These aren’t the same old New England Patriots, and this isn’t the same old Buffalo Bills team. The Bills travel to Gillette Stadium this Saturday to take on a flawed but dangerous team with more optimism than has been present since Tom Brady has been the quarterback in Foxborough.
In 2011, it felt a little fluky with tipped interceptions and a little luck going the Bills way. In 2016, Brady didn’t play.
There have always been reasons not to really invest emotionally in the few victories (exactly four since Brady’s first game against Buffalo on 11/11/01) Bills Mafia has seen over the Evil Empire. Aside from what’s referred to around here as the Lawyer Milloy game, even those victories didn’t necessarily feel like the team was on the cusp of something great or that the tide was turning.
This game is different. Buffalo versus New England in Week 16 sees the divisional crown still in play (albeit requiring a Miami Dolphins’ victory over New England in week 17 if the Bills get the job done on Saturday). Buffalo has clinched the playoffs. Brady is descending into mortality as Josh Allen appears to be learning and growing. This truly could be a game where the torch is passed.
How can the Bills see to it that if the torch isn’t passed, it’s forcibly stolen? I have some thoughts...
Josh Allen fumbles the ball. This is not in debate. Devin Singletary has shown some concerning trends with ball security as well. The Patriots are well aware of this fact and are aware of the declining production of their offense. They are now beating teams because their fundamentals are superior along with their game plans, and you can be sure that Allen and Singletary’s fumbles have played on a video screen in the New England practice facility right next to the Cincinnati Bengals sideline footage. Protect the ball.
Run-heavy game plan
The Patriots didn’t see Devin Singletary in their first match-up. In Week 4, Singletary was still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered earlier in the season. The Bengals were able to have success with a sub-par offensive line and Joe Mixon last week, and with Stephon Gilmore in coverage and a New England defensive game plan that very likely will resemble the Baltimore Ravens’ plan with plenty of Cover-0 pressure looks, this shouldn’t be a game where Josh Allen needs to throw the ball 38 times.
Protect Cole Beasley
Slot receiver Cole Beasley is one of the keys to beating the man coverage that has hindered the Bills’ passing offense in 2019. Defenses know this and have shown (especially in the Baltimore game) they are willing to employ the most basic and fundamental counter to Beasley’s shiftiness: Mug him.
Beasley needs to be protected in 2x2 and trips formations off the line to allow him free releases. Even putting him in the backfield and asking him to run running back-style Texas routes would be something I wouldn’t mind seeing Daboll deploy to ensure that he is allowed to operate in space and help Allen find completions against man coverage.
Play the Patriots’ run game like you did the Ravens
The Bills stayed in base defense a lot against the Baltimore personnel groupings and occasionally employed Matt Milano in a five-man front along with pre-emptively shifting their linebackers against escort motion to eliminate the numbers advantage at the point of attack. No doubt the Patriots saw the plan and are planning some runs away from escort motion, but the Bills should prepare for the New England run game as diligently as they did the Ravens’ run game. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has gotten creative in the run game to accommodate for the New England passing game struggles and the Bills should, shockingly enough, focus on that as a more substantial threat than the Tom Brady-led passing attack.
Get the punt-protection numbers right
I fully recognize the oddity of this heading. It’s not just because the Bills had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown against the Patriots in Week 4. They also had a couple close calls in other games this year (including last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers). The Patriots are prone to stealing defensive and special-teams touchdowns to pick up a struggling offense, and Buffalo special teams coordinator Heath Farwell can’t be outclassed this week like he was earlier this year. Self-scouting will be important.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!