One of the true staples of Patriots coverage is Bill Belichick's Wednesday press conference that usually features the coach waxing poetic about the upcoming opponent. Since the Patriots will be heading to Buffalo to take on the toothless Bills offense Monday night, this week was a bit more challenging.
After opening with some positive words about the Bills defense and then special teams, Belichick eventually turned to a Bills offense that has scored just 81 points (or 133 fewer than the Patriots) all season. For Belichick, it was indeed challenging, but not impossible.
"Offensively, some explosive players – running backs, tight ends, receivers," Belichick began. "[Derek] Anderson's obviously a really experienced guy that both Brian [Daboll] and Sean [McDermott] have a lot of experience with. I'm sure he'll be able to handle things the way they want it done.
"We know it'll be tough up there Monday night. It's always tough in Buffalo. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium given all that they have going on and so forth. This will be a good test for us on the road to go out and play well in the division."
Not many specifics about the Bills personnel, and with good reason. Buffalo ranks 31st or 32nd in nine offensive categories and are working with their third starting quarterback in just seven games in veteran journeyman Anderson.
"He played last week. He's been in the league. We saw him at Carolina, saw him at Cleveland," Belichick said of Anderson. "I mean, there's plenty of film on him. Yeah, but I'm sure there will be some things that we're not preparing for that they'll do with him that may be different than what they did with [Josh] Allen."
The 2-5 Bills aren't overly impressive on paper but that doesn't mean there aren't any talented individuals to be aware of. Some of them were included among the highlights of Wednesday's press conference.
Safety net – Most of the Bills young talent resides on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. Belichick talked about the safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, which is one of the more underrated pairs in the game.
"Hyde and Poyer do a good job. They work very well together," he said. "It's hard to talk about one without talking about the other one. They do an excellent job of disguising their coverages and the blitzes because they do pressure a pretty fair amount. They are both very instinctive and make some plays based on anticipation, experience, recognition of offensive formations or plays as they develop. They react to them pretty quickly.
"Both of those guys do a real good job. But Hyde has also stepped in for them as a punt returner and he's got very good ball skills. He has corner experience, so when they're in man-to-man coverage situations and he's asked to do that he's pretty competitive as a coverage player as well as a zone player, both short and deep. Middle of the field or half the field because they play both split and post-safety coverages. He's a pretty versatile guy.
"Poyer, similar, but a little more of the strong safety role. But again, they work very well together and they're somewhat interchangeable because the defense is balanced and there's a lot of strong rotations, a lot of weak rotation. There's a lot of split-safety coverage. It's hard to take advantage of one thing or the other because they're both pretty good at both."
Corner covered – Patriots fans likely remember cornerback Tre'Davious White from last year's encounter in Buffalo. White was the player Rob Gronkowski hit, thus earning a one-week suspension the following week in Miami. In the meantime, White is developing into a solid corner who the Bills rely on each week.
"He usually matches up on the No. 1 receiver. Not always, but usually," Belichick said. "Depending on where the guy is and who it is and so forth. But clearly they want to get him on a certain player and then they work opposite that with [Phillip] Gaines or [Ryan] Lewis or whoever the other guy has been. It's been Gaines, but then he was hurt so Lewis played some for him and then [Taron] Johnson really plays the nickel position inside."
Belichick also had praise for the run defense, which creates its share of problems as well.
"All of the negative plays that are created," Belichick said when asked what stood out about that aspect of the Bills defense. "They do a good job with movement. They bring guys off the edge and get their linemen involved in stunts and movement. They play base and they're just hard to block. [Jordan] Phillips has done a good job for them. He's a good, young player. Obviously, Kyle [Williams] is always a problem in there. [Trent] Murphy has done a good job for them. He's a strong guy that's hard to block on the edge, as is [Jerry] Hughes, [Lorenzo] Alexander.
"They have good players up there. They play them straight. They stunt them and they stunt them in combination with other players – secondary players and linebackers, so that creates some issues for blocking patterns and so forth. But a lot of negative plays, a lot of strips, a lot of balls on the ground, and then that creates long yardage and they sack the quarterback. They hit the quarterback."
Block party – Belichick offered some insight into the work on special teams that led to Dont'a Hightower's blocked punt in Chicago.
"I'd say there's some of that every week based on who you play and how you want to try and play the game," Belichick said. "You do things that are either different or a little bit different. Try to do the same thing with a little different look or something like that. Yeah, sometimes those things work out. Sometimes they don't work as well as you hope they will for one reason or another, but that's part of the process.
"The flip side of it is you prepare for things and you see some of the things you prepare for and then you see some things usually that you haven't prepared for. Maybe you prepared for some version of it but the way they do it is a little bit different, that type of thing. Players have to make adjustments in the game and we have a lot of experienced players and guys do a good job of that, of seeing something that's sort of what we covered but it's a little bit different because that's the game plan and you don't see it until Sunday."