Patriots-Bills matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Sept. 22, 2011 @ 2:35 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the Week Three game between the Patriots and Bills:

Patriots CB Devin McCourty vs. Bills WR Stevie Johnson

For the third week in a row, McCourty will face one of the league's top receivers. Johnson doesn't possess the size of Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson, but he has become a very good receiver and is proving that 2010 was no fluke.

McCourty, last year's second-best defensive rookie, has been victimized through two games. Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall had seven catches for 139 yards in the season opener. According to Pro Football Focus, McCourty was thrown at 15 times in Week One and gave up nine completions for 151 yards.

In Week Two, with the Pats focused on TE Antonio Gates, McCourty didn't have much help covering Jackson, who had a career-best 10 catches for 172 yards and two TDs. Not all of that came against McCourty, as Kyle Arrington also had a few snaps against Jackson.

McCourty has good speed and ball skills — he had seven interceptions last season, and Bill Belichick certainly doesn't come off as worried. "I think Devin's done a lot of good things for us," Belichick said on Tuesday. "He's really probably played as well as anybody we've had on defense."

The Bills are not afraid to throw the ball, as seen in their first two games and last year's 38-30 loss at New England. With Lee Evans gone via trade to Baltimore, Johnson is Buffalo's top receiver. He has 12 catches for 162 yards and two TDs through two games. He is battling a groin injury, look for him to be targeted often.

If McCourty can take Johnson out of the equation for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, someone else will have to step up, and there is a drop-off at receiver for the Bills after Johnson. It also would go a long way for McCourty's confidence going forward to have a good game.