quarter. Jordan Richards came up with a pressure of his own that should've resulted in more. Which leads us to . . . 

On Miami's final drive of the first half, the Patriots seemed to have their opponents stuffed in the red zone yet again. Richards shot a gap on the interior and had a clean hit lined up on Cutler, but he missed the takedown, and Cutler found Kenyan Drake for eight yards and a first down. Brutal. One play later, Cutler found Jarvis Landry to make the score 13-7. Richards' miss was, in essence, a four-point play. Roberts missed a first-quarter tackle that led to a Drake 26-yard run, and Landry stiff-armed Jones to the ground soon thereafter to give the Patriots another miss. In the third quarter, Drake spun out of a potential Patrick Chung tackle and scooted for 31 yards to set up Landry's second touchdown of the game.

The Patriots were expected to see bunch formation after bunch formation when they struggled to defend them against the Panthers in Week 4. Instead, they weren't inundated with bunch looks. They saw them only periodically and handled them well. But the Dolphins were relentless with their bunch sets. The Patriots seemed to have them figured out for the most part, but Landry got loose out of a bunch formation near the goal line, leading to his second score of the game. And in the third quarter, on a third-and-four play, the Patriots appeared to be almost too ready for a pick out of a tight two-man set. Jonathan Jones, seemingly anticipating contact, lost Kenny Stills off the line of scrimmage and gave up an 11-yard completion for a crucial first down. Two plays later, the Dolphins were in the end zone.


NFL Network suspends analysts over sexual misconduct suit


NFL Network suspends analysts over sexual misconduct suit

NEW YORK -- Hall of Fame player Marshall Faulk and two other NFL Network analysts have been suspended after a former employee alleged sexual misconduct in a lawsuit.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy on Tuesday identified the three as Faulk, Ike Taylor and Heath Evans. He says they have been "suspended from their duties at NFL Network pending an investigation into these allegations."

According to court documents first reported by Bloomberg, former wardrobe stylist Jami Cantor described several sexually inappropriate encounters with the three retired NFL players and others who have worked for the NFL Network.

Former NFL Network executive Eric Weinberger and former NFL Network analyst Donovan McNabb are among those named in the suit. McNabb now works for ESPN.

Cantor worked at the NFL Network for a decade. She filed an amended complaint originally filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in October.