With the New England Patriots set to take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, there are many key things to watch in this game. On the Patriots’ side, perhaps the most important dynamic in the game will be the play of their linebackers. With the Bills possessing running backs Fred Jackson, and more importantly, C.J. Spiller, they are both a linebacker’s worst nightmare.
For years now, the Patriots have struggled matching their slower linebackers on speed backs like Spiller. As evidence by Reggie Bush‘s performance in the preseason against the Pats, this weakness does not seem to have improved much. However, that was the preseason and this is the regular season.
The Patriots will surely have a plan in place to try to contain Spiller as their number one priority. Despite what Stevie Johnson says about the Bills’ receiving corps, the receivers aren’t going to win the game for the Bills, if they by some miracle can stay in it, which doesn’t seem likely given how banged up the Bills are right now.
The game could only be won by the Bills on the shoulders of both Spiller and Jackson. The Patriots’ linebackers will have to contain them if they are to prevent an unlikely upset from occurring.
I would expect to see a heavy dose of Jamie Collins, the 2nd rounder the Pats drafted to serve as both a pass rusher and coverage linebacker, Jerod Mayo, who has covered running backs throughout his Patriots’ tenure, and Brandon Spikes, who reportedly worked on becoming a more complete football player this offseason, in pass coverage in this game.
Dont’a Hightower will be involved as well but probably in run defense only. Defending running backs in the receiving game is not his strong suit as of right now. Either way, the Patriots’ linebackers will have to contain both Jackson and Spiller in all phases of the game to be considered an elite group and get the victory in Week 1.