Bills at Patriots
Tonight at 7 on Ch. 5, ESPN (Line: Patriots by 11)
When the Patriots runIf everyone is healthy this could be one scary group. Fred Taylor has quick feet, exceptional vision, and good cutback skills. He has a lot of miles on the odometer and a lengthy list of leg woes, but he could thrive in an offense where he won’t have to carry the load alone. Laurence Maroney has been teasing New England residents for years. He has excellent speed and power, but myriad injuries have turned this once explosive burner into an indecisive runner. Sammy Morris has a good first step and is shifty. He’s been injury-prone lately, but he’ll provide relief for Taylor and Maroney. Kevin Faulk is among the most versatile and valuable backs in the league. He’s a tough inside runner who stays low and uses his quick feet to avoid direct hits. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a tough and decisive runner. He doesn’t have great burst and lacks patience, but when he picks the right crease he’ll be productive. There won’t be a lot of creases because the Bills have a pair of space cloggers up front in Kyle Williams and Marcus Stroud. Williams has great lower-body strength and can tie up multiple blockers. Stroud is a tremendous athlete who plays with a mean streak. Stroud can push blockers around and will make plays in the backfield. Paul Posluszny is a rugged middle linebacker who hits first and asks questions later. He’s the prototypical read-and-react player who fills gaps with authority.
When the Patriots passTom Brady (he of the surgically repaired left knee and sore right shoulder) is back. The league’s coolest customer looked pretty darn good during the exhibition season. There were some throws that he didn’t step into full force, but overall his passes were crisp and the timing was there. Brady uses every weapon at his disposal - his favorite receiver is the open one - and he rarely forces throws. A commanding presence, he knows everyone’s assignment and will get in a teammate’s mug if he’s not performing. The incomparable Randy Moss remains one of the league’s elite receivers. His freakish combination of size, athleticism, and acceleration make him tough to cover one on one. Speaking of freaks, Joey Galloway (15 years) still has the speed of a rookie. He’s a little gun-shy going over the middle, but few receivers work the sidelines better than Galloway. Speaking of going over the middle, that’s the domain of Wes Welker. The 5-9, 185-pound Welker works the slot to perfection. He has quick feet, strong hands, and the ability to find soft spots. The Bills have an excellent secondary. Cornerbacks Terrence McGee (he has tremendous quickness and instincts) and Leodis McKelvin (he has elite speed and surprising toughness) won’t back down. Free safety Donte Whitner specializes in bone-rattling hits.
When the Bills runThe Bills start behind the 8-ball, with explosive tailback Marshawn Lynch suspended for the first three games. Lynch picks up a ton of yards and prevents teams from teeing off on quarterback Trent Edwards. The starter by default is Fred Jackson, one of the most underrated backs in the league. Jackson runs low and with excellent power. He can absorb hits and maintain his balance. The 6-1, 215-pounder has decent vision and will push the pile. Jackson lacks explosiveness and speed -- he’s no home run threat. Xavier Omon (5-11, 217 pounds) has limited experience. A thick player with deceptive speed, Omon was a very physical runner in college, but has yet to prove he can play that style with the bigger boys. Omon showed good burst during the preseason, a big reason the team cut veteran Dominic Rhodes. The three interior linemen are new. Center Geoff Hangartner is smart and quick off the ball. He uses his hands well, but lacks strength and will get manhandled at times -- it’s a safe bet he’s been seeing Vince Wilfork in his nightmares over the last week. Left guard Andy Levitre has good speed and agility, but will miss assignments. Right guard Eric Wood (6-4, 315 pounds) was a center in college, but has shown the smarts and technique to make the switch. Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Jarvis Green will dominate this matchup, allowing the destructive force that is Jerod Mayo to post huge tackle numbers.
When the Bills passEdwards has emerged as a solid quarterback who is respected by friends and foes. He has excellent size (6-4, 231 pounds), good vision, and a strong arm. The biggest knock on Edwards is a lack of consistency. He can look like Jim Kelly one possession and Joe Ferguson the next. This is the first season he’s had two elite receivers with which to work. Terrell Owens is a true game breaker. As long as Edwards keeps feeding Owens the ball, he’ll be a happy camper. If not, Owens will morph from star to distraction in a heartbeat. Lee Evans is a clear and present danger. He has high-end speed, tremendous concentration, and will adjust to poorly thrown balls. The Patriots have two new starting corners, but they’re hardly new to the NFL. Shawn Springs, who’s had some legendary battles with Owens, has the uncanny ability to mimic the receivers he’s covering. He can get physical at the line, but can turn his hips and go downfield as well. Like any 13-year vet, he’s lost a step and will need frequent breaks. Leigh Bodden excels in man to man. He has good ball skills, but will get burned on double moves. Safety James Sanders lacks elite cover skills, but he’s always around the ball. Brandon Meriweather has good range. He doesn’t always take the correct angles, but he always brings the thunder.
Bills' key playerTerrell Owens
Love him or hate him, this guy commands your attention. If hes not on the field flying, he's behind the mike crying.
How he beats you: With a nifty package of power and explosiveness. He uses his strength to get open and his speed to produce a ton of after-the-catch yards.
How to shut him down: By breaking his concentration. After a few well-timed shots, Owens will turn shy and he'll start dropping a lot of catchable balls.
Bills' keys to victory1. Special delivery: The kicking game has to produce points. Kick returner Leodis McKelvin and punt returner Roscoe Parrish (one of the NFLs most exciting players) are the best tandem in the business.
2. Get defensive: Ends Aaron Schobel (nonstop motor) and Chris Kelsay (smart and strong) have to get in Tom Bradys face and his head.
3. Stick together: Theres been a ton of player and coaching turnover in Orchard Park. Dick on the hot seat Jauron has to find a way to keep his starters (particularly Owens) from deviating from the plan.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Lucky 7s: Whether its the 3-4 or the 4-3, the front seven have to pressure Trent Edwards to protect a secondary that is still learning the Patriot way.
2. Share the wealth: Theres five productive tailbacks on the roster, so use them. Theres no true workhorse in the stable, so use fresh legs to beat down the Buffalo defense.
3. Go for the KO: On paper, this game is a mismatch. But the longer you let the Bills hang around, the more their confidence grows. If this game is close at 9:45 p.m., something has gone horribly wrong.