Patriots at Bills
Today, 1 p.m., Channel 4 (Line: Patriots by 7 1/2)
When the Patriots runBenJarvus Green-Ellis’s tough, no-nonsense running style should come in handy today, and not just because the forecast calls for snow and wind. The Bills have had trouble stopping running backs all season, as their front seven often offer little resistance at the point of attack. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound Green-Ellis thrives between the tackles because he runs with good pad level and has the bulk to absorb and deflect hits. He doesn’t have great speed but he has deceptively quick feet and will get on top of defenders in a hurry. He shows a surprising second gear in the open field. Danny Woodhead continues to bring smiles to the faces of Patriots fans. A quick and elusive force, the 5-8, 195-pounder has superb vision and instincts. His compact running style allows him to hide behind blockers until he finds a crease and bursts through it. Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams can be a disruptive force. He has excellent quickness and has exceptional lateral movement for a 6-1, 306-pound man. He has good leg drive and strong hands and will knock blockers off their pins. Inside linebacker Paul Posluszny is smart, athletic, and tough. He diagnoses plays quickly and throws his 6-1, 238-pound body into running lanes with reckless abandon.
When the Patriots passThe Bills have been very good against the pass, thanks in large part to outstanding athletes in the secondary. Today the unit gets tested by Tom Brady. His superior intelligence and superb accuracy make him nearly impossible to shut down completely. Brady and his diminutive dynamos, Wes Welker and Deion Branch, are always on the same page. Welker is playing at pre-surgery level, making quick cuts out of the slot and snagging everything thrown his way. Branch continues to run superb routes and has excellent field awareness (i.e. if it’s third and 10, he won’t run a 7-yard route). Brady identifies mismatches quickly and adjusts accordingly. Often that means getting the ball to his rookie tight ends, but Aaron Hernandez is out today. Rob Gronkowksi has tremendous size and strength. Danny Woodhead is effective on screens and quick hits because he has strong hands and uncanny open-field vision. Bills cornerback Terrence McGee is fluid and quick. He’s not overly physical but has the speed to blanket receivers down the field. Fellow corner Drayton Florence has good size and impressive closing speed.
When the Bills runDespite a versatile and impressive résumé, running back Fred Jackson remains a mystery to many across the NFL. But not to Bill Belichick and his minions. A solid 6 feet 1 inch, 215 pounds, Jackson runs with deceptive power and speed. He has instincts, vision, and patience. He’s not a man of a million moves but he does possess an effective array of subtle hitches and dekes. Jackson won’t shy away from contact (he never ducks for the sideline) and will lower his shoulder and deliver a blow. Rookie C.J. Spiller has yet to consistently flash the explosiveness that made him one of the most exciting players in college football. The 5-10, 185-pounder has elite speed but too often waits for the perfect opening instead of exploiting the first crease he sees. When he gets used to the pro game (and his line improves), he’ll be scary. Led by Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren, the Patriots continue to defend the run well. The versatile Wilfork (6-2, 325 pounds, lol!) moves his impressive girth well laterally and is equally comfortable stacking and shedding or exploding into ball carriers. Warren (6-4, 325) is swift and powerful. Jerod Mayo (he brings the pain) and Gary Guyton (he’s rangy) sift through the bodies and make the hits.
When the Bills passRyan Fitzpatrick is not your prototypical NFL quarterback. He has average size (6 feet 2 inches, 225 pounds), average athleticism, and below-average arm strength. Despite that, the competitive Fitzpatrick has taken control of this team because of his above-average intelligence, great instincts, and undeniable toughness. His biggest problem is a lack of playmakers in his receiving corps. Steve Johnson is the de facto No. 1 receiver. A 6-2, 202-pounder who shows flashes of brilliance, Johnson lacks concentration. He drops catchable balls and often appears to be running at half-speed. Donald Jones has decent speed but lacks experience. Tight end David Martin catches about as many balls as Alge Crumpler. Fellow tight end Jonathan Stupar is a strong blocker with hands of stone. Fred Jackson is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and an important safety valve for the often-beleaguered Fitzpatrick. Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain will be counted on to pressure the pocket and get Fitzpatrick on the run. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington need to continue to flash their athleticism at the corners.
Bills' key playerFred Jackson
This sculpted, rugged, in-line thumper was born to run in the not-so-friendly confines of Orchard Park, N.Y.
How he beats you: By attacking. Jackson has good vision and runs with great pad level. He absorbs hits, punishes tacklers, and is an above-average receiver.
How to shut him down: By wrapping him up. Arm tacklers need not apply when it comes to defending this guy. Hit him hard, hang on, and ride him to the ground to wear him out.
Bills' keys to victory1. Keep-away: Take a page out of the Packers’ game plan and play ball control, whether it’s via the ground game or the short passing game.
2. Special delivery: C.J. Spiller has to use his vision and explosiveness to make plays in the kicking game to either produce points or keep the field short.
3. Middle management: Kyle Williams and his blitzing linebacking friends have to pressure Tom Brady up the gut early and, more important, often.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Send ’em in: Come after Ryan Fitzpatrick hard. He’s smart, but his receivers? Not so much. They often forget to come back to the ball.
2. Pound cake: To win December games in the Northeast, you have to run the ball. Sic BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead on a defense that has yet to prove it can stop the run.
3. Screen savers: Spy Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out of the backfield, because they are demons on screens and excel in the open field.