Three things to watch for as the Patriots take on the Bills on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium.
Tighten up the D
Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler have moved the ball up and down the field with ease against the Patriots defense the past few weeks. It’s unlikely that Tyrod Taylor will have that type of success as he was abysmal in the game three weeks ago before getting injured. But Taylor did return this past Sunday to lead the Bills past the Dolphins, 24-16, to keep them alive in the AFC playoff hunt. The Pats defense had a great stretch going where they gave up 17 points or less in eight straight games. But in the past two weeks, the Pats have allowed an average of 25.5 points per game. The pressure will be on Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, in particular, to right the ship as both were torched by the Steelers at various points last week.
A passer rating over 100.0 is typical for Tom Brady, arguably the most efficient passer in football history. To start this season, Brady posted a passer rating of 100.0 or better in seven of his first 11 games. Last season, he had an unreal 112.2 passer rating in 12 regular season games. In 2015, he posted a 102.2 passer rating for the year.
So, being scary-efficient and limiting interceptions is Brady’s thing.
The past three games, though, Brady has failed to register even a 90.0 passer rating in a game. The trend started at Buffalo on Dec. 3, when Brady did not throw a touchdown pass but had an interception. In the Pats’ 23-3 win over the Bills that day, Brady and the offense did not register a touchdown until the third quarter, scoring just nine points in the first half (all field goals).
Needless to say, it would be nice to see Brady as sharp as he was late in the Pittsburgh game for an extended stretch against the Bills.
The Patriots are going to have to win this one ugly as Buffalo’s defense is playing great ball right now. Buffalo has given up just 14.0 points per game to their opponents in the past month. Expect the Bills to try and do what the Steelers did effectively last week, playing a ball-control game. By pounding the ball with LeSean McCoy, the Bills can keep the clock running and keep Brady off the field. McCoy had 93 yards rushing against the Pats three weeks ago and followed that up with a 156-yard performance against the Colts the following week. Steelers back Le’Veon Bell killed the Pats last week with 117 yards rushing on 24 carries and he had five catches for 48 yards. Like Bell, McCoy excels in the passing game as well out of the backfield. The Pats did a good job bottling him up in their first meeting, limiting McCoy to just two catches for nine yards.