Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quick look at key matchups for Patriots/Bills

Prior to this year's NFL season, few — or zero — league analysts expected one of the season's most anticipated matchups through three weeks would be a showdown between the Buffalo Bills (2-0) and New England Patriots (2-0).

The Bills have been one of this year's pleasant surprises, posting 79 points over their first two games — the most in the league so far — and they've been quite fun to watch in the process, led by rising quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and one of the NFL’s hardest-running tailbacks in Fred Jackson.

Tack on one of the hungriest receiving corps in the league, a better-than-advertised offensive line that pushes open room for Jackson and C.J. Spiller and a defense that can get after it, and Buffalo's ceiling is much higher than many (including us) thought it was.

And the Patriots are, well, the Patriots. We all know about Tom Brady's record-breaking performances, the team’s typical a-new-guy-making-it-happen-each-week mentality and a defensive line that could wipe out a McDonald's in one sitting. Here’s a quick look at a few key matchups for Sunday:

Fitzpatrick vs. the Patriots’ secondary

Riddled by injuries and inexperience, New England’s defensive backfield was exposed in both Week 1 (giving up 416 passing yards to Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne) and Week 2 (378 passing yards, San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers), and you can expect more of that on Sunday as Fitzpatrick and his boys try to make a statement.

Fitzpatrick is completing passes at a 63.4 percent clip and has found the end zone seven times in two games. Nothing would boost Fitzpatrick's confidence and level of play more than if he were to maintain that pace in helping Buffalo break its 15-game losing streak to the Patriots.

Patriots’ offensive line vs. Bills’ defensive line

Despite injury, the Patriots’ offensive linemen have given Brady more time than imaginable, and that's the primary key to his success.

Defensive end Spencer Johnson is Buffalo’s only defensive lineman with a sack in 2011. Rookie defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who has six tackles, is still looking for his first quarterback takedown.

The Bills’ defensive line has what it takes to break through and disrupt Brady, but if it's not a frequent threat, it won't be effective. Early and often is always the key with Brady, and if you shake him, you shake the whole patriot offense.

Bills’ backfield vs. Patriots’ defensive front

New England’s Albert Haynesworth missed practice all week and is questionable with a back injury, but the Patriots shouldn’t be affected much by his absence. He helps, but he doesn't carry them. The other big man — nose tackle Vince Wilfork — is the key cog among that unit.

The Bills' backfield picked up where it left off last year, with Jackson quickly emerging as one of the league's best backs and Spiller proving to be a very worthy backup. New England always seems to struggle with the Buffalo backfield, so we'll see if Buffalo will lean on the run game to keep the ball out of Brady's hands.

Follow Sam @SammySports