Bills Provide a Playoff Tune-up for Patriots
By Karen Guregian
FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots have one more crack at defending a mobile quarterback before the playoffs start. With a steady diet of scrambling signal-callers likely coming up in the postseason, Josh Allen couldn’t have showed up on the dance card at a better time with the Patriots back home hosting the Bills.
Allen should provide ample preparation for what lies ahead, whether they eventually meet up with Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Houston’s Deshaun Watson, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota or Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. Even Indy’s Andrew Luck will take off and run if the need presents itself.
The Patriots obviously want to rebound from losing back-to-back games, and crushing losses at that in the closing moments first in Miami, where they were beaten by a Dolphins hook-and-ladder on the final play, then last week failing to tie up a game in Pittsburgh with numerous chances in the red zone in the final minute.
They’re also coming off a week where they lost leading receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended by the league for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the substance abuse policy.
To beat Buffalo, it starts with the kid behind center. Allen was taken with the seventh overall pick and the Bills are hoping he’ll finally be their answer at quarterback.
“Allen adds a little problem to their offense. He can run the ball. He’s fast. He’s strong, so it’s like a running back back there,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung. “So we’ve got to do our best to kind of contain him a little bit.”
The Patriots have already faced Watson, Mariota, Mahomes and Luck during the regular season. They’ve registered wins against all of those quarterbacks save for Mariota, as the Patriots were blown out by Tennessee in Week 10.
Mariota only took off twice in that game, but gained 21 yards for his efforts. Overall, the Titans had 150 yards on the ground. Mahomes and Luck were kept in check, but Watson gained 40 yards on eight carries.
Overall, it’s been a mixed bag for the Patriots, as Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky gained 81 yards on six carries during a road win in the Windy City. They won’t want quarterbacks running wild like Trubisky when January rolls around.
“I feel like we’ve seen more mobile quarterbacks than pocket passers this year,” said defensive captain Devin McCourty. “Even if you look at Josh Allen, he has a great arm, but he can run. He’s an athlete. There’s not many guys who come into the league right now that aren’t athletes, I mean really good athletes.”
Allen didn’t play the first time the Patriots faced the Bills. Derek Anderson, who is more known as a pocket passer, was at the helm, as the Pats took that game up in Orchard Park, 25-6.
Obviously, the Bills will present a completely different challenge with Allen at the helm. In college, he was known for his cannon arm, but in the NFL, he’s gotten more notice for what he’s done with his legs.
“I think a little bit of (his scrambling) at times overshadows his ability as a quarterback in terms of in the pocket,” head coach Sean McDermott said of the player the Bills selected 7th overall in the 2018 draft. “But that’s certainly an element of his game.”
Allen has had two games where he’s rushed for over 100 yards, and a third where he hit 99. It was in that three-game stretch (Weeks 12-14) he combined for 335 yards. He’s also had six rushing touchdowns.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is impressed with the rookie’s overall game.
“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate. He can stand in the pocket and throw. He can get out. There’s some designed runs. There’s some quarterback scrambles or some scrambles that are runs or he scrambles and extends plays and throws it. I don’t know. He’s a hard guy to defend. I mean, he had almost three quarters of their total offense against the Jets. It’s a lot.”
Last week, Matt Patricia and the Lions were able to keep Allen in check in terms of his scrambling. They didn’t allow him to run wild like some other teams. No doubt the Patriots will watch to see how their old defensive coordinator managed to keep Allen at bay.
At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Allen is a pretty imposing figure. Like Ben Roethlisberger, he’s tough to bring down. Chung says size or not, the Patriots just have to do their job.
“You’ve just got to man up. You’ve just got to tackle him. He’s just like a running back or a tight end or someone who we’re trying to tackle anyway,” Chung said. “Regardless of how good the quarterback is running, you’re still going to tackle him. So you don’t go about anything differently. You just go out there and just play.”
McDermott certainly acknowledges Allen’s ability to scramble, but believes the rookie’s arm is the real ticket to his success. Allen can deliver the ball from the pocket, or on the move. He’s got arm strength, and then some. He’s similar to Mahomes in that way.
Whatever his ability, the Patriots are just aiming to shut it down. They need a win, and they need it any way they can get it. They need to stop the bleeding on a two-game skid. Shutting down Allen and the Bills would certainly help build their confidence back up with one game to play before heading into the postseason.
“We realize the task we have at hand. It’s a game we feel is a must win,” said McCourty. “We’re going to come out here and play well at home and get a win. We’re coming off back-to-back losses. We have to remain focused as a team ... we have to do enough to win.”
Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 10