Here’s a key matchup to watch in the Week 10 game between the Patriots and Bills:
Bills RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller vs. Patriots defense
The Bills have not beaten the Patriots in Foxborough since 2000. When hosting the Patriots in Week Four, they lost 52-28 and gave up 247 rushing yards. Buffalo has lost four of its last five contests, and the Patriots are coming off a bye — a situation in which they have lost only once since 2002 (to Pittsburgh last year) — and they routed the Rams 45-7 prior to the bye.
When looking at this matchup, the Bills aren’t circling their wagons around anything. It’s lopsided.
With the chips stacked against them, the Bills need to establish a run game and get the ball into the hands of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller often if they want a chance of an upset win.
That run-first philosophy should have been in play last week against the Texans, but Spiller and Jackson only had six carries each — three COMBINED in the second half — of a 21-9 loss. Chan Gailey defended the play-calling by referring to Houston’s strong defense against the run, and things don’t get easier against the Patriots.
Teams have been hard pressed to find holes to run through against the Patriots this season. New England is allowing 3.5 yards per carry, which is the second-lowest mark in the league, and 88.6 rushing yards per game (tied for seventh). The Bills rushed 27 times for 98 yards (3.4-yard average) against New England in Week Four, with the Pats holding Jackson to 29 yards on 13 carries and Spiller to 33 yards on eight carries.
The Bills’ run game comes out of the spread offense, with Jackson and Spiller taking handoffs out of the shotgun, getting a head start as they follow their O-line. OLG Andy Levitre, C Eric Wood and TE Scott Chandler are all adept run blockers, but Sunday’s matchup is not easy, starting up front with run-plugging DTs Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork. Wilfork moves around the line and is difficult to single-block, and he can blow up a run play on his own. Plus, LBs Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower can shoot the gaps effectively to keep backs from getting past the second level.
Jackson and Spiller — especially Spiller — are great in the open field, and the Bills need to find ways in the run and pass game to give them opportunities to make Patriots defenders miss. Jackson, who is gaining 4.6 yards per carry in nine meetings with the Patriots, also has an 11.8-yard receiving average on 24 catches vs. New England. He had three catches for 50 yards in Week Four, and the Bills are very good at drawing up an effective screen play.
Getting Spiller involved is key, though, as he has proven to be an electric back that is nearly impossible to stop once he gets into the open field. The Bills struggled in the red zone last week and Spiller never got a touch — that needs to change, and the Patriots’ defenders need to stay disciplined to keep Spiller in front of them.
For the Bills, moving the ball with Jackson and Spiller effectively is their best way to be productive on offense, and it helps keep the Patriots’ high-flying offense off the field. The Patriots need to maintain their stout run defense, and avoid giving the Bills any hope that an upset is possible, and Buffalo can gain confidence from big plays out of their backs. Jackson and Spiller also can take some pressure off QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw four picks against the Patriots in Week Four.
The season is unraveling for Buffalo, while the Patriots seem to be hitting their stride. If the Bills can’t get things going with their two-headed backfield, it will be another long Sunday.