Scout’s Preview:  Bills vs. Patriots

by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

The Buffalo Bills sit with a 6-5 record after 11 games but the most important game on the 2017 NFL schedule for them is this Sunday in Orchard Park. The Bills host the AFC East leading New England Patriots and if they want to have a strong chance of getting into the Playoffs this year, it is imperative that they split the season series with the Pats.

In the final five games of this season, the Bills play both the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins twice. With a team’s division record an important tie-breaking criteria, the Bills need to beat Miami twice and hope for a split with the Patriots. That would give Buffalo a 4-2 record within the Division and in many cases that holds up when it comes to tie breakers.

Not only is this game important, but it is also the best team the Bills will face all year. The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady led Pats always find a way to be winners in not only the AFC East but the whole AFC. With a 9-2 record to date, this year’s team is no different than the one’s form the past.

Brady’s 40 Is The New 20

On offense the Patriots are of course led by 40 year old wonder Tom Brady, who is perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady may be aging, but his play has not shown the effects of his age. He has completed 70% of his throws for 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Brady’s leading receiver is newcomer Brandin Cooks, who has 51 receptions and five touchdowns. Williamsville native Rob Gronkowski is Brady’s other top target. The “Gronk” always seems to miss some time with injuries, but it seldom effects his level of play. He is one of the better tight ends in the business and Brady almost always targets him when they get into the red zone. Danny Amendola, former Bill Chris Hogan and running back James White are Brady’s other top targets.  (Hogan is currently injured and may not play)

Small but powerful Dion Lewis is the Pats leading rusher, but really any of three running backs could handle the ball. Besides Lewis, there is Rex Burkhead, James White and former Bill Mike Gillislee. Gillislee hasn’t played since late October as a healthy inactive.

Injuries throughout the season have forced the Patriots to play four different offensive line combinations this year. Usual right tackle starter Marcus Canon has missed the last three games and his backup LaAdrian Waddle has missed practice time this week. Starting center Davis Andrews should play this week but he won’t be at 100%.

Not A Typical Patriots Defense

The defense is not the typical Patriots defense we are used to seeing. They have given up almost as many yards as the productive Patriots offense. Earlier in the season they were giving up points at almost an alarming rate, but in recent weeks that as improved dramatically. Over the last five games the Pats have only given up an average of 11 points per game.

The Patriots play a base 4-3, but it is really more of a hybrid scheme and they are often in a nickel type package with five defensive backs and only two linebackers.

The Patriots rotate their front four with six and seven players seeing playingtime each week. Up the middle they use a combination of Deatrich Wise, Malcom Brown and Alan Branch. Recently they signed Ricky Jean Francois who gives them an athletic inside man. On the outside it’s Lawrence Guy, Trey Flowers and Adam Butler. In passing situations linebacker Kyle Van Noy often plays down. Van Noy and Flowers are the Pats best pass rushers and have 11 sacks between them. The defensive front really misses Dont’a Hightower who is on injured reserve.

In the secondary, safety Patrick Chung acts almost like their third linebacker and is the Patriots third leading tackler with 60 total tackles. In fact fellow safety Devin McCourty is also very productive with 66 total tackles. The corners are former Bill Stephon Gilmore and Malcom Butler. Eric Rowe is usually the third corner but has been limited in practice also this week. We’ll find out Sunday if he is ready to go. As we all know, the Patriots spent a small fortune to sign Gilmore and to date he hasn’t been quite as good as expected. He will want to play well this week.

Doing the Impossible…Bills WInning

To win this game, the Bills have to play mistake free football and control the clock. That means the run game has to at its best and quarterback Tyrod Taylor has to be smart with his throws. With the Patriots offensive line hurting the Bills have to find a way to put consistent pressure on Tom Brady. Early in the year he was taking a lot of hits but recently they have done a better job protecting him. Weather is not going to be a factor so we have to expect Brady to be at his best. If that is the case it could be a long day for the Bills.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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