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Patriots vs. Bills: Three to Watch on Defense Against Buffalo on Wild Card Weekend

As the New England Patriots prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills in the opening round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs, Patriot Maven highlights three defensive players on whom Pats fans might want to keep watch.

The New England Patriots are in frigid Western New York for a Saturday night date with quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. This Wild Card Weekend showdown will take place at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York at 8:15pm ET.

Though many Patriots players are expected to garner some attention during Saturday’s matchup, here are three players on defense that might raise an eyebrow when the Pats take the field against the Bills.

Matt Judon

Despite falling victim to a production reduction in the latter part of the 2021 regular season, Judon is still one of New England’s most explosive defenders. He leads the team with 12.5 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss. Most importantly, Judon’s presence allows the Pats front seven to play in position, facilitating their ability to set the edge, and stop the run. He has been quite adept at keeping runs from reaching the corner on early downs, as well as providing speed and strength when rushing the quarterback. Buffalo’s Josh Allen is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL, capable of exploiting the slightest miscues in any defense. As such, look for Judon to once again match up with Bills’ offensive tackle Dion Dawkins. Buffalo’s offensive line will attempt to neutralize Judon’s speed rush by forcing him past the quarterback. The Pats need Judon to have a more-balanced plan of attack, with power rushes being the primary focus. When being aggressive at the line, Judon is also likely to keep a sharp eye on Buffalo’s coverage of the Pats’ defensive linemen, particularly rookie Christian Barmore. If Barmore is healthy enough to draw the attention of opposing blockers along the offensive line, Judon may be left one-on-one on the edge. Should this happen on Saturday, Judon will be free to pursue Allen, thus hopefully forcing him into uncomfortable situations.

J.C. Jackson

As far as one-on-one matchups go, ‘Jackson-Diggs III’ has the potential for main-event, prize-fight status. Jackson finished the regular season with eight interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) as well as a league-high 23 passes-defensed and one forced fumble.

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Despite New England’s penchant for deploying a great deal of zone coverages in 2021, Jackson is still at his best when locking down an opposing team’s number one pass catcher. This week, he will be inviting Bills’ top wideout to his ‘Isle of Denial.’ The problem is that Diggs has won that battle, more often than not throughout the past two seasons. Although Jackson has played Diggs a bit tougher in 2021, Buffalo’s star wideout has still managed to compile six catches to 101 yards and one touchdown in two games against New England’s top corner. Those totals include Week Thirteen, in which both teams’ passing games were stifled by the harsh windy conditions of western New York. To find success this Saturday, Jackson must try to prevent Diggs from gaining a strong, quick burst into his route breaks. The 26-year-old Pats corner can find success by doing so. However, should Jackson fail to get his hands on Diggs, it will be a long night in Orchard Park.

Christian Barmore

While Barmore’s official status has yet to be determined, all signs point to him suiting up for Saturday night’s matchup. The 22-year-old was thought to have been lost for significant time, filling his exit from the Pats season-finale against the Miami Dolphins with a right leg injury. However, following clean MRI results on Monday, Barmore has been present on the practice field, indicating that he may be ready to go for Wild Card Weekend.

Still, how effective will Barmore be, if he is active?

Barmore’s ability to push the pocket and take a stand against the run has earned him many well-deserved accolades in his rookie season. Despite dealing with some knee problems for much of the second half of the season, the Pats’ rookie has become one of the team’s premier defenders. He plays with good leverage, and is strong enough to take on double-teams. He locates the ball quickly, chases with good effort and has excellent range for his size. Barmore, also had demonstrated quick hands, which has made him effective in both stuffing the run, and challenging the passer.

Due to his prowess along the defensive line, Barmore has drawn the attention of opposing blockers along the offensive line. As a result, Patriots’ linebackers and edge rushers are often left one-on-one on the edge. This has freed linebackers, such as Matt Judon, to pursue the quarterback. While Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen has the ability to find success on the ground, as well as through the air, Barmore will need to pull upon his dual threat capabilities to be a disruptive force against Buffalo’s versatile offense. The degree of pain, which he feels in his knee, may end up being the deciding factor.