The last time the New England Patriots played the Buffalo Bills, their defense had another impressive performance. While the unit did give up 135 yards and a touchdown on 22 rushing attempts, it also surrendered just 10 points and forced four turnovers. On a day that saw the team’s offense struggle to consistently move the football down the field and put points on the board, the defense was certainly able to pick up the slack to secure a victory.
Entering Week 16, the Patriots’ defense again is expected to play a big role against Buffalo. After all, Tom Brady and the other side of the ball have been fairly inconsistent as of late and will themselves go up against one of the better defenses the NFL has to offer. The game between the two division rivals could therefore turn into another defensive affair, decided by which unit eventually makes the crucial stops and comes away with more big plays.
What will the Patriots defense have to do to be that unit? To get an answer, Pats Pulpit spoke with Buffalo Rumblings staff writer Corey Giacovelli about what New England has to expect from the Bills offense on Saturday — and what the team will have to do in order to limit the impact the unit coordinated by former Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll. And according to Corey, it all starts with one player: quarterback Josh Allen.
“They will try to take away comfortable Josh Allen,” he said about the second-year passer. “Allen is at his best like most quarterbacks when he has time in the pocket to dissect the opposing defense. The Patriots are great at getting pressure and forcing Allen to scramble to the left side which he is uncomfortable doing being a right handed guy. Expect a lot of blitzes and Cover 0 looks to speed up the internal clock for Allen and the offense.”
New England used a similar approach against the former first-round draft pick during its 16-10 victory in Week 4 — and it paid dividends. With the defense disguising its coverages well pre-snap and forcing Allen to make quick decisions when the plays were underway, it was able to intercept him three times before a tackle by defensive back Jonathan Jones on a scramble attempt knocked him out of the contest in the early fourth quarter.
As badly as Allen played in late September, and as unfortunate his exit from the game was, the contest proved to be a turning point for the 23-year-old according to Corey’s assessment: “The bad game against the Pats ended up being a blessing for Allen. Since that game he has been a different quarterback because he is playing much smarter. The interceptions have gone down and he is playing more efficiently on offense.”
“The ball is coming out quicker and he is being decisive with his reads,” the Bills writer added when talking about Allen’s development over the course of the last three months — one that has not always gone smoothly, though: “Hanging onto the football is still a concern for Allen. The Patriots were able to exploit the Bills offense line in the first match up and if they are able to do it again they can still force fumbles even if there are no interceptions.”
New England did force two fumbles against Buffalo in Week 4, with Allen coughing the football up once. The Bills ended up recovering both loose footballs but the gist remains: Allen does still have issues holding onto the ball, as evidenced by his 14 fumbles this season — second most in the NFL behind only the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones and his 15. This is certainly an area the Patriots need to work on this week and try to do better in.
While Allen is the most prominent member of the Bills offense and its club of players who have coughed up the football so far this season, he is not the only one worth keeping an eye on this week — both in terms of potential turnovers but even more so overall impact on the game. Take rookie running back Devin Singletary, who has fumbled four times this year, has turned into the most dynamic weapon out of the Bills’ backfield.
“A player that was missing in the first matchup was running back Devin Singletary and expect him to play a big part in the game on Sunday,” said Corey about him. “In the second half of the season he is averaging around 20 touches the last couple of weeks and has averaged almost 100 total yards as well. He can be explosive in the rushing attack and the passing game, so Devin can be a big difference when the offense is attacking the ball.”
Containing Singletary will be high up on the Patriots’ list of priorities, but he is not the only offensive skill-position player who could turn into a problem for the defense. Wide receiver Cole Beasley, for example, has established himself as a consistent playmaker for the Bills as well over the last few weeks and actually leads the team in touchdown catches. Add outside receiver John Brown and tight end Dawson Knox, and you get a potent receiving corps capable of putting pressure on a defense.
While it all starts and ends with Allen, the weapons he has at his disposal cannot be disregarded either. The Patriots defense, therefore, needs to play some good football again if it wants to limit the unit on Saturday.