Key matchup: Patriots interior O-line vs. Bills defensive tackles

Kevin Fishbain
Pro Football Weekly
Key matchup: Patriots interior O-line vs. Bills defensive tackles

If the Bills want to upset the Patriots for the second year in a row, they’ll need to disrupt Tom Brady, something they can do up the gut.

Patriots interior O-line vs. Bills DTs Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams

The main ingredient to rattle the Patriots’ offense and keep Tom Brady out of a rhythm is through the pass rush, and not necessarily via the blitz. Brady has been known throughout his career to release the ball quickly when a blitz is coming and he takes advantage of one-on-one situations with his receivers.

The Bills aren’t known for dialing up blitzes, and their offseason spending focused on the D-line, adding DEs Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to create pressure, which allows the back seven to stay in coverage. The moves certainly align with what’s going on in the passing league the NFL has become, but the Patriots had to be on the mind of GM Buddy Nix when he made the moves.

Williams and Anderson, who played with the Patriots last season, will get the fanfare and attention leading up to the matchup, but the way the Bills really can spark a potential upset is through their interior pass rush. Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams form one of the league’s top defensive tackle duos, and they will match up with a banged-up Patriots interior O-line.

Patriots All-Pro OLG Logan Mankins did not practice all week. For a player that played most of last season with a torn ACL, he can’t be counted out, but if he is out, the Patriots’ interior likely will feature Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Donald Thomas facing Dareus and Kyle Williams. Advantage: Bills.

In last year’s win in Buffalo in Week Three, the Bills picked off Brady four times, the type of thing that happens every blue moon. Dareus had a hand — er, a head — in one of those interceptions. While being double-teamed by Brian Waters and Connolly, Dareus was able to stand up and have a Brady pass ricochet off his helmet into the hands of Drayton Florence, who returned it for a pick-six.

Other than that, Dareus and Kyle Williams were generally held at bay. Each had a quarterback hit, but they both came on completed passes — Williams pushed Mankins back into Brady, but the signalcaller still had plenty of time and found Wes Welker for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

According to Stats LLC, Wendell and Connolly have combined to give up two sacks this season, and Thomas has one false start penalty. Most of the pressure from the Ravens came off the edge last week, and this will be a much stiffer test. This season, Williams has three sacks and Dareus has 1½. Last season, Dareus led the Bills in sacks, and Kyle Williams led the team in sacks in 2010. This is not an ordinary pair of defensive tackles, Williams and Dareus are superb in collapsing the pocket and getting to the quarterback.

Brady has exceptional footwork in the pocket, but he is far from mobile. If Dareus and Williams can push through the interior successfully, they not only can notch sacks but also get their hands in the passing lanes and make things difficult for the Patriots’ passing game, while also taking pressure off their secondary. Thomas or Connolly might help Wendell to set up double-teams, and look for backs like Danny Woodhead, who's undersized, to stay in to block if the Bills' D-line gets penetration.

Coming off back-to-back losses, the Patriots are certainly motivated, but the Bills, coming off back-to-back wins, are starting to gain confidence and know how huge it would be to upset the Pats, again, at Ralph Wilson Stadium. If Mankins is out, Williams and Dareus should take advantage, and that could be the key to putting the Bills in position to get a huge divisional victory.

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