Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Watch out for the Bills on Monday night. They may be 2-5. They may be averaging a league-worst 11.6 points per game. They may have turned the football over eight times in the last two weeks.

Just . . . watch out for them. Because given the way Bill Belichick broke down their strengths on Wednesday afternoon, they sound like world-beaters.

This is, of course, one of Belichick's greatest strengths. His hyper-focus on the task at hand, the play at hand, the matchup at hand -- particularly with what he says during his media appearances -- reduces the odds that his players will overlook what's right in front of them. Even if what's right in front of them is an utter disaster at the moment. 

The Bills have already played three starting quarterbacks this year, and they've most recently settled on 35-year-old Derek Anderson, who threw three picks and lost a fumble last week. They've been held scoreless in the first half of three of their last four games.

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Defensively, the Bills allowed 5.9 yards per carry last week against a Colts team that for the vast majority of the season has not been able to run the football. 

But defensively is where their strengths lay. They're third in the league in pass yards allowed per attempt (6.7), and they're eighth in sacks (19).

That's where Belichick began Wednesday, setting the tone for a week (plus an extra day) of prep for a team that the rest of the world would easily deem as vastly inferior to his.

"Defensively, this has been a really impressive group," Belichick said. "They don't give up many yards, turn the ball over, really good up front, make a lot of negative plays, sack the quarterback, tackles for loss, turnovers. They're really good in their kickoff coverage, punt coverage units. They do a really good job on that. Those are mostly defensive players."

The number of negative plays the Bills create could be a real issue, and Belichick was sure to hit on it in detail. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bills have 44 quarterback hits and sacks combined. (The Patriots, by comparison have 37 combined hits and sacks.) 

Buffalo has talented players up front who help contribute to opponent lost yardage -- Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams, Trent Murphy and Lorenzo Alexander have all been in on multiple sacks this season -- but they also mix things up with their pressures and blitzes to keep offenses off-balance.

"Everyone," Belichick said, "gets a chance."

He added: "They do a good job with movement. They bring guys off the edge and get their linemen involved in stunts and movement. They play base and they're just hard to block. [Jordan] Phillips has done a good job for them. He's a good, young player. Obviously, Kyle is always a problem in there. Murphy has done a good job for them. He's a strong guy that's hard to block on the edge, as is Hughes, Alexander. 

"They have good players up there. They play them straight. They stunt them and they stunt them in combination with other players – secondary players and linebackers, so that creates some issues for blocking patterns and so forth. But a lot of negative plays, a lot of strips, a lot of balls on the ground, and then that creates long yardage and they sack the quarterback. They hit the quarterback."

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Offensively, it's a group that's hard to compliment. But Belichick found a way. 

Take what he said about LeSean McCoy, who currently is 36th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.9) among backs who've played at least a quarter of their team's snaps. He's 56th when looking at average yards after contact per rush (1.9).

"He's had a lot of great runs," Belichick said. "When the hole is there, that's a problem. But he makes plays when the defense over-pursues and he cuts back. He's very good in the passing game, good short yardage and goal line runner, gets tough yards. I mean, he can do it all. He's a great player. He's hard to tackle, hard to stop."

The Patriots are two-touchdown favorites, but Belichick won't let his team off the hook this week as they get ready for their second divisional game of the year. They've faced better teams up in Buffalo, but by the sounds of it they'll prepare for this one like it's the biggest game on the schedule. 

"It's a division game," Belichick said. "It's always tough with them up there. We know that. I mean, we know it's going to be tough. We talked about it, but talking about it is the easy part. It'll be dealing with it Monday night that will be the hard part."

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