Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Bills Week 4 Preview: A test at last?
Last season, the Patriots played in Buffalo in Week 8. The final score was 25-6 but the score doesn’t do justice to how hard the Bills made it on the New England offense. It was 9-6 late in the third and the Patriots only got in the end zone offensively once – a James White run that made it 18-6 early in the fourth. They were without Sony Michel, so the lead back that night became Cordarelle Patterson. The Bills were 2-5 going into that game but still gave plenty of resistance to a Patriots team still looking for its offensive identity. This week, the two teams meet again. The Bills are feeling good about themselves and should be at 3-0. The Patriots? Also 3-0. They have the best defense in the NFL but – like last season an offense that is still figuring out what it’s going to be all about. While the Patriots have plus-89 in score differential, this game should be the toughest test of the first quarter of the season.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
This has been a sore spot so far for the Patriots as Michel has struggled to get started. The team is without fullback James Develin for the foreseeable future as he’s gone to IR. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse missed a pair of practices this week with an illness and was limited on Friday. The Patriots aren’t getting the same level of blocking from the tight end spot they had for years with Rob Gronkowski. So it’s not optimal. The Bills gave up 129 to the Giants in Week 2 but held the Jets and Bengals under 70 yards. They aren’t an easy team to run on with Star Lotuleilei, Jerry Hughes and rookie Ed Oliver up front with linebacker Tremaine Edwards cleaning things up behind them. Rex Burkhead’s been the Patriots most productive back so far (4.7 YPC to Michel’s 2.4).
WHEN THE BILLS RUN
The Patriots are best in the league at shutting down running games. Even though Frank Gore can still pop a few, the Patriots’ front is too locked in right now to allow the Bills running game to heat up. One factor to watch for is rookie Devin Singletary. He’s got 127 yards on 10 carries but is coming into this one with a sore hamstring.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
After three near-perfect drives to start the game last week against the Jets, the Patriots bogged down a bit after halftime. They were 2-for-8 on third downs after the when Julian Edelman exited the game with injured ribs. Expect him to play Sunday. But the Bills should be sending plenty of attention his way and sending their best corner, Tre’Davious White, to deal with Josh Gordon. That means the backs – Burkhead and James White – and wideouts Phillip Dorsett and Jakobi Meyers will be called on. Dorsett is already off to the most productive start of his five-year career and the Patriots are going to need him to keep working at the same level to succeed. This is close but we’re giving the checkmark to the Patriots because they have the best quarterback to ever do it on their side.
WHEN THE BILLS PASS
I smell interceptions. Josh Allen’s had a nice start to the season and his two new additions at wideout – Cole Beasley and John Brown – have combined for 35 catches. But this is an entirely different challenge for Allen with Stephon Gilmore likely to take Brown for a chunk of the game. Can Allen read and react quickly without losing composure and galumphing into trouble? Will the Patriots – dealing with their first running threat at quarterback this year – back off the pressure a bit to try and keep Allen from scrambling? This is a bad matchup for Allen. If he completes more than 55 percent of his passes, call it a big win for him.
Jake Bailey had a remarkable game last week and was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Stephen Gostkowski did not have a remarkable game, missing another PAT. The Bills haven’t gotten much done on returns this season. Their kicker, Steve Hauschka, has missed just one kick this season. Former Patriots hopeful Corey Bojorquez is the Bills punter. Rookie returner Gunner Olszewski had a bad muff last week and his ballhandling – while very good outside of that blunder – will be in focus.
Patriots: QUESTIONABLE: WR Julian Edelman (chest), DE Michael Bennett (shoulder), RB Rex Burkhead (foot), S Nate Ebner (groin), LT Marshall Newhouse (illness), LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), and TE Matt LaCosse (ankle)
Bills: OUT: TE Tyler Kroft (ankle) and LB Corey Thompson (ankle) have been ruled out. QUESTIONABLE: RB Devin Singletary (hamstring), CB Taron Johnson (hamstring), LB Maurice Alexander (knee), WR Robert Foster (groin), OL Spencer Long (ankle), G Jon Feliciano (neck), and WR Isaiah McKenzie (ankle).
Patriots favored by 7.5. The total is 42.
Patriots 19, Bills 13
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13 (Final: Patriots, 33-3)
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0 (Final: Patriots, 43-0)
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6 (Final: Patriots, 30-14)