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It’s Complicated — Patriots Face Tough Task in Containing Bills’ QB Josh Allen

The Buffalo Bills’ quarterback is one of the most potent dual-threat offensive players in the NFL, and may cause multiple matchup problems for the New England Patriots on Saturday.

As the late, great Gorilla Monsoon often said, “the time for the talk has just about ended.”

The New England Patriots are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. A familiar foe awaits them in the Buffalo Bills, with whom the Pats split their season series. The ‘win-or-go-home’ rubber match is set for an 8:15pm ET kickoff on Saturday night, January 15, from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. The latest weather forecast predicts game time temperatures in the very low single digits.

Though frigid weather conditions, as well as the health of some key starters, provide adequate adversity for the Pats on Saturday, their most difficult task may be attempting to contain Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen.

Despite some mid-season inconsistencies, Allen enters Saturday's matchup playing some of the best football of his career. Throughout the 2021 regular season, the 25-year old threw for 4,407 yards with 36 touchdowns, against 15 interceptions. His dual threat capabilities in both the passing game and the run game make him a metaphorical nightmare for opposing defenses…including the New England Patriots.

As of late, Allen has played quite well against New England. During the Week Sixteen meeting between the Pats and Bills (on December 26), he amassed 314 yards and three touchdowns. He also proved himself more than capable of extending plays with his legs, rushing for 64 yards on 12 carries, many of which came in key spots to pick up first downs.

In short, Allen seemed to have an answer for everything Bill Belichick’s defense threw at him, en route to a 33-21 victory in Foxboro.

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When the Patriots employed a soft zone to shorten the field, Allen utilized quick checkdowns to gain yardage. In the Pats' attempts to rush five or more defenders, the Bills’ quarterback averaged 7.7 yards a play, completing 6 of 9 passes for 52 yards, as well as one 25-yard run. Allen was also able to find success against New England’s three-man rush, completing four-of-six passes for an average of 7.6 yards per play.

So, how do you solve a problem like Josh Allen?

For the Patriots, it starts with smartly applying additional pressure.

New England has seldom, if ever, been known as a blitz-heavy defense. However, they will have little choice but to put more pressure on Allen during Saturday's matchup. In Week Sixteen, the Patriots used five-man pressure while deploying linebacker Kyle Van Noy as a spy in hopes of keeping him from scrambling against their man coverage. As such, New England’s edge rushers attempted to contain him within the pocket. Allen answered by keeping his rushing attempts to a minimum. When he did run the ball, he made it count, earning 36 yards on two rushing attempts.

While their previous attempts to do so were less than successful, the Patriots need to bring pressure against Allen, while finding the right balance in containing him. Rather than utilize the rapid rush, New England would be best served by deploying a power rush to collapse the pocket. In Week Sixteen, the Patriots rushers ended up getting beat by Allen, while also leaving empty gaps. This allowed Buffalo’s quarterback the freedom to make plays with his arm, as well as his legs. On Saturday, Bill Belichick and the Pats defensive brain trust may look to unleash edge rushers such as linebacker Matt Judon to keep Allen on the inside, while using safety Kyle Dugger to combat his rushing abilities. Regardless of the personnel, the Pats must find a way to defend Allen with a balanced approach. No one knows this better than Bill Belichick. Earlier this week, Belichick was asked about the challenges in defending a versatile quarterback like Allen.

“It’s rushing, but pass rushing with discipline and awareness,” Belichick said. “If you miss him and he gets loose, that’s going to be a big problem. You just can’t stand there and watch him throw. That’s not the answer, but being undisciplined and just running around back there, letting him run, that’s not the answer either. He’s a hard guy to defend.”

Despite the difficulty, the Patriots must develop a more systemized strategy if they wish to have success against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills on Saturday. If they can find the balance they seek, New England’s chances of pulling off the upset dramatically increase. Otherwise, the Pats may be in for a long, cold night in western New York.