Patriots-Bills matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Dec. 29, 2011 @ 12:46 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a key matchup to watch in the season finale between the Patriots and Bills:

Bills DT Marcell Dareus vs. Patriots interior O-line

With injuries along the O-line, the Patriots struggled to protect Tom Brady last week against the Dolphins, giving up four sacks and eight quarterback hits. OLG Logan Mankins will not play Sunday, and Donald Thomas will replace him.

At center, Dan Connolly has been the team's starter, but Ryan Wendell replaced him in Week 17, showing that there is still not the desired consistency coming from the center position. ORG Brian Waters, who made the Pro Bowl, arguably has been the team's best O-lineman this season.

Dareus is having a stellar rookie season. He leads the team with 5½ sacks and 10 QB hits. Dareus is explosive off the snap and can get good penetration up the middle, something that can rattle a quarterback like Brady who doesn't move out of the pocket very often. Dareus has two passes batted down as well.

The Bills don't get much of a pass rush off the edge, but in some ways, it's easier to rattle Brady if you can get in his face right off the snap, and that's something that Dareus has the potential to do.

The Patriots could face NT Haloti Ngata in the playoffs or other good DTs like Casey Hampton, Sione Pouha or Richard Seymour, depending on how the next few weeks play out. Dareus is not yet on the level of those veterans, but his ability to get to the quarterback is noteworthy and he should provide a good test for a reworked Patriots interior O-line.