The story of the Bills-Patriots game in Week 4 was New England’s running attack. 247 yards on the ground paved the way for the Patriots in the second half and showcased yet again how many ways a great QB changes the game. WGR’s Jeremy White brings you the Week 4 breakdown.
Alright ladies and gentlemen, I expect this to be a lengthy one. The Bills losing to the New England Patriots is nothing new. There are no shocks to see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick leaving Orchard Park with a win. This time around it was a pair of 100 yd rushers that led the New England offense to its unprecedented run of points in the second half. New England put up 45 points with 31 coming in the 4th quarter.
Going into the game you might have had an expectation that if there were one team to get nearly 250 yards rushing, it’d be the Bills. With both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller healthy enough to suit up and play the edge should go to the Bills. The offensive line has imposed its will in the first quarter of the season. So why did the Bills fail to run the ball effectively, and how did New England to it so well?
My theory is that it comes down to the QBs.
First let’s examine why a team would not fear the Buffalo Bills deep passing game. It’s not a serious threat. Teams know that they can let Bills receivers through deep and that it’s unlikely that Ryan Fitzpatrick gets it there. I’m going to show you three plays. None of these is a guaranteed touchdown. None of these is a guaranteed reception. In every case there is a better throw to be made on the field and it’s misses like these that let teams load the box and take their chances on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
On 2nd and 8 at their own 4 yard line the Buffalo Bills look to throw deep to TJ Graham.
The play is a designed play-fake with Fitzpatrick immediately turning and throwing deep to TJ Graham.
Graham gets a completely free release and enters into a footrace with Pats DB Devin McCourty. We see Stevie Johnson flash open on the top of the screen but this is a shot down the field that the Bills are taking by design.
Graham clears by McCourty as the ball is in the air, in part because McCourty is the first to get the read that the ball is underthrown. Fitzpatrick throws from approximately 3 yards deep in the endzone to the 39 yard line where the ball is intercepted.
It’s a poorly thrown ball. We don’t know if Graham would have had seperation all the way down the field had the ball been thrown deep enough. We need to know that and in order to know that the throw has to let him run. The turn and throw from Fitzpatrick indicates this IS the first read. The first option. This is a shot. It just can’t be underthrown. It’s a turnover. It’s another throw down the sideline that isn’t where it should be. It ultimately leads to the Patriots missing a field goal.
We’ll look at one more. Pressure leads to a rushed throw here so Fitzpatrick would have to make a truly great play but it’s worth pointing out - Graham is open deep. The safety sits on the 36 yard line as Graham cruises right by. However, the throw isn’t where it needs to be.
The receiver doesn’t get a chance to make a play on the ball.
Graham was drafted to be a receiver to stretch the field. He's doing that. He's getting open. He's not getting the ball. The message remains clear. The deep accuracy and distance is not something many teams fear. Track star TJ Graham is only as dangerous as the QB throwing him that ball. It’s a throw that we’ve seen missed quite a lot.
After New England ties the game at 21-21 the Bills face a 3rd and 17. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson runs this route beautifully, with a quick step to the inside to get the sideline free from the safety.
Johnson breaks to the sideline in position to make a catch for a first down conversion.
The throw sails and the Bills punt. It’s not the biggest play in the game. It’s not the biggest miss. It’s just another time in the game where there could have been an answer from the Bills. The Patriots had scored 14 straight...and another punt pushed that to 21. It moved to 35 before it was over.
At 35-21 the Bills are still looking for an answer. Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson look to connect deep and once again the ball is thrown in a spot where the defense can get it.
Johnson swims to the outside of the receiver to his right and puts on a stop-and-go move just past the 20 yard line.
The safety bites. HARD.
Fitzpatrick straddles the 10 yard line as he heaves the ball to Johnson which should go deep. Johnson should be running to this ball. Instead it’s McCourty who catches up on the play as Johnson has to wait on another underthrow. It’s picked off at the 43 yard line. A ball that travels only 33 yards in the air needed to go much further. Let’s take a look from the endzone.
The Red X represents the safety that bit on Johnson’s stop-and-go. He’s not in the play. The White X is the safety on the left side who is just beginning to flip around and see the throw going the other way. Fitzpatrick has already delivered this ball.
Open. The throw isn’t there. McCourty undercuts the underthrow and the Bills are turned away again.
Fitzpatrick had a....day. Four touchdowns. Four interceptions. He made great throws to Brad Smith and Fred Jackson down the field but the Patriots secondary allowed for many more that simply weren’t converted. Watching the film and focusing a bit on Stevie Johnson it’s safe to say I could have done this piece on him alone. He’s open. All the time. The Bills receivers found a lot of space. Two interceptions came on underthrown deep balls. The first came on a deflection and the last on a missed read. Three of the interceptions came on passes intended for Johnson. It’s Week 4. There were small indications in his appearance with Mike Schopp and the Bulldog that he’s growing frustrated. He should be.
On to the defense -
Just how bad was it? Horrible. The run defense was gashed to the tune of 247 yards. Two running backs you’ve barely heard of, if at all, ran for 100 yards in the same game. Rather than go into detail on down and distance I’ll post a series of pictures. The holes that they had were gaping.
The Bills stayed in their base defense because they feared Brady. That meant allowing THIS:
The Bills stay with the Nickel package featuring two linebackers. New England absolutely eats this up. Brady appeard to change the play at the line a number of times. Whether he's changing the read or the direction matters little. The calls were easy. Watch what happens to the Bills LBs...
Both get picked up easily...and a defense without LBs means that there is lots of room to run.
This scenario plays out time and time again as the Bills stubbornly stay in their Nickel defense in fear of Tom Brady.
The video of the run defense is ugly. The LBs are handled often. The line is handled. The secondary relied upon to make tackles. The Bills got run over. Pass defense against a run attack can look like that.
Chan Gailey said it himself with us in the morning. He said that if they switched to more of a run defense that there would be mismatches to worry about in the passing game. Watching the film of the defense the Bills employed...it’s tough to imagine that mismatch could have been any worse.
You need a great quarterback to win in this league. We all know that right? We all know that there are other ways to win games. We all know that teams occasionally get into the playoffs and win a few games with a guy that isn't universally considered to be great. To me...this is simple though.
The Bills got run on because they respect Brady. They refused to change because they feared that mismatch. Dave Wannstedt chose to take his chances against the run. It didn't work. But hey...at least they didn't get beat by Brady. The Patriots used their vertical passing game more than they had in weeks past. They ran more. They kept the Bills off balance because of that Hall of Famer who is at times (and frequently against the Bills) unstoppable.
The Bills put up 28 points on four touchdown passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick. New England's secondary was there to be had. The four touchdowns kept it close but in all seriousness there were opportunities for more. The Bills vertical passing game isn't anything to be feared and because of that the Patriots could load up against the run.
Four touchdowns is nice.
Four picks isn't.
Having a QB that is so good that he doesn't even have to throw to beat you...a QB that is so threatening that you will stubbornly stick to a pass defense to your 247-rushing-yard defeat...
That's what seperates the Bills and the Patriots.
I know, I know "tell me something I didn't know"...right?
The Bills have a very good tight end. They have receivers that get open - all the time. They have a defense that can stop average and below average QBs. The separation to me appears to be at one position. You see it in the way the two men play, and the way that they're respected by the opposition.
It changes everything.