The New England Patriots showed why they have the top-ranked defense in the NFL in Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots have monsters across their defensive front, and they made it difficult for the Bills to mount a consistent rushing attack. The Bills managed just 30 yards on 11 first-down rushing plays, a 2.7-yard average. Partly as a result, the Bills were just 2 of 11 on third-down conversions.
New England is on the verge of setting an NFL record for best third-down defense. The Pats are holding opponents to just 23.0% conversions. The record for a full season is 24.7%.
Here’s a review of the Bills’ position groups from the 24-17 loss, based on video review and on a scale of 0 to 5:
Offensive line (2.0): Defensive linemen Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler are beasts in the middle. The Pats can play a 6-1 front and not get creased in the run game because one of those guys can control two gaps on any given play. They gave center Mitch Morse trouble. Butler stood up Morse on a failed third-down QB draw. Guy beat Morse for a fourth-quarter sack. Jon Feliciano was responsible for two sacks, one when he was beaten by Jamie Collins on a twist stunt and another when he was beaten cleanly by Guy.
“I think they did a good job of their interior twist games,” Morse said. “That’s on us to pass those off and communicate those. It’ll just be a tough day (Sunday), being critical of ourselves. I can only speak for myself, I left a lot out there.”
“Give them credit,” Morse said. “They kind of punched us in the mouth, and it took us a bit to get back on our feet. We knew what they were going to do. We just didn’t execute and kudos to them.”
Cody Ford and Dion Dawkins were excellent in pass protection on the edges, so it was a shame that they were beaten on the last two plays. Ford kept Kyle Van Noy quiet almost the whole game. But Ford gave up a sack to Van Noy on a wide rush on the second-last play. On the Bills’ final play, Dawkins tripped and fell as soon as the ball was snapped, which put Josh Allen in a tough spot.
Quarterback (2.5): Allen was ineffective for the first 29 minutes, then mostly excellent the last 31. In the first half he had six inaccurate incompletions. He overthrew Dawson Knox in the end zone, was too low for Knox on a bootleg, too high for Cole Beasley on a third down, had bad footwork on another third down, was too low on an out route and was too high on an in-cut for John Brown.
The beautiful 33-yard corner route to Knox got him going. He threw a dart on a run-pass option to Beasley in the third quarter then made the elite TD strike to Brown. On the final drive, Allen made five outstanding plays to get the Bills to the 8. Too bad he missed Knox on a very difficult touch pass in the end zone.
Running backs (2.5): Devin Singletary ran hard, with 18 of his 46 yards coming after contact. The Bills didn’t convert enough third downs to get more rushing attempts.
Receivers (2.0): With Stephon Gilmore shadowing Brown, the Bills needed Beasley to produce. He had seven catches for 108 yards, including five for 85 in the second half. Knox has had trouble with drops, but he showed his catching ability on the 33-yard play. The Bills got just two catches for 11 yards out of the No. 3 receiver spot. It remains a weak link.
Defensive line (2.5): It was a tough day for the pass rushers because Tom Brady did not attempt one pass that traveled 20 yards downfield. Brady hit 21 of his 26 completions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. It’s inadvisable to blitz Brady. The Bills rushed five or more only six times in 34 drop-backs, according to Buffalo News charts. Brady was 5 of 6 for 36 yards vs. the blitz. Bottom line: the Bills needed better pocket push to get Brady off his spot. It’s the only way vs. the Pats. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn did a decent job on Jerry Hughes, who managed two hurries. Trent Murphy didn’t do enough against journeyman Marshall Newhouse. Murphy had two hurries. Shaq Lawson had a boom-and-bust day. He had two hurries and a 6-yard tackle for loss. But he also missed a few tackles and might have recognized a few screens better. Star Lotulelei and Ed Oliver were mostly stout in the middle.
Linebackers (2.0): The Pats put Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano in tough positions, because the play-action fakes were working and it was difficult for them to get depth in zone drops. Edmunds found himself on the wrong side of run alleys several times and didn’t see the 31-yard screen to Rex Burkhead coming. Edmunds also made a couple key run stuffs in the second half. Milano missed a tackle on Sony Michel’s 25-yard run. But Milano had mostly solid pass coverage. He was glued to Burkhead on a third-down near the goal line to force a field goal. Lorenzo Alexander was at linebacker in the 4-3 defense on 29 plays. He missed a tackle on Burkhead’s TD run.
Defensive backs (3.0): Jordan Poyer had a superb day, with 11 tackles and a forced fumble that set up the Bills’ first field goal. He missed a tackle on a pass to Julian Edelman that went for 30 yards to set up the Pats’ winning TD. Poyer was in a difficult spot on the play. Micah Hyde had good coverage to the flats and showed discipline near the goal line, when the Bills forced a field goal. Kevin Johnson made a key, fourth-and-1 tackle. Taron Johnson saw a screen pass to Burkhead coming late in the third quarter but the Pats’ jet-motion had shifted the linebackers over and Burkhead took it for 23 yards. Great play call by the Pats.
Special teams (4.0): There were some anxious moments, but Corey Bojorquez got the job done, with six punts for a 41.5 net average. The Pats rushed nine men with nobody back to return in the second quarter, and Bojorquez hit a 57-yard punt with a 5.3-second hang time. He got the next punt off quickly against another nine-man rush. In the fourth quarter, he hit a 39-yard net punt with a great, 5.4 hang time.