Patriots

‘You just can’t fall asleep’: Bill Belichick, Patriots defense knows what they need to do against Josh Allen and the Bills

Allen had 378 combined yards in the Bills' Week 16 win over the Patriots.

Josh Allen made the Patriots' defense look silly on multiple occasions in Week 16. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Just three weeks after Josh Allen gashed them in a de facto AFC East title game, the Patriots have to find a way to stop the Bills star quarterback in order to keep their season alive.

The Patriots make the trip up to Buffalo in the Wild Card Round on Saturday to face Allen and the Bills for a third time this season. New England was able to keep Allen in check in the first matchup between the two teams, allowing him to complete just 15 of 30 passes for 145 yards with one touchdown.

But that matchup featured winds that traveled as fast as 55 mph. In the second matchup between the two teams, it appeared Allen proved that the first game was a fluke due to that wind. In a 33-21 win over the Patriots, Allen completed 30 of 47 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.

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Perhaps the most impressive part of that Week 16 performance was that Allen and the Bills offense not only didn’t commit a turnover, they also never punted the ball. Key members of the Patriots’ defense recognize getting Allen and the Bills offense off the field is something they have to do from the jump.

“It’s always good to start fast, to start up on your opponents,” Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson said. “You don’t want to play catchup. Having a good, fast start is always good for us. We go out there the first series, get a three-and-out – that’s the way you want to start a football game. And I think that’s what we need to do.”

“We didn’t make them punt last game, so it was definitely critical,” safety Adrian Phillips added. “You get down to the last drive with a chance to win and you get them to third down a couple of times and we can’t get off the field. You saw how the game went for us. So, we’ve got to get off the field and get turnovers.”

Allen doesn’t just do his damage in the air. He also can do damage on the ground, rushing for 722 yards this season. In the last matchup, Allen rushed for 64 yards on 12 carries. Arguably his biggest play of the game came on a rushing play. On fourth-and-1 and leading by five points, Allen scrambled to his left and juked past Patriots to defenders for eight yards to get the first down.

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Jackson was one of the defenders Allen juked out of on that play. He believes running with the ball is Allen’s best trait, which makes it a lot harder to stop him.

“You just can’t fall asleep. You can’t blink your eyes,” Jackson said. “He’s got a very strong arm. He can scramble outside of the pocket, throw the ball on the other side of the field. He can do it all, really. You know what I’m saying? It’s like playing football in the backyard.”

Phillips agreed with Jackson’s assessment on playing against mobile quarterbacks.

“With any type of mobile quarterback, when they get out of the pocket, they get scary,” Phillips said. “When those plays get extended, it gets tough. It makes it a whole lot tougher on the [defensive backs] and the guys in coverage.

“It’s just going to be critical for us to get him off the spot but keep him in the pocket at the same time. It’s a tough challenge and people really haven’t been doing a great job at it. We were able to beat him the first game with it, just making him uncomfortable. It’s a tough task.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who believes most of Allen’s runs are by design, also recognized the challenge of trying to rattle Allen while keeping him in the pocket.

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“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. We’ll have to try to balance just what you said: aggressive rush with vision and an element of containment on him.”

Stopping Allen on the ground could be a challenge for New England. Since its Week 14 bye week, it’s allowed 615 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per game over four games.

Phillips believes the Patriots have to get back to the fundamentals so they don’t get run over by Allen and the Bills on Saturday night.

“A lot of our struggles we’ve been having as of late have been more on the technical side and being fundamentally sound,” Phillips said. “If we get that figured out – well, we will get it figured out – we’ll have a better ending.”

Even if the Patriots are able to contain the Bills’ ground game though, they’ll still have their hands full in the passing game. Star wide receiver Stefon Diggs has had the Patriots’ number since joining the Bills prior to the 2020 season, catching 26 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns over four matchups.

Jackson, who’s been tasked with covering Diggs for much of those matchups, recognizes Diggs is one of the best receivers in the league. While Jackson wasn’t hyping himself up too much in one of the key matchups, Phillips pulled the curtain open a bit on how Jackson’s thinking about facing Diggs.

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“This is exactly what he wants,” Phillips said. “He wouldn’t have it any other way. Whoever the top receiver in the league is, he wants to guard that person. When he has a chance to go out there and go against Diggs, he’s locked in. He don’t want it any other way.”

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