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The Buffalo Bills have been the bottom feeders of the AFC East division for years now, and the 2012 season has brought optimism to fans like never before. Last year, the Bills snapped a 15 game, eight year losing streak to the New England Patriots. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has torched the Bills for 46 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions, and while the Pats’ have been making playoff runs, the Bills have been making top 10 draft picks. This year, however, it seems like the roster is built to stop the Patriots. With that said, let’s take a look at five ways the Bills can strip the Patriots of their AFC East title.
Apply Pressure To QB Tom Brady
The Bills couldn’t apply any pressure last season, registering just 29 sacks, with 10 of them coming in one game against the Washington Redskins. In the two games the Bills played against the Patriots, they registered seven quarterback hits, five sacks, and five interceptions.
This offseason, they made former Houston Texans’ All-Pro defensive end Mario Williams the highest paid defensive player in the National Football League, nearly as soon as free agency commenced. Williams is a proven pass rusher, yet he has been plagued with injuries the past two seasons. However, the former No. 1 overall pick has 53 sacks to his name.
Along with Williams, the Bills brought in defensive end Mark Anderson, who racked up 10 sacks for the Patriots last season. Anderson is strictly a situational pass-rusher, but will be valuable on third downs, and obvious passing situations, and we all know the Pats love to pass. Along with Williams and Anderson, the Bills also have Shawne Merriman, who the front office and fans alike are hoping for a return to his “Lights Out” form, after he stated he feels better than ever.
Defensive Coordinator, Dave Wannstedt, has made a living rushing with four men, allowing the other seven players to cover. That plan won’t change this year at all, especially with the talent in the middle of the line with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Furthermore, the Bills have more depth than ever on the defensive line, which means that a rotation will be used to keep players fresh and ready to play at any time.
Contain TE’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez
The Bills have a problem containing tight ends, and the Patriots tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has been the deadliest. Last year in two games, the two combined for 22 receptions, gaining 355 yards. That is unacceptable, and both the strongside linebacker and the safeties need to key in on those two in order to disrupt Brady’s rhythm. Arthur Moats has been penciled in as the starting outside ‘backer for now, and he has the size and speed combination that can keep up with players of their caliber, but he will need help on the back end from safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd.
With the Bills not having to blitz as much anymore, there will be more room for the back seven to contain and set zones for containing the spread offense New England operates out of. Gronkowski and Hernandez will make plays, no doubt about it, but holding them to under 355 yards in two games is definitely a step in the right direction.
Control The Clock
The Patriots are a pass-first, run second team, and if the Bills want to avoid shootouts with one of the best quarterbacks to play the game, they need to manage their time of possession in orderly fashion. Last year, both teams were relatively even in their time of possession, with the Bills controlling the clock for 59:07, and the Patriots controlling it for 60:53. The Patriots let their best running back, Benjarvus Green-Ellis walk in free agency, in order to let their former second and third round draft picks Stephen Ridley and Shane Vereen take over in the backfield. Both are unproven backs, so it’s unlikely they see many carries this season, but the Bills need to run the ball and keep the clock along with drives moving. They simply cannot afford to go in the pass, pass, pass mentality as they did so often against the Patriots last year.
With David Nelson in the slot, along with Stevie Johnson’s famous slant routes, the Bills should be able to move the chains against one of 2011′s worst defenses in the National Football League. The Bills have a perfect tandem in their backfield of power and speed in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. If the two can combine for 25-30 touches per game, the clock with be in the Bills’ favor, giving them a better chance at scoring points.
The Buffalo Bills have been plagued by injuries for the past couple of years now, mostly coming to key players. Last year, Fred Jackson was on pace for an MVP season before breaking a fibula. Roscoe Parrish suffered a season ending ankle injury after big things were expected for him in the slot position. No. 2 receiver, Donald Jones, suffered through ankle injuries throughout the year, which eventually led him to the injured reserve list. Center Eric Wood suffered another nasty leg injury, this time to his knee, also sending him to the IR. Kyle Williams, the nose tackle and heart of the 3-4 defense had nagging Achilles injuries and had surgery to remove bone spurs. Shawne Merriman also suffered an Achilles injury. Cornerback Terrence McGee was injured on the first defensive play of the season, before coming back six weeks later only to get hurt again. Ryan Fitzpatrick reportedly played out the latter portion of the season with cracked ribs after a devastating blow from London Fletcher. Even kicker RIan Lindell was sent to the injured reserve list after trying to make a special teams tackle.
All of these players were key pieces to the 2011 Buffalo Bills’ squad, and if the team hopes to make a playoff run, they need to stay healthy and have adequate depth at crucial positions, because in the NFL, injuries are commonplace.
Win The Games You’re Supposed To Win!
Last season there were three losses that I believe the Bills could have won. Those were week four against the Cincinnati Bengals, week six against the New York Giants, and week 12 against the New York Jets. Against the Bengals, the Bills were up 17-3 at halftime, looking to improve to 4-0 on the season. However, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton led the team on a last minute drive, and kicker Mike Nugent kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to win the game 23-20.
In week six against the Giants, the Bills had the game in the bag until Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an interception on a pass intended for Stevie Johnson deep in the redzone. The run defense was terrible, as Ahmad Bradshaw found the endzone three times, but yet again, the game came down to a field goal with just over one minute left to play.
The most important part of protecting a lead is taking care of the ball. The Bills need to limit these end of the game mistakes that result in losses, even if it is just two games and the chances are that they’ll be playing in the playoffs instead of watching them.
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