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Scouting the Matchup: Ground game could lead the way

The Patriots could choose to protect Tom Brady behind a patchwork offensive line by leaning more heavily on the ground game in Buffalo.


There's been nothing scary about the New England running game for much of the season, but the Patriots ran for 196 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry last week against Miami. The threat of coming up with a big play on the ground has increased since Dion Lewis replaced Mike Gillislee as the team's No. 1 back. The Bills limited Kansas City to 55 yards on 19 rushing attempts last week but haven't put up much resistance against the run for much of the season. The Bills allowed 638 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns during a three-game stretch that featured losses to the Jets (194 yards on the ground), the Saints (298) and the Chargers (146).  New Orleans ran for six touchdowns during its 47-10 triumph against Buffalo. This may be a game where New England can do more damage on the ground. Advantage: Patriots


Running back LeSean McCoy is Buffalo's best offensive weapon. He's averaged more than 4 yards per carry in each of his first eight NFL seasons. In addition to leading the Bills in rushing, McCoy also leads the team in receptions. He hurt the Patriots as a receiver last year when he caught six passes for 38 yards and a touchdown in Buffalo's 16-0 victory in Foxborough. McCoy has gone over 100 yards rushing in three games this year, including two of his last five.  The New England run defense welcomed back defensive tackle Malcom Brown last week and he added some size and depth on the inside. The Patriots have given up at least 109 yards on the ground in seven of their 11 games this season, and the Bills want to run the ball. This could be the key matchup in Buffalo. Advantage: Bills


The only concern regarding the Patriots passing game is the health of the big guys up front. Injuries to right tackle Marcus Cannon and now his backup LaAdrian Waddle, as well as center David Andrews have tested New England's depth on the offensive line. Buffalo's pass rush has taken a step back from last season. The Bills are near the bottom of the league in both sacks (17) and sacks per pass attempt. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander led Buffalo with 12.5 sacks last year but has only three sacks this season. The Patriots have been at the top of the NFL in pass offense for much of the season. New England quarterback Tom Brady has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season (279 of 408) and has thrown for 26 touchdowns. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that he's been intercepted only three times, and the Bills secondary doesn't have the depth to deal with the variety of weapons at Brady's disposal. Advantage: Patriots


This is where the Bills have struggled the most this season. They went into last week's game against Kansas City ranked 30th in pass offense. Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott seemed to push the panic button earlier this month when he benched starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor in favor of Nathan Peterman, who was intercepted five times on 14 attempts during the first half of a loss to the Chargers. Pass protection has also been an issue. The Bills have surrendered 31 sacks and have spent a good chunk of the season at the bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed per pass attempt. The Patriots haven't displayed a consistent pass rush but did collect seven sacks last Sunday against the Dolphins. Buffalo tight end Charles Clay is second on the team in receptions (29) and has two TD catches. Advantage: Patriots


Buffalo placekicker Stephen Hauschka set an NFL record when he made his 13th consecutive field goal of 50 yards or longer by kicking a 50-yarder during a 54-24 loss to the Chargers.  Hauschka kicked a 56-yard field goal last weekend, which was his seventh field goal of 50 yards or longer this season - a team record in that category. New England's special teams play has been trending in the right direction and was at its best during a 41-16 victory over Denver. New England blocked a punt, recovered a fumble on a muffed punt and returned a kickoff for a touchdown (Dion Lewis) in that game. Stephen Gostkowksi's field goals this season have included kicks from 58 and 62 yards. The 62-yarder, which came in Mexico City, was the longest field goal in franchise history. But injuries to Matthew Slater (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (knee, on IR) have cut into the depth of the coverage units. Advantage: Patriots


Football is all about momentum, and the Patriots have plenty of it thanks to a seven-game winning streak. The Bills, on the other hand, have lost three of their last four. Buffalo has been outscored 125-91 in the first half this season - the Bills have been held to 23 points in the first quarter - and that's when the Patriots are often at their best. New England has outscored opponents 208-111 in the first half of its 11 games. There's also Tom Brady's dominance over Buffalo to consider. Brady has  a 26-3 record against the Bills in games he's started, which is his highest win total against any NFL team. He's thrown for more touchdowns (66) against Buffalo than any other opponent and also has had more 300-yard passing games against the Bills (10) than any other team. Advantage: Patriots

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