New England Patriots

Stadium: Gillette Stadium | Coach: Bill Belichick
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense7th129.1 (10th)255.4 (8th)
Defense22nd134.1 (25th)239.0 (18th)

Patriots report: Strategy and personnel

The Sports Xchange
 
Strategy and personnel · Notes, quotes · Inside slant
 

The Patriots made one minor transaction this week, releasing DL Louis Leonard, who had signed with the team last week just to add a little depth up front, and signing fellow lineman Landon Cohen.

Linemen Mike Wright, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor all missed last week's game with injuries, so the Patriots have needed all the help they can get. The lack of healthy bodies has certainly put a strain on the starters who've been asked to play extra snaps, especially this past weekend with Green Bay dominating the time of possession battle, but with only two weeks to go in the regular season and the Patriots likely having a first-round bye in the playoffs, fatigue shouldn't be an issue.

The Patriots probably would have been more worried if depth was a problem in September. Right now, they've got enough left in the tank to make a deep playoff run with whoever is available to them along the defensive line.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Deion Branch was not on the field for the media portion of practice Wednesday, though there shouldn't be any major concern since he's been able to participate fully each weekend despite nursing a sore knee.

--DL Ron Brace was back in practice Wednesday, which is a good sign as he continues to recover from injury. Brace didn't play last week, but could be ready to return Sunday in Buffalo.

--DL Mike Wright missed Wednesday's practice as he recovers from a concussion. Wright also missed Sunday's game against the Packers and will more than likely sit out this weekend in Buffalo as well.

--OL Dan Connolly was not on the field during the media portion of Wednesday's practice, though it's uncertain whether or not his absence was injury-related. Connolly did suffer a head injury Sunday, so his absence Wednesday is more than likely precautionary.

--TE Aaron Hernandez also missed the media portion of Wednesday's practice. Hernandez was suffering from the flu late last week, but still played Sunday, so Wednesday's absence shouldn't be a major problem.

GAME PLAN
The tale of the tape for Sunday doesn't look pretty if you're on Buffalo's side of the field. The Bills are ranked in the bottom third of the league in offense and defense, so they don't do anything particularly well, but the Patriots need to be wary of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick following their inability to stop Green Bay this past weekend.

Fitzpatrick actually played fairly well against the Patriots earlier this season, but also got picked off twice in the fourth quarter to stall Buffalo's comeback attempt. The Patriots had problems with Green Bay's Matt Flynn this past weekend, but part of that had to do with the fact they had never seen him before. This will be their second crack at Fitzpatrick, so it'll be interesting to see how they approach this game defensively.

The one thing Buffalo can try to do is take advantage of New England's lack of depth up front with their three-headed monster at running back. The Packers ran successfully and that's why Flynn had an easy time moving up and down the field.

First and foremost, the Patriots need to tighten up their defense at the line of scrimmage. If the Bills can't run the ball, Fitzpatrick will be in trouble -- especially if the conditions are like what they usually are in Buffalo at this time of year.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. Patriots LB Jerod Mayo. As noted, the matchup of New England's run defense against the Bills' running game is an important one, especially in the aftermath of last week's game between the Packers and Patriots. The Patriots are thin up front and their defense is logging more minutes than usual, so expect Buffalo to try to establish the run early in an effort to control the clock. Mayo will more than likely have something to say about that.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick vs. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Belichick is known for confusing young quarterbacks, but Green Bay's Matt Flynn had a strong game last weekend, proving that perhaps the key is to try to counter with something New England hasn't seen on its own end. Fitzpatrick had some success in the first meeting between these two teams this season, but it'll be interesting to see if Belichick cooks up a different game plan Sunday to throw Fitzpatrick off balance.

Bills CB Terrence McGee vs. Patriots WR Deion Branch. McGee is Buffalo's best cover corner while Branch has become Tom Brady's No. 1 target again. Branch, however, is nursing a sore knee, so he'll need to be 100 percent given the way McGee tends to stick to opposing receivers. If Branch is not a factor, Brady will have to rely on his running game and his tight ends to move the ball, which has proven to be a strong weapon for him thus far.

INJURY IMPACT
The Patriots are thin up front with Ron Brace, Mike Wright and Myron Pryor suffering from injuries. Brace appears to be on the road to recovery, which would be a big help this weekend in Buffalo. The Patriots' defense stayed on the field for nearly 40 minutes last weekend against Green Bay. The Bills have the ability to run the ball and control the clock, so it remains to be seen whether New England's lack of depth could lead to some fatigue Sunday afternoon.

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