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Scouting report

Buffalo hunt

By Jim McBride
Globe Staff / November 9, 2008
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Buffalo Bills (5-3) at New England Patriots (5-3), 1 p.m., Ch. 4; Line: Patriots by 3 1/2.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

The Patriots' wily and tough offensive line has been doing yeoman work the last few weeks as the team continues to make tremendous strides in the run game despite being without its top three tailbacks. Intelligent center Dan Koppen makes all the right calls and takes all the right angles. Left guard Logan Mankins dominates with great strength and a surly attitude. Stephen Neal beats his opponent with superb athleticism. With Sammy Morris (knee) and LaMont Jordan (calf) still hobbling, the Patriots will again turn to old reliable Kevin Faulk and surprising rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Faulk continues to use excellent burst and quick feet to surprise defenses and get to the second level. He's too small to be a workhorse but he gets the most out of his 10-15 carries. Green-Ellis has shown good burst and runs decisively. The Bills have a stout rushing defense and it starts with tackles Marcus Stroud (6 feet 6 inches, 310 pounds) and Kyle Williams (6-1, 306). Stroud has an elite combination of size, strength, and athleticism. He has the power to overcome double teams and the quickness to split defenders and make plays in the backfield. Despite his girth, Williams has good quickness and plays with a chip on his shoulder. Rugged middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has excellent instincts and will fire through gaps to deliver punishing hits.

EDGE: Patriots

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Matt Cassel's rapid development is among the biggest surprises of the NFL season. He has led the Patriots to five victories but his play in last week's loss to the Colts might have been his best performance of the season. Cassel no longer has that deer-in-the-headlights look. He looks poised and confident in the huddle and the pocket. The 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pounder still needs to decipher defenses more quickly, but his decision-making and accuracy have improved. Cassel catches a huge break today with explosive defensive end Aaron Schobel on the shelf with a foot injury. Cassel has relied heavily on quick outs to Wes Welker, and you can expect more of that today. Welker, who does his damage from the slot, will be matched up against rookie Reggie Corner because Ashton Youboty (foot) is out. Corner lacks Youboty's speed and mirror ability. He is strong and quick, however. If Cassel gets time to go deep, he'll be looking for Randy Moss. Moss will be covered by Buffalo's top corner, Terrence McGee, and should get ample opportunities to produce. At 5-9, McGee will have trouble defending Moss one-on-one, and help would have come from safety Donte Whitner, but he's out with a shoulder injury. Ko Simpson is a physical defender.

EDGE: Patriots

WHEN THE BILLS RUN

Versatile Marshawn Lynch carries the load for the Bills. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pounder has a tremendous mix of power and speed. Lynch has an explosive first step and good vision and will abuse arm tacklers. He uses his quickness to burst through openings and his chiseled frame to create bigger openings. Lynch also has the speed to turn the corner and sprint to the secondary. He's already among the better backs in the NFL, but when he learns to consistently keep his shoulders low, he'll be among the elite. Underrated backup Fred Jackson (6-1, 215) has excellent size, strength, and energy. He can break tackles but lacks speed, so he's not going to hit a lot of home runs. Buffalo's offensive line is in shambles because of injuries. Duke Preston, normally a guard, will play center. He's adept at pulling. Towering Kirk Chambers (6-7, 314) shifts from tackle to right guard. He's quick but lacks strength and has trouble pushing the pile. The left side features tackle Jason Peters (quick feet and a nonstop motor) and Derrick Dockery (a powerful initial punch). The Patriots' run stuffers, led by massive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, have been outstanding lately. Wilfork uses his deceptive quickness to overpower opponents and prevent them from getting to the second level. Warren uses strength to stun blockers and punish ball carriers.

EDGE: Patriots

WHEN THE BILLS PASS

Trent Edwards is a very cerebral quarterback with solid physical skills. Edwards sets up in a hurry, shows poise in the pocket, and reads defenses quickly. He won't lock on to one receiver and excels in the short-to-medium passing game. His accuracy suffers on deep balls, but he's rarely asked to make big plays. Instead, he'll hit his receivers on quick routes and let them do damage after the catch. Edwards has been dinged this year (concussion, ankle) so durability is a concern. It'll be important for New England's ferocious front seven to put some heat on Edwards to prevent him from becoming too comfortable. Edwards's best friend is tough, athletic receiver Lee Evans. The 5-foot-10-inch, 197-pound Evans has strong hands, allowing him to counterattack corners who try to jam him. He also has good speed, allowing him to gain separation from slower corners. Speedy Roscoe Parrish has excellent hands and tremendous moves. Once he gets the ball, he darts around the secondary like a pinball, changing directions quickly and bouncing off defenders. Evans and Parrish are tough matchups and New England's below-average corners will struggle today. Tight end Robert Royal is a tenacious blocker with reliable hands. He lacks speed, however, and isn't much of a downfield threat.

EDGE: Bills

Bills' keys to victory:

1. Buffalo wings: Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish have to test New England's corners and stretch the defense. Both are remarkable after the catch.

2. Buffalo soldiers: Tackles Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams have to anchor against the run and prevent the rotation of running backs from killing the clock.

3. Buffalo sabre: Dick Jauron has a sharp mind. He needs to empty his bag of tricks and come up with a scheme to pressure Matt Cassel into some mistakes.

Patriots' keys to victory:

1. My friends call me Ox: Vince Wilfork's speed and strength set the tone for this defense. He needs to shed his block and attack Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch.

2. Everybody calls me Psycho: Rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. He has to read, react, and ravage today.

3. Hit them bunks, my little babies: Score early, get a big lead, and rest those starters. With a game Thursday night, R&R will be vital.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Bills 16

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