Fair’s fair. Last time out, the New England Patriots had to take on the Buffalo Bills without a key piece of their offense and now, it’s time for the Bills to do the same.
LeSean McCoy is likely out Sunday (and should have been last week as well), and while he’s not a Hall of Fame destined quarterback, he’s the biggest part of the offense.
Which simplifies the Patriots job this week—contain quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Once again, the plan is to “cage rush” Taylor and force him to throw downfield.
It’s not without its challenges, Henry McKenna of USA Today wrote early this week. The idea of a “cage rush” is to rush the passer but not overcommit—allow that he will get passes off (and trust the secondary) but make sure he doesn’t escape the pocket and kill you with his legs.
Because, as McKenna points out, while Taylor is a decent quarterback, he’s never going to be a Hall of Fame passer. Those legs will kill you, though, and the Bills are likely to have even more planned runs by Taylor than they normally do with McCoy out.
It’s a strong gamble for several reasons.
First, even though that might leave the run defense a little exposed by making it vulnerable to misdirection, McCoy’s replacements of Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush and Jonathan Williams are not nearly in the same class as McCoy.
It’s a risk worth taking that you might allow a few good runs by these players because the damage they lack the big-play ability McCoy and Taylor have.
It’s also a strong gamble because Taylor is short a few receivers. Sammy Watkins remains out, and Marquise Goodwin—who may be one dimensional as a deep threat, but is really good as that—will not play.
Leaving an even more uninspiring group of Robert Woods, Brandon Tate, Walter Powell and Justin Hunter to carry the offense.
If I’m the Patriots, I’m willing to risk Taylor throwing because I have complete faith that my secondary can hang with the “bench warming All Stars” trotting out for the Bills this weekend.
They key here will be discipline, as McKenna mentioned in his article. As he relayed from head coach Bill Belichick’s Wednesday press conference:
“There’s that balance between the aggressive pass rush but also proper leverage and discipline. Any time you face guys like that that’s the challenge. You can’t just stand there and watch them and not let them scramble or he’ll throw. You can’t rush out of control and give up 20, 30-yard scramble runs that are uncontested. I mean that’s not the answer either. So yeah, it’s somewhere in between discipline, leverage and doing it consistently. There’s no secret to it. It’s just a lot of hard work.”
Despite the advantages the Patriots have against the receivers, they have to play through the whistle and stick to those receivers. They cannot get lax and allow an inch to them. Taylor might not be the best quarterback in the league, but he protects the ball. Over the course of the first seven games of the year, he has thrown just a pair of interceptions.
He’s no fool, and he’s good at finding his receivers if the secondary gives them a slight edge of space.
This will be a tough test for the Patriots, to simultaneously pressure Taylor, contain him and contain his receivers. It’s one that can work, though, and with McCoy out, should give the Patriots the edge they need.