By Gregory Hunt
Next Monday night, first-year Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan will bring his team to Gillette Stadium for the first time since getting fired as head coach of the New York Jets after last season. Neither Ryan nor the Bills have had much success against the New England Patriots in recent years. In six years with the Jets, Ryan accumulated a record of 4-9 against the Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick, while the Bills have beaten the Patriots only four times in the past 31 match-ups.
The Bills currently hold a 5-4 record after a 22-17 win over the New York Jets last Thursday at MetLife Stadium. That puts the Bills in a tie for second place in the AFC East with the Jets, who are also 5-4. If the playoffs were to start this weekend, the Bills would qualify as the sixth seed in the AFC. The Bills trail the all-time regular season series against the Patriots 42-67-1.
This rivalry dates back to 1960, when both franchises played in the inaugural season of the American Football League. The teams have met only once in the postseason, with the Patriots advancing to the 1963 AFL Championship Game after a 26-8 win at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium. The teams met earlier this season in Week 2, with the Patriots coming away with a 40-32 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Bills on Offense
In keeping with Ryan’s “ground and pound” philosophy of football, the Bills are currently second in the league in rushing yards per game with 142.3, and second in the league in yards per carry with 4.8. Tied with four other teams, the Bills also lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 11.
While New England starting quarterback Tom Brady averages 41 passing attempts per game, Buffalo starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor averages only 25. Taylor missed games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars due to injury, but Taylor holds a record of 4-2 in games that he has started. His quarterback rating is an impressive 106.2, which is fourth in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts this season.
Bills on Defense
Rex Ryan teams are generally known for their aggressive defenses, but the Bills have struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. Through nine games, this unit has made only 14 sacks, good for 29th in the NFL. In fact, Ryan appears to be having his would-be pass rushers drop into pass coverage more often than usual. After a 34-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last month, Ryan admitted that he called three-man pressures too frequently.
“I went with some three-man-rush stuff and never let my guys go as much as I should have,” said Ryan. “We got to take a long, hard look at what we’re asking our guys to do.”
Last season under then-head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills led the NFL in sacks with 54. That team was also fourth in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed. It was thought that the defense would get even better under Ryan, but it seems to have regressed.
Bills Players to Watch
After a slow start, former Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy is becoming a dominant force for the Bills. In last week’s victory over the Jets, McCoy accounted for 57 percent of the offense with 112 yards rushing and 47 yards receiving. He also made seven of the team’s 13 first downs and touched the ball on seven of the team’s 10-longest plays from scrimmage in that game.
With the Buffalo pass rush struggling, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore are doing their best to pick up the slack. Darby is only a rookie, but he leads the NFL in passes defended with 18. Fourth-year player Gilmore has 15 passes defended, which ranks third in the league.
Thanks to recent injuries to running back Dion Lewis and wide receiver Julian Edelman, the Patriots are running out of playmakers on offense. They have not scored more than 27 points in either of the last two games, and now they will face a Bills team that scored 32 points against them earlier in the season. The Bills have beaten the Patriots in Foxboro only once in the past 14 tries, but this game might be closer than people expect.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.