The New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills have a lot in common this season, beyond competing for the AFC East title even at this point of the year: the two teams also punched a playoff ticket for themselves mainly on the back of their defenses. While New England’s ranks first in the NFL in both points and yards allowed, Buffalo’s comes in second and third in the two categories. Both units have played some very good football in 2019 so far.
The offenses, on the other hand, have had their fair share of issues when it comes to consistently putting positive plays together to challenge the opponent. From the Patriots’ perspective, however, not all has been as mediocre as it is often portrayed to be. After all, the team has been pretty good when it comes to avoiding turnovers: New England has suffered just 12 of them all season, ranking third in the league when it comes to giveaways.
On the year, the Patriots have lost four fumbles and saw their quarterbacks — Tom Brady and backup Jarrett Stidham — combine to throw eight interceptions. Buffalo is somewhat similar when it comes to turnovers, ranking eighth in the NFL with 16 of them after throwing 10 interceptions and losing six fumbles. However, there still is a major difference between the Bills and Patriots when it comes to ball security this season: fumbles.
New England is the third best team in the NFL not just when it comes to giveaways, but also in terms of fumbling the ball: their players have put the football on the ground nine times so far this season, with the following players contributing:
- QB Tom Brady: 4
- WR Julian Edelman: 2
- RB Sony Michel: 2
- PR: Gunner Olszewski*: 1
*no longer on the active roster
Buffalo, on the other hand, has already fumbled the football 21 times so far this season. Only eight other teams have allowed the football to escape from their grasp more often than that (coincidentally, three of them have a winning record), and this will certainly be a point of emphasis for New England’s defense this season — something inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo also pointed out during a media conference call earlier this week.
“We always talk about second-man: second-man strip or second-man punch,” the long-time defender said when asked about the Bills and their ball security issues. “The first person that gets there, definitely their primary goal is to secure the tackle and get the guy on the ground. If you can hold him up and another guy can come in and strip the ball, that’s definitely a bonus.”
The Patriots have been able to successfully apply this tactic numerous times this season: New England’s defenders have forced 14 fumbles, with the team’s special teams units adding two more. During the first matchup against Buffalo in Week 4, the team’s ability to knock the football loose was also on display as the team forced two fumbles — both by linebacker Kyle Van Noy — during its 16-10 road victory.
Both times, however, the Bills were able to come away with the football — something they have been able to do quite well this season: as noted above, they have fumbled the football 21 times but only six of them have been lost for a turnover rate of 28.6%. The Patriots, for comparison, have lost 44.4% of their fumbles. It is obvious that New England has to be more opportunistic on defense when it comes to forcing and recovering fumbles on Saturday.
So which players might be on their radar as potential weak-links in terms of ball security? The following have put the football on the ground this season, with one clearly standing out:
- QB Josh Allen: 14
- RB Devin Singletary: 4
- WR Andre Roberts: 1
- QB Matt Barkley: 1
- RB T.J. Yeldon: 1
Only one player in the league — New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones — has more fumbles on his résumé this season than Bills quarterback Josh Allen, as ball security has remained an issue for him in year number two in the NFL. The Patriots certainly know this as well, and it would not be a surprise if they regularly try to apply their second-man tactic on him whenever possible.
And given how tight the game projects to be, one fumble might be all it takes to make a different.