Week 16 Game Preview: Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
In what has essentially become a second preseason for the Bills, running back Keith Ford became the latest player to come out of nowhere and make a key contribution.
Last week against the Lions, Ford carried 14 times for 46 yards and was the last remaining healthy running back on the roster by the second quarter of Buffalo’s 14-13 victory. Ford had just been called up from the practice squad a few days earlier, and he stated his case for the opportunity to come back to Buffalo in 2019 and compete for a full-time job.
“Coach always says be ready, your name can be called at any time,” Ford said. “Be ready, stay in the game plan, so just from the start I made it happen, just make a routine and keep preparing for the week.”
Ford transferred from Oklahoma to Texas A&M and had seasons of 669 and 548 rushing yards which wasn’t nearly enough to draw an invitation to the scouting combine. Not surprisingly, he went undrafted, but the Bills signed him on the advice of running backs coach Kelly Skipper.
He was cut at the end of training camp but was quickly signed back to the practice squad and where he caught offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s eye with his work ethic.
“Got a soft spot for him, the way he works,” Daboll said. “One-hundred percent all the time, out at practice on the look team. Gives great effort, one of the guys that kind of stands in the background when we’re working on our reps and is asking a lot of questions. Just a young guy that’s trying to develop the best he can, and you appreciate guys like that.”
Sunday, the Bills hope to have LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory active after both missed the Detroit game. However, Marcus Murphy was placed on injured reserve, so Ford will slot into the third spot, and if McCoy, Ivory, or both, can’t play against the Patriots, or at least get through the game, Ford will be on the spot again.
And against a New England defense that has struggled against the run, this could be an opportunity for Ford to shine.
However, the offense will likely revolve around Josh Allen, who took some positive steps forward against Detroit in directing his second fourth-quarter comeback victory. Allen will be facing the Patriots for the first time after missing the first meeting due to his elbow injury.
Bill Belichick has made countless rookie quarterbacks look silly, so this will be a supreme test for Allen.
“It’s another opportunity for Josh to grow and develop,” said coach Sean McDermott. “Now it’s on the road against a very good football team, against a defense that he didn’t face the first go around. All that will be somewhat new, but will provide him an opportunity to take another step in his development, his growth and then our offense’s growth as well.”
This is the 118th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead the series 73-43-1. New England has won 32 of the last 37 games. The only times Buffalo has won since the start of 2000, the year Bill Belichick took over as Patriots coach, came in 2000, 2003, 2011, 2014, and 2016. Tom Brady, who became the Pats starting QB in 2001, has a record of 29-3 against Buffalo.
BY THE NUMBERS
46 – The Bills have allowed that many more points off their own turnovers as compared to the points they have scored when they have taken the ball away. The Bills are minus-8 in turnover ratio which is 26th in the NFL.
- QB Josh Allen, per ESPN, has been off target on 22.9 percent of his pass attempts, taking away throwaways and spikes. Part of the problem is he is the second-most pressured QB in the NFL, taking into account sacks, hits and hurries. His figure is 38.9 percent of his dropbacks.
- RB Keith Ford rushed for 46 yards in his NFL debut, the seventh-highest for a Bills debut in team history, and the most by a Bills rookie in his debut since Marshawn Lynch set the team record with 90 in 2007.
- WR Robert Foster leads the NFL with an average 24.6 yards per catch, and he had a career-best 108-yard game last week against the Lions.
- WR Isaiah McKenzie set career highs with six receptions and 53 yards last week against the Lions.
- RB Marcus Murphy suffered a dislocated elbow against Detroit and he was placed on the injured reserve list.
- WR Victor Bolden was signed off the 49ers practice squad and added to the Bills’ 53-man roster to take the spot of Murphy.
- RB LeSean McCoy sat out the Lions game with a hamstring injury and his status this week will likely be questionable.
- RB Chris Ivory missed the Lions game and he was limited in practice.
- FS Jordan Poyer set a new career high with 11 tackles against Detroit which was also a season-high for the Bills, and it was the eighth time he’s had double-digit tackles in a game.
- CB Ryan Lewis is still in concussion protocol and did not practice Wednesday.
RB Keith Ford. Early in the third quarter of Buffalo’s victory over Detroit, the rookie undrafted free agent was the last remaining healthy running back available for the Bills. But with LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory inactive, and Marcus Murphy sidelined, Ford carried the load and finished with 14 carries for 46 yards. Ford had been on the Bills’ practice squad all year and was just activated the Wednesday before the game. The 220-pounder does not have great speed, but he’s capable of taking the ball between the tackles and churning for yardage which, given the state of the Bills offensive line, is the style of the runner the Bills need.
The Bills’ running game has been terrible all season, no matter who has carried the ball. This week, it’s still uncertain who will be available as LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy are all battling injuries. Keith Ford is the lone wolf, so it stands to reason the Bills may opt to throw it all day against a Patriots defense that has not been very good against the pass. However, the Patriots are also vulnerable on the ground thanks to weakness up the middle, having just allowed 142 yards to Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Samuels. If the Bills can have balance, they may be able to move against New England.
On defense, the Bills have to protect against the short pass because it has become the mode of operation for Tom Brady. He just completed his longest pass of the season last week, a 63-yard TD to Chris Hogan. He has spent most of the year dumping off to RB James White, or finding pesky Julian Edelman on crossing routes. TE Rob Gronkowski has been slowed all season by a worn-down body, but he has traditionally killed the Bills so they will have to devote constant attention to him. Look for CB Tre’Davious White to match up as often as he can with WR Josh Gordon.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills LBs vs. Patriots RB James White. White has become Tom Brady’s security blanket as he leads the team with 81 receptions and he’s second with 699 receiving yards. White does an excellent job finding space in the flats and short zones and then running after the catch. The Bills don’t have their best coverage LB, injured Matt Milano, so players like Tremaine Edmunds and Lorenzo Alexander, and maybe even Corey Thompson, will have to pick up the slack because the short passing game is how New England is moving the ball this season.
Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Patriots secondary. This will be an interesting test for the rookie QB as he goes against a Bill Belichick scheme for the first time. He missed the first game back in October with an elbow injury. The Lions provided a nice blue print of how to effectively use a spy to limit Allen’s running and he had a season-low 16 yards on nine attempt. Look for Belichick to employ something similar, and then to double WR Robert Foster whenever he can. That’s what Belichick has always done, take away the No. 1 offensive option, so Allen will have to have a response.