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Every Patriots fan's favorite rival is coming to town, with Rex Ryan bringing his 5-4 Bills to Foxborough for "Monday Night Football."
The Patriots have already seen Ryan and the Bills this year, dismantling them, 40-32, in Buffalo in Week 2 in a game that was a 37-13 blowout until the Bills scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The Bills are riding a two-game winning streak after important division wins over the Dolphins and Jets, and the chess match should be interesting in this one. The Bills will have had 11 days to prepare following their 22-17 win over the Jets last Thursday night, while the Patriots will have had eight days following their big comeback win over the Giants. Plus, since it's the second matchup of the season, it will be interesting to see how each team adjusts its game plan, particularly to account for the injuries that have popped up on both sides.
To get a handle on the Bills, we went back and watched their win over the Jets, and read over our film study notes from the Patriots' win in Week 2.
Here's what you need to know:
The Bills are ranked No. 6 in the NFL in points per game (25.7) and are in fairly good health, with Percy Harvin (season-ending knee injury) the only impact player from the Week 2 game who won't play this time around.
This is a fast, athletic offense, with several players who are dangerous in space and capable of taking it the distance: LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Charles Clay, Karlos Williams, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown in the first matchup.
The Bills generated only 22 points and 280 total yards against the Jets, but they've been protecting the football: no turnovers in the past two games, and plus-5 in turnovers for the season, sixth-best in the NFL.
Taylor operates primarily out of the shotgun, although he will take some snaps from under center and run bootleg play-action passes. The Bills are effective running the ball out of the shotgun, with McCoy ripping off some big runs against the Jets and getting great blocking from his offensive line (guard Richie Incognito has played quite well this year).
Williams, a rookie, is a big, physical change-of-pace back, and has seven touchdowns on offense plus a special teams touchdown last week.
The passing game is much more dynamic when the running game is working well, and Clay has become a big part of the offense, leading the Bills with 57 targets, 40 catches, and 408 receiving yards, including some impressive run-after-catch moves against the Jets.
But Taylor can be wildly inaccurate, and threw three interceptions in the first Patriots game, including two that were too high and tipped up by the receiver.
The Patriots played a lot of single-high safety in the first matchup, using Patrick Chung as an extra run defender in the box and daring Taylor to beat them with his arm. They also blitzed Taylor more than usual — about 25 percent of passing plays — and sacked him a whopping eight times (Chandler Jones had three).
Overall the Bills have allowed 27 sacks this year, seventh-most in the NFL.
The Patriots really could use Jamie Collins, who has missed the last two games with an illness. Collins was an absolute monster in the first matchup, chalking up 11 tackles (two for loss), 2½ sacks, and a forced fumble. He's the only player on the defense fast enough to cover McCoy and Williams out of the backfield and spy on Taylor, who ripped off some big runs against the Patriots.
I also expect Ryan to be a little more aggressive this time. The Bills punted on a fourth and 3 from Patriots territory, and didn't try an onside kick when a penalty moved the kickoff line of scrimmage to the 50. Ryan probably realizes that he'll have to throw the kitchen sink at the Patriots to beat them.
The Bills still play the same four-man front that we're used to seeing, with some great edge rushers in Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and a terrific run-plugging defensive tackle in Marcel Dareus. One big subtraction this time will be defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who will likely miss the game with a knee injury.
Despite their high-priced and high-profile defensive line, the Bills have only 14 sacks, ranking 29th in the NFL. Mario Williams and Hughes lead the team with three each, while Dareus has two. Still, the Bills are more than capable of generating pressure, especially with Ryan's zone blitzes and disguised pass rush.
The Patriots didn't bother trying to run the ball the first time around, with Tom Brady dropping back to pass 61 times and the Patriots calling just 12 handoffs. The Bills have some decent cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, and Nickell Robey (who tend to stick to one side of the field but are capable of matching up), but Brady negated the pass rush and devastated the Bills' back seven with a ton of quick passes, completing 38 of 59 for a whopping 466 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bills play mostly man-to-man or Cover 4 defense, and won't have safety Aaron Williams, who suffered a season-ending injury in the first matchup. The Bills rarely blitzed Brady the first time around, choosing instead to drop seven or eight defenders into coverage, and Brady tore them apart.
The Patriots also targeted the linebackers in coverage all day, picking on Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown with a steady diet of throws to Dion Lewis (98 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (113 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Dobson also had a big day, with 87 receiving yards.
But I question whether the Patriots will be as effective with a short passing offense this time around. They won't have Julian Edelman, who had 19 targets, 11 catches, 97 yards, and two touchdowns in the first game. They also won't have Lewis, who had 138 total yards and a rushing touchdown in a breakout performance. And we'll see what the offensive line looks like, with Sebastian Vollmer (concussion), Marcus Cannon (toe), and Tre Jackson (knee) week-to-week with injuries.
The Patriots might have to morph into more of a power running team this time because of the loss of Lewis and Edelman. LeGarrette Blount was still working his way back into shape in the first matchup and had only two carries for 4 yards, but he is back plowing over defenders now.
The Bills have allowed 100-plus rushing yards in each of the last four games, including several big runs to the Jets' Chris Ivory last week.
An effective running game will help the offensive line protect Brady, and open up the play-action passing game and the middle of the field for Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.