Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Patriots (10/2/16)

Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Patriots (10/2/16)
Posted at 8:47 PM, Oct 02, 2016

The Buffalo Bills defied those -- likely the many -- that believed their game Sunday to be a surefire win for the New England Patriots. After all, New England just came off a 27-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans to improve their record to 3-0, and had 10 days of rest in between that win and the Bills game.

The Patriots held out their decision on the starter until the hours leading up to the game to try and gain any advantage that they could. By the end of it, the Bills were up against rookie Jacoby Brissett, and they knew from then on there was a glorious opportunity to win a game.

They followed through, to get their 2016 record up to 2-2, and gave Patriots head coach Bill Belichick his only shutout loss at home since he took over the New England job. How did the Bills do it?

Seven observations from the Bills 16-0 win over the Patriots.

1) Rex should — and did — dominate a rookie quarterback
- With Jacoby Brissett as the man under center for New England, the Bills knew that they’d be seeing a healthy dose of the Patriots trying to establish their ground game. Brissett isn’t necessarily a great option to start at quarterback at this stage of his career, and if the Bills could take away the running game, then they could force the Patriots into being a one-dimensional offense. That’s precisely what happened… just look at the first half offensive stats from New England: They rushed the ball 13 times, managed only 37 yards with a terrible average of 2.8 yards per carry. The Patriots clearly didn’t want to overload Brissett, who threw the ball only three times in the first 30 minutes. While the Bills managed to get a whopping 16 first downs on offense, the Patriots only had 16 plays in the first half— and went 0-for-5 on third-down attempts. Down 13-0 at the half, that forced the Patriots to abandon everything they wanted to do on offense, and that played right in Rex Ryan’s hands. The Patriots finished the game converting on only 1-of-12 third down attempts, which further exemplified the Bills' defensive dominance. Out of four weeks, the Bills defense has performed incredibly well in three of their contests. It might be time to give Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, and Dennis Thurman the credit for fixing what ailed the defense in 2015 — and by doing so without all of Marcell Dareus, Shaq Lawson, and Reggie Ragland. It’s early, but this group is a lot different than the one we saw one season ago.

2) Zach Brown steals the show
- One of the reasons that the Bills have been able to play as well defensively without the loss of those three key players has been veteran inside linebacker Zach Brown. He stepped in for the rookie Ragland after the team lost him for the year to a torn ACL, and has done so almost seamlessly. Brown has been a fantastic addition to the defense, and was the best player on the field Sunday by leaps and bounds. Brown was all over the field, whether it be in the backfield to stop running plays at the line of scrimmage, in coverage to break up a pass attempt, in coverage to tackle a player that otherwise would have went for a big gain, or even rushing the passer — he was always around the ball. He ended the game with 18 total tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles. The Bills were hoping for Brown to be a solid piece to their defense, but I doubt they expected to get the type of production that they have so far from the former Tennessee Titans linebacker. He has made the Reggie Ragland injury a non-factor through four weeks.

3) Clay, Woods help a more rounded attack
- The Bills offense took a baby step forward last week against Arizona in getting to be a bit more consistent. It’s been a slow progression, but a progression nonetheless for Buffalo. Against Baltimore the offense was nowhere to be found, versus the Jets they were only noticeable on two deep passes that went for touchdowns, and then last week, we saw a little bit more sustainability for that group under the fresh ideas of new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Against New England, Lynn’s game plan helped the Bills really get themselves established both on the ground and through the air — and it certainly helped things by getting both wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Charles Clay involved. Between the two, they had 12 total receptions for 136 yards and 17 combined targets. The Bills made it a point to get both involved, because without Sammy Watkins likely for the remainder of the season, they need to establish both players as huge contributors. The sustainability of the offense on Sunday was the most telling sign of progress, getting 24 first downs, converting 7-of-15 third down opportunities, running a season-high 73 plays, and controlling the ball for 36:11 of the 60 total minutes in the game. They’ll have a much stiffer test against the stingier Los Angeles Rams defense in Week Five.

4) Tyrod hemmed in by Patriots, but improving
- In order to get both Woods and Clay involved the Bills needed Tyrod Taylor to see them down the field — because both players have been running open. But at the same time, both were largely unacknowledged over the middle of the field by the starting quarterback. Taylor still missed some receivers running open in that area of the field, but he unlocked the outside throws with some slants over the middle of the field. The Patriots clearly had the defensive mindset to hem Taylor into the pocket and take away his running ability on scramble plays -- and did so successfully. They wanted to force him to be a passer, and much to their dismay, Taylor was more of a passer against the Patriots than he had been in any other game of the season. If he and the Bills can continue to unlock defenses with short-to-intermediate throws over the middle of the field that open up the outside areas a bit more, then they’ll be much tougher to defend going forward. It will be fascinating to see how the Rams, a better defensive team, plan to attack Taylor on Sunday.

5) Brissett’s tell?
- The Bills did quite well in shutting down Patriots rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett, but, might it be the easiest task for them in the 2016 season? It’s a legitimate question that needs to be asked, because many in the Bills locker room believed that they were going to win against a Brissett-led team. Head coach Rex Ryan said as much, as did running back LeSean McCoy, and inside linebacker Preston Brown even explained why the defense was able to do all the great things that they did on Sunday:



That allowed the Bills to take loads more chances than they would against more experienced quarterbacks, and isn’t likely to be a sustainable plan of attack for the final 12 weeks. The Bills clearly unnerved Brissett in the game, even though he wound up throwing for 205 yards when it was all said and done, he was largely ineffective. Even considering that it isn't likely they face someone like him again this season, the Bills deserve credit for forcing Brissett and the Patriots offense into the dilapidated unit that we saw on Sunday.

6) Volume McCoy returns once more
- While the Bills need to continue their efforts with both Robert Woods and Charles Clay, the man that will be the key to the offense for the rest of the season — and the one they can’t possibly afford an injury to — is starting running back LeSean McCoy. Through the first three games, McCoy had taken a whopping 83.73-percent of snaps, which is tremendously high for a running back. He saw a season-high of 23 total touches against the Cardinals, and he once again topped that mark this week against the Patriots with 25. It’s quite clear that the Bills are depending on McCoy to be the linchpin of their offense without Sammy Watkins, and for the second straight week, he’s responded with over 100 total yards — and looking explosive while doing so. As McCoy goes, so will the Bills offense… and we saw that on Sunday in New England.

7) Go figure: Undisciplined pregame leads to a disciplined game
- The Bills and Patriots made for the most interesting pregame moment that I’ve seen since I started covering the team full-time in 2010. It all started with Bills safety Robert Blanton shoving quarterback Jacoby Brissett, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell stepping in on his quarterback’s behalf, and then players and coaches from both teams converging for an outright shoving and screaming match. The full event is detailed here, but it was an undisciplined moment for Rex Ryan’s team.. who didn’t seem particularly bothered by it.

“I didn’t think it was that big a deal. It’s not like anyone was throwing down on anybody. It looked like it was just some words out there.”

It drew the ire of Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft, who cited Rex Ryan for bringing on such an undisciplined group. And then, quite ironically, the script was completely flipped in the game. The Bills ended the game, almost uncharacteristically, with less penalties than their opponents. Rex Ryan’s crew committed only six penalties that were accepted to New England’s nine… and a couple of those were huge for the Patriots. Look no further for an example than the first offensive play of the game for New England, when wide receiver Chris Hogan committed two penalties on a play that saw Julian Edelman take a short pass down to the Buffalo one-yard line. That Bills disaster was averted because of the penalty, and New England never really got close enough to get in the end zone from that point forward.

Bills MVP: Zach Brown
- 18 tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack… the guy was a monster against New England.

Bills LVP: G Richie Incognito
- I actually thought he had a great game blocking, but with not a lot to criticize the Bills for in their win over the Patriots, Incognito’s three penalties are the only huge eyesore.

Up Next: The Bills (2-2) are up against the Los Angeles Rams (3-1) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. Kickoff is set for 4:25 p.m.

GIF of the week:



Final Thoughts:
- The first two weeks for the Buffalo Bills seemed about as long as imaginable for teams around the National Football League. The Bills dropped their first two games — both of which to AFC opponents — and it had media and fans alike thinking about the worst possible outcomes for the season… including the potential demise of the head coach Rex Ryan. However, the Bills have answered back in a big way, stringing together two straight wins to put them right back in the thick of things of the playoff race — only a game out of the last Wildcard spot through the first four weeks of the season. It was an interesting way to get there, but the Bills are 2-2 through the first quarter of the season nonetheless. We’ve seen the defense evolve into a solid unit without two important pieces, and the offense has taken steps forward under a new offensive coordinator. All things considered, the Bills have come a long way in just four weeks. Now, they’re likely getting Marcell Dareus back on the field, and getting to a portion of the schedule where, if they have any hope of the playoffs, they’ll likely need to go 3-1 against a softer schedule. The Bills are on the road in Los Angeles in an extremely winnable game, at home against a less talented San Francisco group, and then on the road against a struggling Miami Dolphins team. That’s all followed up by a visit from a likely angry Bill Belichick-led New England group with Tom Brady back in the saddle, so the first three will be essential. All things considered, the Bills have done a great job to turn it around from a terrible start -- but that isn’t enough. They need to push for the playoffs with Rex Ryan, even through all the adversity they’ve already seen in 2016. It’s setting up for a fascinating final 12 games, that’s for sure.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia