Josh Allen is going to have to summon all the patience in his soul in Monday night’s showdown with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
You know the Patriots are going to try their best to take away what the Buffalo Bills do best. That would be make big plays in the passing game.
Rarely has the picture of a Bills team ever been less clear after 11 games.
Nobody is better than Belichick at making the opponent play left-handed.
If you’re a Bills fan, you’ve seen this movie over the past 30 years, and you’ve seen it end badly more times than you care to remember.
Expect the Pats to make Allen take the short-pass gains. Keep Allen from escaping the pocket, especially to the right. Invite the Bills to run the ball. Let’s see how much discipline Allen can show.
Tuesday did bring some positive news as offensive linemen Spencer Brown and Jon Feliciano and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returned to practice. But the loss of White hung over coaches preparing to host the Patriots.
The good news for the Bills is this will be Allen’s sixth game against the Patriots. He has had offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, the former Patriots aide, chirping in his ear about the New England defense for three years.
Allen knows what’s in store.
“It seems like every game is a little different,” Allen said of facing the Evil Empire. “It's all game-plan based, and he wants to try to take away your greatest strength.”
Allen had his much-dissected “welcome to the NFL moment” with Belichick back in 2018, and he referenced it again Thursday.
“Going back to that game and just not trying to play hero ball,” Allen said. “I think I threw three interceptions in the first half or something like that and didn't help our team in that aspect, didn’t help us move the ball. But again, learning with Sean McDermott and Daboll’s help, just trying to end every possession with a kick, whether it be a punt, field goal or PAT and giving ourselves the best chance possible and again, I think it all comes back to that whole turnover deal.”
Rookie offensive lineman Tommy Doyle has been placed on the Covid list.
Allen executed the plan brilliantly in last season's December win over the Pats.
He was 18 of 18 on throws fewer than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Check out the plays and yards of these Buffalo scoring drives in the game: 10-49, 12-70, 10-75, 8-75, 10-95. Beautiful.
“Being decisive with the football and again, just finding completions early on,” Allen said Wednesday of the key to offensive rhythm. “I think that's the most important thing, is just trying to find completions and not forcing the ball down the field and I think in that game that we alluded to earlier, that's what I was trying to do, trying to force the ball down the field and trying to make some plays that way, but again, we got to get guys to get open, we got to block, we got to run, I got to put the ball where they can catch it.”
Reality check: The New England defense was a mess last December. Just three defensive starters from that game will be starting Monday night in Buffalo.
Another reality check: The Pats have played 12 games this year. Only one quarterback – one – truly has lit them up. That would be Dallas’ Dak Prescott, who threw 445 yards and a 108.7 rating. (Houston’s Davis Mills had a big first half, but was shut down in the second half in a Pats comeback win.)
The Patriots are like the movie monster that keeps coming back to life in all the sequels.
In a 19-17 loss to Tampa Bay, the Patriots held Tom Brady to 22 of 43 passing for 269 yards, no TDs and his worst passer rating (70.8) of the season.
The game is relevant because it was played in a driving rainstorm. Monday’s weather could be a blizzard, or it could be halfway decent. The forecast models are contradictory at this point.
Brady did two things well in the game. He didn’t make the big mistake. No turnovers. And he kept a semblance of balance in the Bucs’ attack. Tampa’s running backs ran 26 times for 117 yards.
Paul Alexander, the Rochester native and long-time former Bengals offensive line coach says, “I think running the ball always is the way to attack the Patriots’ defense.”
This isn’t to say the Bills should take the ball out of Allen’s hands and neuter their best player. But they also shouldn’t unilaterally make themselves one-dimensional, like they did in the Pittsburgh opener.
Through the first 11 games of the 2021 season, the Bills’ defense has piled up a number of impressive stats.
If the Bills can rush for 80 or more yards and make no turnovers, I love their chances. That’s if it’s a reasonable weather game. If it’s a blizzard, all bets are off.
Allen has made eight turnovers in the last four games, after making only four in the first seven. Has he been trying to do too much?
“I think maybe, at times, and other times, it’s football,” Allen said. “Those guys on the defensive side, they get paid, too, and obviously we want to make sure that we're being smart with the football.”
“I think that could be part of it,” McDermott said of pressing by the QB. “I think the other thing to keep in mind is it hasn't always been Josh. Some of those are shared situations where we've done that.”
Allen knows what to do at this point, 54 starts into his career. New England’s Mac Jones is 12 starts into his career. He’s a remarkable rookie. But the Bills have the talent advantage at quarterback.
Barring goofy weather circumstances, if the Bills can’t beat New England, at home in front of a fired-up night-game crowd, it will be a bad loss.