by Christopher Price
When it comes to stopping Buffalo running back Marshawn Lynch, Patriots offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan figures it’s pretty simple: “Get a lot of people hitting him.”
O’Callaghan knows better than most — he was a college teammate of Lynch at Cal, and got to know Lynch pretty well. He cleared a path for him for two seasons, helping Lynch gain 1,246 rushing yards in 2005.
“We hung out together all the time,” O’Callaghan said of Lynch. “He’s funny, real funny. He’s very passionate about his family. He’s a guy who didn’t come from the best area, but it says something about him that he’s been able to make something with his life. I’m happy for him.”
He’s not shocked at what the rookie running back — the best rookie running back in the NFL not named Adrian Peterson — has been able to accomplish this season with the Bills. The 21-year-old Lynch has had a hand in seven of the 10 touchdowns the Buffalo offense has registered this season. In addition, he ranks fifth in the NFL with 751 yards rushing, and his 196 carries rank second behind Pittsburgh’s Willie Parker.
Lynch is scheduled for more tests on his injured left ankle after sustaining an injury in a comeback win against the Dolphins on Sunday, but Bills Head Coach Dick Jauron hopes the rookie running back will be ready to play against the Patriots Sunday night at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium. That doesn’t shock O’Callaghan.
“He’s strong,” O’Callaghan said of the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch. “He’s got good movement, and he’s hard to bring down.”
That was certainly the case when the Patriots and Bills met in Week 3. Of the running backs the Patriots have faced this season, Lynch perhaps turned in the second-best performance, gaining 74 tough yards on the ground against New England in a 38-7 win for the Patriots. That trails only Colts running back Joseph Addai, who had 112 yards rushing and 114 yards receiving. (Statistically, Lynch’s performance stood as the best rushing performance against New England until Miami’s Ronnie Brown ran for 76 mostly soft yards in Week 7.)
Lynch’s Week 3 numbers were commendable for any running back, especially when you consider the Patriots are holding opposing running games as a whole to an average of just 90.6 yards per game, the sixth-best number in the NFL.
“He doesn’t shirk,” Jauron of Lynch after he rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Miami. “He doesn’t shirk in practice, and he definitely doesn’t shirk on game day.”
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK
1. How the Patriots go about trying to neutralize Aaron Schobel. New England held the defensive end to just 1/2 a sack the first time these two teams met earlier this season. In that one, they blunted him using a variety of blocking combinations — eight, by our count, including one where linebacker Mike Vrabel lined up opposite Schobel as a tight end in a goal-line situation. In all, left tackle Matt Light got the better of him when the two went head to head 23 of 29 times.
2. Post-bye week letdown. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have gone 5-2 in games played the week after a bye. Curiously, this week will mark the fifth time in the last eight years New England will face the Bills following a bye. After a loss in 2000, the Patriots have won the last three post-bye week meetings against Buffalo by an average score of 27-13.
3. Buffalo will be the first team this season that will be facing the Patriots a second time — will they do anything differently? Did the Bills learn anything about the Patriots from their Week 3 matchup? Specifically, will Buffalo focus more of its coverage on Randy Moss in the passing game, or leave him in single coverage — as they did for much of Week 3 — and risk getting burned?
4. Can Laurence Maroney duplicate his Week 3 effort against the Bills? The second-year running back rushed for 103 yards against the Bills in Week 3, the second-highest single game total of his career. The Patriots will lean heavily on the young running back, who has yet to prove he can pull his weight as the featured back on a consistent basis.
5. Starting fast. For the Patriots, it’ll be absolutely imperative to get out of the gates quickly in this one. On a four-game win streak, the Bills and their fans are starting to feel pretty good about themselves. If New England affords them the slightest glimmer of hope, a sold out Ralph Wilson crowd — which will have spent most of the afternoon in the parking lot preparing for the game — will try to make the game as difficult as possible for the Patriots.
STAT OF THE WEEK
4.7. On average, one out of every 4.7 catches for Randy Moss this season has resulted in a touchdown. (He has 56 receptions and 12 touchdowns.)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s kind of like the Iditarod, those sled dogs. Every single day you have to pull that sled, and at night you eat your food and think about pulling that sled the next day.” — Patriots tight end Kyle Brady on the road ahead for New England.
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. He’s written “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower,” and can be reached at [email protected].