Yes, it’s that time of the year again: the New England Patriots will take on the Buffalo Bills. The first of two regular season matchups between the two AFC East rivals will be kicked off at 8:15 p.m ET on Thursday at Gillette Stadium, and the primetime showdown could very well turn out to be a season-defining game for the Patriots.
In order to get a better understanding of who they will be up against in Week 13, we exchanged questions with Matt Byham of Pats Pulpit’s sister site Buffalo Rumblings — the SB Nation community for all things Bills.
Here is what Matt told us about the upcoming game.
1. Which, if any, limitations have you noticed from Josh Allen since sustaining his elbow injury? Has it had anything to do with his recent turnover streak?
I’m not an expert on mechanics, so I’ll begin by saying that these are only my opinions and someone else could weigh in with completely different ideas based on a better starting reference point.
It appears to me that Allen has reverted to leaning more on his early career instincts while playing through the elbow injury. Incredibly, when the injury occurred, Allen immediately threw a 70-yard bullseye to wide receiver Gabe Davis. That’s the Allen no defensive coordinator or defender can game-plan to stop (which, I’d imagine, most Patriots fans can relate to with Tom Brady). If only Davis awarded his heroics on that play after it hit him right in the numbers. But some of his throws have appeared off in recent weeks — attributable, no doubt, to what must be a fair amount of discomfort when throwing.
I think there’s some merit to the idea that the injury has contributed to more turnovers, especially in the red zone. Again, I’m no expert — but it’s possible Allen wants to get the ball out quicker and isn’t diagnosing coverage the same way due to what I believe may be a shift in his internal clock to avoid further injury to the elbow.
It’s also possible that Allen’s pressing in situations where he alone cannot overcome the offense’s shortcomings. Something that wouldn’t hurt is if offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey leaned a bit more on the run game to take any perceived pressure off Allen. Allen is an incredible person and player, and I think he carries the weight of the team on his shoulders with pride.
2. Has anyone managed to slow down Stefon Diggs this season? If so, how? If not, how has he managed to overcome teams’ attempts to do so?
I think Josh Allen’s elbow is the only thing that’s slowed down Diggs this season. During the first half of the game on Thanksgiving against the Detroit Lions, Diggs was a forgotten man — until Allen found him wide open in the end zone for a touchdown before halftime.
Diggs has been every bit as good as Justin Jefferson — but nearly twice as dangerous scoring touchdowns this season. It’s an incredible situation when you consider that trade worked out so well for both teams. Jefferson has received the lion’s share of attention this season because of that catch against the Bills, but it would have ended differently if a more experienced cornerback was on him and simply knocked down the ball.
All this to say that I believe Diggs is equally as dangerous if not more so than Jefferson, simply because the Bills lack consistent production from everyone other than Diggs at receiver, and they have a real love affair with abandoning the run game. So, teams absolutely know it’s the Allen-Diggs show, yet he still makes teams’ best players look foolish. In my humble opinion, Diggs is as important to the Bills as is Allen. The two have a bond that transcends team chemistry the likes of which no other receiver can replace.
3. The Bills have played a lot more man coverage since the Chiefs game back in Week 6. What’s the reason for this shift and how has it translated on the field?
A very wise man once told me that, for Buffalo, man coverage is their changeup on defense — zone is their fastball. The why of this shift is simple: The team has had a litany of injuries to overcome on defense and, as such, that side of the ball has relied more on their off-speed in recent weeks.
Since head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier arrived at One Bills Drive, the Bills’ have operated a heavy zone scheme. As such, it’s very likely the team returns to majority looks within their preferred scheme at some point.
The efficacy of this shift has proven incomplete at best and messy at times. When a team has as much individual starting defensive talent as the Bills do, it’s only natural that mass exodus via injury will affect the on-field product. Simply stated: While Buffalo’s depth is great (incredible along the D-line), there aren’t enough players capable of adeptly filling in for the loss of players such as safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, cornerback Tre’Davious White, and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Those names have all missed significant time this season, without even mentioning the loss of their other starting cornerbacks to various injury.
One true positive coming out of all the team’s defensive injuries is the playing time and experience their depth players have now gained. They had planned for White’s absence and drafted accordingly this past April, picking cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford in the first and sixth rounds, respectively. The experience they’ve gained so early in their career should greatly benefit them as the season wears on and their careers develop.
4. How much of an impact will CB Tre’Davious White’s return have against the Patriots after he was used sparingly last week?
I suspect he’ll continue playing on a snap count — perhaps this week closer to a 50 percent rate compared to 23 percent in Week 12. His return is monumental, given the Bills’ inability to contain most top receivers each week. It was essentially a full calendar year between injury and return and, as I mentioned above, the team has had a mountain to climb in fielding healthy and capable cornerbacks all season long. Additionally, what was one of the team’s biggest strengths has taken a huge slide this year with injuries at safety (Micah Hyde out for the year) (Poyer missing nearly half the season for various injuries). While they drafted well in selecting Elam and Benford they, too, have dealt with injuries and the usual rookie struggles. Benford, to his credit, has played well above his draft status, and while a liability in some situations — he’s shown capable to match up against elite talent even though he played at small-school Villanova.
The Bills need Tre White as much as they do Von Miller. Thankfully it appears White’s ready to get back to playing during the most important stretch of the season.
5. Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook currently have the Patriots as 4.5-point underdogs at home against the Bills. What does New England have to do to pull off an upset?
Force turnovers and turn the Bills away in the red zone. If they can take away Stefon Diggs and force Allen to take underneath routes that eat up a lot of clock, then Buffalo will have far fewer chances to score.
Mac Jones is going to need to play like he did against the Minnesota Vikings. I honestly think the Patriots’ game plan and execution against the Vikings was perfect, and should serve them well in trying to knock off Buffalo in Week 13.
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