By Jay Skurski
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
1. Keep it up on the ground. The Bills’ rushing attack has been humming lately, with 401 yards in the past two games. Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have an opportunity for another big game today. The Patriots’ run defense has fallen to 29th in the league, as the season-ending injuries to defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, along with linebacker Jerod Mayo, have been too much to overcome. Rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have replaced Wilfork and Kelly in the lineup. A big problem for the Patriots is first down. New England is giving up 4.81 yards per carry to the opposition on first down. If Jackson and Spiller can get rolling like that, it opens up the rest of the offense for backup quarterback Thad Lewis.
2. Attack up the middle. Injuries have also hurt New England along the offensive line. Left tackle Nate Solder is questionable to play today because of a concussion. If he can’t go, the Patriots may kick guard Logan Mankins out to tackle. That would put undrafted rookie Josh Kline in the lineup. Good luck to him having to deal with Bills Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams and his partner, Marcell Dareus, who’s having just as good of a season. The Patriots are also hurt on the right side of the line, with starter Marcus Cannon limited in practice all week because of an ankle injury. He’s probable to play, but isn’t likely to be 100 percent today.
3. Account for Chandler Jones. New England’s pass rush is led by Rochester native and Syracuse graduate Chandler Jones. He’s got 11.5 sacks on the season and will have a good matchup today with Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn, who’s quietly having a very strong second season. Led by Jones, the Patriots have 44 sacks, which ranks sixth in the NFL. New England has been rushing the passer well lately, with nine sacks in its last three games. The Bills’ offensive line has been prone to protection problems at times this season, having allowed 44 sacks, seventh most in the league.
4. Protect the ball better than Week One. In the season opener against New England, the Bills lost a pair of fumbles. Their turnover problems have continued all season, with a total of 27 that ranks eighth most in the NFL. That includes 10 in the past four games. The Bills can’t give Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that many chances today. A strong running game should help win time of possession, but it’s equally important the Bills don’t give Brady free possessions.
5. A work in progress Brady is the only constant on the Patriots’ offense. His receivers have been inconsistent outside of Julian Edelman, who needs four catches and 9 yards today to reach 100 receptions and 1,000 yards on the season. Danny Amendola, who hurt the Bills in Week One in the slot, has dealt with a groin injury most of the year. The Patriots also lost Amherst native Rob Gronkowski for the season because of a knee injury. New England also takes the running back-by-committee approach. LeGarrette Blount got the most work last week against the Ravens, carrying 16 times and scoring twice.
Outlook: The Patriots have some serious flaws. But they also have Brady, who covers up the ugliest of warts. As long as that’s the case, it’s hard to pick against New England. The Bills make a game of it, but once again fall short in Gillette Stadium.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Bills 22