Starting on the defensive side of the ball, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo threw the kitchen sink at Josh Allen all night long. New England mixed and matched all sorts of coverages from the jump to try and confuse the Pro Bowl quarterback.
That started on the very first play from scrimmage for the Bills offense (above), as New England opens in a dime look with six defensive backs. After showing a single-high safety, Jonathan Jones then drops from his cornerback position to a half-field safety at the snap.
Several plays later, New England uses a Cover 3 cloud coverage on third-and-long, using safety Jabrill Peppers to jam Stefon Diggs at the line of scrimmage (below). Allen is forced into a check down forcing a field goal.
And after getting burned by Isaiah McKenzie on crossers in last year’s second regular season matchup, New England executed several strong reps of one-cross. They do so perfectly here, as Adrian Phillips cuts off McKenzie’s route and Marcus Jones’ drop eliminates Stefon Diggs across the middle of the field.
It was a back-and-forth fight between Allen and New England’s defense all night. The Patriots had some success forcing three turnover-worthy plays on the quarterback, but Allen ultimately got the last laugh finishing with +0.33 EPA/play and the W.
Where the main struggles ensued for the Patriots’ was in the red area. They had several chances to hold Buffalo to three points which ultimately ended up with the Bills finding the end zone. On this third-down below, Allen is spied by Mack Wilson with the Patriots in man coverage, but is able to shake the linebacker off. During the scramble drill, Jonathan Jones takes his eyes off of his man (Gabe Davis) who Allen miraculously finds for a touchdown.
It was improvement from the last few matchups defensively for New England, but ultimately still not good enough. It even appeared the Bills dialed it down in the second half with the game basically in hand.
The reason they had the game in hand was a result from the Patriots’ offense again struggling to move the football. As Mac Jones hinted at postgame, the game plan for New England was to lean on the quick passing attack and beat Buffalo after the catch.
On paper, it’s not a bad plan as New England had a depleted offensive line and Buffalo has been one of the worst statistical tackling teams all season. But, the Bills compiled much of those stats with several defensive starters missing. Either way, the Patriots’ game plan had flaws and they did not do a good enough job adjusting until it was too late, while also continuing the fail in key situations such as third-down (3-for-12) and in the first-half two-minute drill.
The #Patriots developed a game plan for Buffalo which centered around quick passes and YAC, but played Kendrick Bourne 20 snaps and Jonnu Smith 17 snaps.— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) December 3, 2022
The two combined for three catches on four targets for 21 yards, this being their only first half target. pic.twitter.com/OC3heLGAvF
Despite frustration boiling over inside the locker room postgame, Bill Belichick explained this week it is too late in the season to make “dramatic changes” on the offensive side of the ball; that includes the play-caller. Instead, New England will hope better execution and more consistency leads to improved results as they fight for a postseason berth.
With that, let’s now empty out the rest of the #PostPulpit mailbag.
@darealmattjones Will we see a more air dominant game plan this week against Arizona after last weeks drama?
The Patriots should be able to move the ball through the air against Arizona on Monday night, like they did against Minnesota several weeks ago. The only worry is the Cardinals’ aggressiveness under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. They blitz, a lot, and the Patriots offensive line will certainly be tested. Not an ideal situation based off their play this year and the current injury situation.
Trent Brown (illness) and Isaiah Wynn (foot) have not practiced this week, while Yodny Cajuste (calf/back) was limited. And while Connor McDermott was not on the injury report, he still appears to be feeling the affects on an early ankle injury he suffered Thursday night that he played through.
For Jones, his game has fallen apart under pressure this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has the fifth-highest turnover-worthy play rate and completes just 43.8 percent of his passes when under pressure. His passer rating also falls from 105.0 to 29.2 (!) when kept clean versus facing pressure.
If they can get it blocked and have some options to help counter the pressure (play-action, RPOs, etc.), it could look like it did against Minnesota. The issue is we’ve been banging the table for those things for months now and still haven't seen them. It will be a good test for the struggling offense.
@PyschedelicFunk What’s the biggest priority this off-season?
On the field, fixing the offense. They’re close defensively but the offense likely will be in for a makeover. Off the field, figure out the coaching situation. Let's break both of those down even more.
@DarweezySF If the offensive line woes are addressed in the draft, can we still expect a search for a WR1?
@Skywal1Thaddeus Offensive Tackle or WR with our first round pick next year?
@PatsSavage Should the Patriots (if they were a normal drafting team) draft a Receiver, a Tackle or a completely different position in the first round?
Offensive tackle will certainly be No. 1 on the Patriots’ wish list. The poor play, specifically at right tackle, and inconsistent availability as Bill Belichick described it has been one of the biggest things working against the offense. They need to bring in at least two tackles. In what looks like a strong free agent class, signing someone like Mike McGlinchey and drafting another tackle inside the top 100 is an intriguing option. Trent Brown could also remain in the mix with one more year remaining on his contract.
As for receiver, there will be turnover at this spot with Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor hitting free agency and Kendrick Bourne’s future with the team potentially murky. If available, adding a tier-one receiver is a necessity. Just look what it has done for other year-three quarterbacks in the NFL (Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts). USC’s Jordan Addison is a name to watch early in the draft.
Outside of tackle and wide receiver, New England likely will look to add at linebacker and cornerback in the offseason as well.
@TimDwight5 Who are some potential veteran WRs that could be unhappy with contract or team this offseason that Pats could potentially target in a trade?
We mentioned Addison as a potential receiver in the draft, but the Patriots could follow the path of Miami and Philadelphia and acquire their alpha receiver through the trade market. Every year a receiver or two becomes disgruntled with their contract situation and ask out, usually those a year away from free agency.
Looking at that “pre-agency” class for 2024, Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb will be due their fifth-year option. That’s a pipe dream. More realistically, Jerry Jeudy will be due his option while Tee Higgins is set to hit free agency. If someone in that group if looking for a new contract, New England could try to get involved.
@jd_hazel Lets assume the extreme happens, and Kraft moves on from Bill & his coaching staff. Who are potential HC and OC candidates that could come in to boost Mac Jones’s confidence and modernize the offense?
On to the coaching staff. Could Robert Kraft really fire Bill Belichick? I find it unlikely this offseason, but the owner is likely not happy with how this season has unfolded after sharing how he'd like to get back to winning playoff games this past offseason.
So, to answer the hypothetical, let’s say Kraft approaches Belichick and asks if he is fine with how the last few years unfold. Belichick says yes, so Kraft decides to make a change. My clear-cut choice for head coach would be Sean Payton.
Now if that exact same conversation unfolds but Belichick says no, he is not happy with things, perhaps Kraft suggests a more experienced coaching staff (like he did with a more collaborative draft approach several years ago). That could mean bringing in someone like Bill O’Brien, if he’s even interested in returning in this situation, or acquiring some new outside offensive mind like they did with Jedd Fisch several years ago.
Short story short, they need to add an experienced offensive coach(es) this offseason. It is tough to predict names, but Zac Robinson from the Rams would be a name that intrigues me. Or how about another former Patriots’ quarterback that they will see this week in Kliff Kingsbury, in case he gets fired in Arizona?
@Jduham When are the Patriots going to fire Matt Patricia?
They are not going to. And, there is a possibility he’s back in this role next season. If they do not add a guy with play-calling experience like Bill O’Brien, would anyone be surprised if Patricia is again calling plays just with more help on his offensive staff (perhaps an actual offensive line coach and an additional offensive mind)?
It’s certainly not ideal, but it wouldn't be a surprise to me. If that transpires, the hope is Patricia follows the Steve Belichick play-calling trajectory.
@emmaune20622087 Should we sign Lamar (honest question)
@Collin_Demo What’s the realistic possibility we go after brady next year or potentially Lamar if he doesn’t sign with Baltimore?
Realistically, no. And I’m not sure why either player would look at this situation (beyond the “coming home” factor for Brady) and want to come here.
But, should the Patriots? I certainly would not pass on the chance to sign Lamar Jackson. However, I’ll stay true to my earlier prediction that Mac Jones is quarterbacking this team in 2023.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!