Just three weeks after Josh Allen slashed them in a game for the de facto AFC East title, the Patriots must find a way to shut down the Bills’ star quarterback in order to keep their season alive.
The Patriots travel to Buffalo in the Wild Card Round on Saturday to face Allen and the Bills for the third time this season. New England managed to keep Allen under control in the first game between the two teams, allowing him to complete just 15 of 30 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown.
But that showdown featured winds moving as fast as 55 mph. In the second match between the two teams, it appeared that Allen proved that the first match was a fluke because of this wind. In a 33-21 win over the Patriots, Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this Week 16 performance was that Allen and the Bills offense not only didn’t commit a turnover, but they also never kicked the ball. . Key members of the Patriots defense recognize that getting Allen and the Bills offense off the field is something they need to do from the jump.
“It’s always good to start fast, to start on your opponents,” Patriots cornerback JC Jackson said. “You don’t want to play catch-up. Having a good early start is always good for us. We take out the first set, get a three-and-out – that’s how you want to start a football game. And I think that’s what we need to do.
“We didn’t kick them last game, so that was definitely critical,” added goalkeeper Adrian Phillips. “You come on last down with a chance to win and you get them on third down a few times and we can’t leave the field. You saw how the game went for us. So we have to get out of the field and get some turnovers.
Allen doesn’t just do his damage in the air. He can also do damage on the ground, rushing for 722 yards this season. Last game, Allen rushed for 64 yards on 12 carries. Arguably his biggest play of the match came on a rushing play. On fourth-and-first and leading by five, Allen rushed to his left and passed the Patriots to the defenders eight yards to get the first down.
Jackson was one of the defenders Allen got rid of in that game. He thinks running the ball is Allen’s best trait, which makes stopping him a lot harder.
“You just can’t fall asleep. You can’t blink,” Jackson said. “He has a very strong arm. He can come out of the pocket, throw the ball across the court. He can do anything, really. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s like playing football in the garden.
Phillips agreed with Jackson’s assessment of playing against mobile quarterbacks.
“With any kind of mobile quarterback, when they come out of the pocket, they get scary,” Phillips said. “When these games are prolonged, it becomes difficult. This makes things much more difficult for the [defensive backs] and the guys on the cover.
“It will just be essential for us to get him out of the situation while keeping him in the pocket at the same time. It’s a tough challenge and people really didn’t do a great job. We were able to beat him the first game with, just making him uncomfortable. It’s a tough job.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who believes most of Allen’s runs are intentional, also acknowledged the challenge of trying to shake Allen off while keeping him in the pocket.
“It’s rushed, but push yourself with discipline and awareness,” Belichick said. “If you miss him and he gets loose, that’s going to be a big problem. You can’t just stand there and watch him throw. That’s not the answer, but being unruly and just running out there, letting him running isn’t the answer either. He’s a tough guy to defend. We’ll have to try and balance what you said: an aggressive rush with vision and an element of containment on him.
Stopping Allen on the ground could be a challenge for New England. Since his Week 14 bye, he’s allowed 615 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per game in four games.
Phillips thinks the Patriots need to get back to basics or get crushed by Allen and the Bills on Saturday night.
“A lot of our struggles lately have been more technical and fundamentally solid,” Phillips said. “If we get that – well, we’ll get that figured out – we’ll have a better ending.”
Even though the Patriots are able to contain the Bills’ running game, they will still have their hands full in the passing game. Star receiver Stefon Diggs has had the Patriots number since joining the Bills ahead of the 2020 season, catching 26 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns in four games.
Jackson, who was assigned to cover for Diggs for most of those matchups, credits Diggs with being one of the best receivers in the league. While Jackson didn’t speak too much in one of the key matchups, Phillips opened the curtain a bit on how Jackson plans to face Diggs.
“That’s exactly what he wants,” Phillips said. “He didn’t want it any other way. Whoever the best receiver in the league is, he wants to keep that person. When he has a chance to go out there and go against Diggs, he’s locked in. He doesn’t want it any other way.
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