In a crucial matchup for seeding in the AFC playoff bracket, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots' defense must devise and execute a perfect plan against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.
They beat down the Bills' offense earlier in the year and won in a close game. Now, the stakes are much higher and tougher, in comparison to that Week 4 game. Allen has proved that he can win games and do what he needs to for the Bills to make a playoff run.
It hasn't been all Allen, however, as the defense is top tier and his weapons have helped him stay in games. With all that being said, the second year quarterback deserves some credit for the Buffalo's strong season. Not only that, he has also shown clear signs of improvement since last season and the beginning of this one.
First, let's flashback to Week 4 and look at his game against this defense. Then, we will look at what has happened to Allen since then.
Week 4 at Buffalo
The Patriots' defense did Allen no favors in this game. Allen looked awful. His stat line would make a Bills fan look away.
Josh Allen's stat line in Week 4:
Completion percentage- 46.4%
Passing yards- 153
Passer rating- 24
Allen also had five rushes for 26 yards and a touchdown in that game. Most of those yards came off a 15-yard scramble.
It is also worth noting that these stats were not a complete game. After a helmet to helmet hit by Jonathan Jones on Allen, the Bills' quarterback would be forced to leave the game with a concussion in the fourth quarter.
For a reminder on that game, here are the game highlights from the NFL:
Let's look at some clips from that day, which will help show us his strengths and weaknesses.
The first clip shows a really nice ball by Allen and what went into it to attack both Stephon Gilmore and Jamie Collins, arguably the Patriots' two top defenders this year.
This next clip shows weakness from Allen. He decides to be overly aggressive and attack a strong point in the Patriots' defense, instead of hitting the easy, wide-open target.
That one throw to John Brown in the first clip was one of a very little selection of highlights for Allen in that game.
This was Belichick's response when asked if Allen had improved since that Week 4 matchup.
Allen has improved since the first matchup
Allen has been making better decisions in the pocket, protecting the ball more, and most importantly for the Patriots, has been hot on third-and-long.
The reason his third-and-long improvement is so significant is New England thrived in their last game against the Bills at forcing their opponent into obvious pass situations. These situations in particular are third-and-longs. Very few times with the game on the line will a team run a inside zone run on third down.
Passing against the league's best secondary on third-and-long is a scary thought and that is why Belichick focuses on creating those situations.
Now, I am not saying that it will now be easy for Allen to pick up crucial chain-movers. But it is certainly an improvement since the last time we saw him face New England.
Allen does still struggle, though
Now, we said he has protected the ball more. However, Allen still has plenty of lapses in judgement. Allen, despite the mostly negative results, plays like a high school quarterback at times. In fact, it really reminds me of a Brett Favre style of play, which will frequently get Allen in trouble.
He also has proved to be inaccurate at times in games. Cris Collinsworth said on the broadcast Sunday night against the Steelers that "Allen is good for one missed ball a game".
If you look at these two plays here, you will first see the bad misses and then the Favre in Allen that still haunts him.
Pressure induces a lot of those lapses in judgement for Allen. The inaccurate throws can come from a clean pocket. The way to really make sure these come to haunt him is to bring the pressure and allow him to roll out. He at times looks erratic and unsettled when he sees a defensive lineman showing up on his radar.
Ways to attack
The offensive line and Allen folded in the Baltimore Ravens' game when the Ravens called upon five, six, even seven guys to blitz. New England should seriously consider doing the same. Last year, the Patriots rushed but allowed him to roll out at times. This would be smart to do again to see if they can force him into some bad situations and in result, bad decisions.
The name of the game will be not only how much pressure the Patriots can bring, but also how they bring it. There will be situations where New England will want to push Allen out of the pocket to his left side and there will be situations where they will want to play contain, based on their coverage scheme.
Regardless, there should be a spy for Allen, to close up the middle of the field and to prevent him from burning the Patriots with his legs, which he can do very well. The Patriots will employ man on their blitzes but they will also call some zone, especially some cover 2 to mitigate any big plays.
New England will also look to send defenders into the flat, as they have proved weak to short passes into the flat as of late. The Bills have a 5-foot-7, shifty, rookie runningback Devin Singletary, who, if uncovered, will enjoy a big game off open catches in the flat.
Lastly, the man coverage scheme will look a lot like the following (assuming Jason McCourty plays this week):
John Brown- Stephon Gilmore
Cole Beasley- Jason McCourty
Isaiah McKenzie- JC Jackson
Dawson Knox- Patrick Chung
Singletary will be covered by either a safety if he goes out for a route or he will be picked up (ideally) by a linebacker in the flat. Singletary is a hard guy to tackle and Frank Gore had a fantastic game against the Patriots in Week 4. With a successful blitzing day, Gore should be mitigated to a mostly quiet day. In order to tackle Singletary, the Patriots will have to tackle better than they did last week against the Bengals.