The Patriots head into Buffalo a win away from a playoff berth but face a team that has beaten them three straight times and won five of their last six meetings. For them to win this one, they’ll have to play out of their minds and have aspects of their game that haven’t clicked enough this season come together. Here, I look at the biggest ones.
Get Hunter Henry Involved In The Offense
When the Patriots got Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the best two tight ends of the 2021 free agency class, the expectation was that this could result in the best tight-end duo in New England since 2012. Smith’s versatility and athleticism was supposed to complement Henry’s orthodox but effective route running, as well as his power and reliable hands. However, while 2021 showed some flashes of this, 2022 went in the wrong direction.
Henry, though, has had his moments despite being well short of last year’s production, and with 35 receptions, 467 yards, and two touchdowns, has had moments of good play. His downfield threat in particular helps open up the offense as a whole. The equation has been simple for the Patriots with him: use him, find offensive success. The Patriots have been 6-1 when Henry has three or more catches, and 2-7 otherwise, and have had seven of just ten 20-point games when having that kind of output from Henry.
Get Off The Field More Often
The Bills provide a similar issue for the Patriots that the Ravens and Bears did with a dynamic quarterback, only with a higher level of execution. The Patriots’ defense has been otherwise excellent, but when it has come to dynamic quarterbacks, their mobility, inventiveness and unconventionality has caused all kinds of problems. Against, the Bills, it has been exceptionally so. After two games in a row of never forcing a punt, the Bills finally punted a couple of times in this year’s meeting, but still were 9-14 on third downs that were not in victory formation.
Combined with the Patriots’ own lack of third down offensive success, the Bills completely controlled the game. The keys to limiting the Bills will be getting a steady pass rush and generating turnovers. Most of this season, the Patriots have been able to do that, and they certainly come with a more complete defense than last year and even their last meeting. With 27 takeaways (second in the NFL) and 52 sacks this season, the Patriots have certainly been disruptive. Their secondary, both in terms of cornerbacks and safeties, has improved, and both their defensive line and linebacker core are playing at a high level. They’ll need coordinated, solid play to get the Bills off the field enough.
One of the biggest problems this year for the Patriots has been naive mistakes. It’s one of the most un-belichickian aspects of this year’s team. While the Patriots have been excellent in terms of getting takeaways, they’ve had 20 giveaways of their own. However, the Patriots have been more efficient with the ball for sure. Since halftime of the first Patriots-Jets game, Mac Jones has thrown just one interception to nine touchdowns in the last nine games.
The continuing issue for New England, by far, has been penalties. They have been penalized 102 times for 821 yards, both of which are top-10 in the league, rare territory for the Patriots. Particularly alarming has been the way these penalties have killed or extended drives, putting the Patriots behind the sticks and nullifying first downs on offense, and giving first downs and extra opportunities on defense. A whopping 10% of the first down the Patriots have allowed have been from penalties.
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