New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Week 1 Observations

Shane Vereen helped keep New England alive after usurping Stevan Ridley as New England’s primary back. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

The New England Patriots were put to the test at Buffalo this afternoon, barely emerging victorious via a 23-21 margin in a game which went Buffalo’s way for quite some time. Read on for five key takeaways from the Patriots’ season opener.

1. Stevan Ridley fumbles, loses lead-back responsibilities to Shane Vereen

Shane Vereen, who made only brief cameo appearances in last year’s two contests versus the Bills, lined up at both running back and wide receiver and looked dynamic, gaining seven yards on his first run and converting another first down through the air in the second quarter. Vereen uncovered himself with a spin from the receiver position shortly afterwards, but Brady missed him down the field on what may very well have been a touchdown. Starter Stevan Ridley, on the other hand, ran hard but had one early fumble overturned and lost control on another fumble midway through the second quarter which was returned for a 74-yard touchdown by Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy. After the fumble, Vereen and reserve back LeGarrette Blount stepped in for Ridley. On his next carry of the game, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell created a massive hole which allowed Vereen to gain 21 yards.

Vereen shouldered the load for the rest of the game, looking explosive and powerful en route to an incredible 14-carry, 101-yard performance (7.2) which also included a 7-58 receiving line. It will be interesting to see what type of distribution the Patriots go with next week against the Jets, as Ridley appears to have worked his way into Bill Belichick’s doghouse, while Vereen has emerged as one of the most dangerous weapons in New England’s offense.

2. Redesigned Patriots offense devoid of contributions from the team’s tight ends

This afternoon’s game offered its first glimpse of a Patriots lineup without tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and the results were mostly as anticipated: New England typically lined up with three wide receivers, but also used a two-man backfield at times, replacing the two tight-end sets which defined the Patriots’ approach last season. While a larger offensive role for rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld was anticipated, the passing game predictably emphasized New England’s group of wide receivers, with the depth chart featuring Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins on the outside and Julian Edelman in the slot.

The results were mixed, as Kenbrell Thompkins proved a low-percentage target, catching just four of fourteen targets. On the bright side, Julian Edelman was integrated into the offense more thoroughly than he was when Wes Welker was still a member of the team; Edelman caught two first-half touchdowns and secured all five throws in his direction over the first two quarters, finishing with seven catches for 79 yards. However, despite leaving the game temporarily after re-aggravating his groin injury, Danny Amendola submitted an outstanding performance which included three clutch catches on the final drive of the game, finishing with ten receptions for 104 yards on 14 targets.

3. Patriots offensive line dominates in run game, occasionally falters in pass protection

New England’s offensive line play was a mixed bag, routinely clearing big holes for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen as part of New England’s 35-carry, 158-yard performance (which included four kneeldowns by Tom Brady) but demonstrating a lack of awareness at times in pass protection. Mike Pettine’s unpredictable blitzes caught the Patriots off-guard on a number of occasions, with strong safety Da’Norris Searcy sacking Tom Brady on a safety blitz and cornerback Ron Brooks hitting Brady on a blitz as well. While Searcy’s sack was the only one Buffalo recorded over the first half of the game, Alan Branch and Marcell Dareus both recorded quarterback hits, and Brady was additionally pushed from the pocket by Mario Williams.

The protection improved in the second half, but was overwhelmed early in the fourth quarter, with Brady being sacked by Kyle Williams in a third-and-goal situation. However, part of the responsibility on that particular play must fall to Kenbrell Thompkins, who ran an incorrect route and bumped into Julian Edelman. Overall, the line played well, although Brady took a number of nerve-wracking shots throughout the game; the unit as a whole will need to play better next week against Rex Ryan and the Jets, who run a similar scheme.

4. Patriots on the wrong end of the turnover differential, give the ball away three times

Typically an area where New England outperforms their opponents, the Patriots forced two turnovers this week but also turned the ball over three times themselves, seriously jeopardizing their chances of winning. With New England looking to extend an early 10-0 lead, running back Stevan Ridley’s fumble was returned for a 74-yard touchdown by Da’Norris Searcy, shifting the momentum in the game, with tight end Zach Sudfeld bobbling his first target, resulting in a Justin Rogers interception just before the half.

Two plays later, the Bills were in the end zone, trimming a 17-7 lead to 17-14 and giving Buffalo the momentum once again. On the next Patriots drive (discounting Tom Brady’s kneel to end the first half), Brady fumbled the ball away on the one-yard line, allowing Buffalo to preserve a 21-17 lead. Simply put, mistakes of this magnitude cannot occur again. Both Ridley and Sudfeld were severely penalized for their blunders, and this is certain to be one area of emphasis in practice this week.

5. Arrington, defensive backfield force two turnovers, allow two embarrassing touchdowns

One of the early standouts on New England’s defense this week was slot cornerback Kyle Arrington, who made impact plays throughout the contest, beginning by stripping C.J. Spiller on the Buffalo 13-yard line and setting up a short touchdown drive culminating in Tom Brady’s first touchdown pass to slot receiver Julian Edelman. Arrington forced another fumble late in the second quarter, stripping rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on a crossing route. However, Arrington was burned by Stevie Johnson for a touchdown early in the third quarter despite bracket coverage from free safety Devin McCourty, giving Buffalo a 21-17 lead in the game.

The rest of the coverage was inconsistent at best, with Alfonzo Dennard dropping an interception on a well-covered pass down the left sideline intended for wide receiver Robert Woods, but either Aqib Talib or Steve Gregory making a mental error at the end of the second half which led to Woods catching a wide-open 18-yard touchdown pass on his second target of the game. With the duo of Talib and Gregory blowing coverage on the Woods touchdown, and the ineffectiveness of Arrington and McCourty’s bracket coverage on Stevie Johnson’s touchdown, we should see other teams test New England deep.

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18 Responses to “New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Week 1 Observations”

  1. gatorade says:

    Earl you are an idiot, Iggles had BIG lead, didn’t have to pass. And are you so far gone that you won”t accept the fact that Tebow can pass once in a while in a read option offense as he did at Denver. And that would be all thats required if Iggles continue to build big 1st half leads.

  2. gatorade says:

    Man, Steve the earl, is a real blabbermouth. Doesn’t he ever shut up. So I’ll rile him up some more. Tebow didn’t fit with Pats. But he would be the perfect back-up for Vick and the Eagles.Spare me the no passer jazz, Tebow would have been the ticket in the second half against the Skins. They could have rested Vick, and a fresh Tebow would have pounded the tired Skins and maybe even complete a couple of passes. A number of folks in Philly have picked up on this,as most do not think Foles or the rookie Trojan could run Eagles read option the way they did. Tebow could, especially as a lefty releif man for the old dog killer. Funny BB was right and may have done TT a big favor if this read option stuff continues to evolve.

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    Glad to have the win, the rookies will get better, and the defense will get better with time. Brady made some mistakes and Amendola looks like a faster Welker, but lets not be fooled we have vertical recievers, TE’s, and a pass catching FB James Devlin. Brady can’t and shouldn’t use Amendola like a binky, he needs to get the others involved quickly and should remember why Welker isn’t here!

  4. Mike David says:

    I hate to be the negative nancy here and I know a win is a win but am I the only one that noticed that we have some potentially very big problems. Although we got the win and Tom did what Tom always does, is anybody else concerned with what the lions and now bills did to our o-line? how about the secondary? does anyone really think Amendola is gonna last another 25 minutes before he’s on IR? The guy didnt last a quarter before he was in the locker room. Am I the only pessimist that sees that Gronk has spent more time in recovery rooms than on football fields in the last year and who knows what will break next on his body (and when)? Is anyone else noticing how inaccurate Tom is becoming outside the numbers? Tompkins… he serious?…………….. Are we the ’95 cowboys now?

    • steve earle says:

      Yea, hear what your saying. Tom had a couple throws that didn’t look so good but was it Tom or rookie routes? Agree we hold our breath every time Amendola goes down, will he getup? About Gronk, not worried about his broken arm as much as his back problems. I don’t expect a long carrear for the guy, perhaps 3 or 4 more years. That could be enough to get a ring or two yet. Someone suggested in a mock draft Bill might go for another TE in the 1st next year. Something to think about.

  5. steve earle says:

    Wow! Dodged a bullet today. Rookies looked and played like rookies, hope they get on track soon or we’ll be drafting pretty high next year. Def wasn’t to bad but lots ofroom to improve. Liked Vereen, Amendola and Edelman. Agree that Ridely is in big trouble. Be interesting to see what happens with him.

  6. acm says:

    Obviously the team is a work in progress on O but the lack of coverage on RB dump-offs by the D and same soft secondary vs the pass, makes me worried. The stats against may be OK overall but let’s not forget this was a team lead by a rookie QB and is still coming together – new QB and an entirely new coaching staff throughout … and they won’t have the high-scoring O this year to bail them out.

    Hopefully the O will come together sooner rather than later and by that I mean they won’t have to heavily rely on the Brady-Amendola connection as then letting Welker go would make little sense.
    Amendola was crucial in the 4th and had a great game (while playing with an injury) but relying on that go-to-guy makes them predictable and easy to stop by proper Ds (as was with Welker on the team). That of course would depend on the rookies finding their footing ASAP. Time will tell, I guess.

    Doubt Ridley would start over the next 2-3 games, at least. A RB to be drafted highly next year too, IMO. Ridley is as good as done, as far as I am concerned … maybe will get one more chance at most but that would be it.

    new TE signing on the way? the secondary could always use improvement too but options seem to be few and far between out there at this point.

    • steve earle says:

      Ridley really shot himself in the foot alright, Bill doesn’t like fumbles. Agree we are unlikely to see him for a few games. What was that udfa RB’s name Bill let go? George Winn was it? Something like that. Not sure of a RB high next draft but interesting thought. Have to look up prospects, have you got anyone penciled in there? Suppose a trade isn’t out of the question either. Team sure has lots of work ahead and the J-E-T-S thursday. Yeps!

  7. Jack says:

    I liked Vereen since the first time I saw him play in his rookie year against the Chiefs. Even then, his smoothness and cutback skills showed. He runs with far more grace and style than Ridley, whose violent and asymmetric running style lends itself to awkward collisions and continuous fumbles. The era of Shane Vereen has begun.

    In retrospect, the difficulties with Thompkins and Sudfeld aren’t surprising. They’re rookies, and it’s their first game. I remain optimistic that they’ll eventually get on the same page as Brady and make an impact.

    The touchdown given up by Arrington and McCourty reminded me of the bad old days before Talib/Dennard. Those two have an inability at times to look back for the ball, preferring to try to strip it after the catch. Contrast the TD scored on them with the near pick by Dennard, who always, alway looks for the ball. McCourty’s issue there was solved to an extent by his shift to safety, where the ball is *usually* in front of him – but not always. Arrington is the same old Arrington when it comes to coverage – not awful, but not particularly good, either, especially when his back is to the quarterback.

    The Bills are an underrated team. The article on this site just before this one describing their personnel me wary of them. Their QB, Emanuel (sp) hit on a high percentage of his passes in pre-season, and their defensive line is loaded – something that alway gives the Pats trouble. Fortunately, a couple of their key db’s, Gilmore and someone else, were out of the game. They could have been the difference.

    I just hope Amendola can stay healthy. If he’s out, the Pats are going to have issues.

    • CMO says:

      Agreed Jack – The Bills have a very strong D-Line (Much like we saw from the Lions) and you add in Pettine calling the plays … you have a formidable D. When their 2ndary becomes healthy, they will again test us at the end of the Season.

  8. Rich says:

    No pass rush again!!!! Unbelievable!!! also, as long as Josh Boyer and Brian Flores are secondary coaches, we will not be any better

    I do not known why these guys are coaching, they have not earned it and the secondary continues to not improve. I wish BB would swallow his pride and make up with Mangini. He would improve the secondary. Arrington should not be covering outside receivers, he can’t do it

    • Matt says:

      Dude, are you high? Arrington played a monster game. Two forced fumbles and two key passes defenses to get off the field. Even on the Johnson touchdown, he was there, it was just a great ball and a great catch.

      Not sure how much anyone can criticize the D today. They gave up one long drive and one more on a short field. They bottled up two very good backs for the most part. They gave up no long plays at all, which among other things says a lot about the tackling. They looked a lot better than last year.

      • steve earle says:

        Arrington gives and Arrington take away. Can’t always control the matchups but he did have a strong game today. Problem at DB can bt traced to poor drafting the position last few years,or several years. Retreads and depth players just give us what we got today.

    • CMO says:

      Rich – the D wasn’t perfect but played well. They gave up 150 yards passing, were you expecting a shutout? Also, I am sure the DE’s were playing some contain because EJ can run with the ball if you send your DB’s out in MAN coverage.

  9. Trevor M. says:

    How many plays of 20+ did the Patriots give up? My count says 0 but maybe I missed one. Thats an improvement on last year through 1 game.

    Patriots had 6 (or more?) plays of 20+.

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