Dolphins vs Bills: Week 3 Preview

Dolphins ATB recaps the Week 2 comeback victory against the Ravens and preview the keys to success, in their Week 3 matchup against the Bills.

Dolphins vs Bills

This Dolphins vs Bills matchup presents Miami with a real chance to make a statement to the rest of the league, even in defeat. If the Dolphins can keep the game close, a strong performance will put the league on notice that they are a legitimate post-season contender.

Dolphins vs Bills Game Information

  • Date: Sunday, September 25
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
  • TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL
  • Record: Dolphins (2-0) Bills (2-0)

Week 2 Recap

A comeback performance for the ages! For the first time in 711 games, a team was able to overcome a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. Miami were able to turn adversity into opportunity, following a shaky first half, to pull off a stunning comeback against a very strong Ravens’ side.

Strengths:

  • Offensive productivity on third down
  • Noticeable elevation in Tua’s game in fourth quarter
  • Hill and Waddle = Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Improvements in the run game
  • Alex Ingold’s blocking contributions
  • Goal line run defense

Star Performer- Tua Tagovailoa

Have a day Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa!

Following a rocky first half performance, Tua elevated his game to become only the third Dolphins’ QB to throw for 6 TDs in a game, alongside Dan Marino and Bob Griese.

Tua finished the game 36/50 for 469 yards, 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Tua’s confidence and poise was such that he could have continued to score as and when was required.

In my Week 2 preview article I wrote that  “Tua needs to step up and elevate his game to a level which will allow him to take the game to this Ravens defense, in the event that the game turns into a shootout.” And a shoot-out it was.

Tua’s performance was a notable step towards silencing his biggest critics.  It is often said that the Dolphins win in spite of Tua. Well that was not the case in this game. Tua stepped up and carried the team forward in light of the defense’s early struggles.

I have to admit at half time, I for one was skeptical, with the offense seemingly having no answer to the Ravens who were able to score with ease. In my game day notes at half time, Alec Ingold was the Dolphins’ star performer. Lamar Jackson had an outstanding MVP caliber performance, yet Tua’s remarkable comeback performance was able to overcome the high bar that Jackson set.

Mandatory Credit: Dol-Fan UK Podcast

Honorable mentions:

While Tua had a career game, I would be remiss if I did not honor the superb performances of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. The speedy tandem of receivers were all over the field and unplayable in the second half, despite Hill suffering from cramps and being doubtful to return to the game.

Excitement is certainly high as to what this Mike McDaniel offense can achieve this season.

Weaknesses:

  • Tua’s impatience- resulting in two unnecessary picks
  • Dolphins’ secondary playing too soft
  • Lack of pass rush

You know the defense is having a bad day when Xavien Howard is beaten time and time again. Howard had a PFF coverage grade of 41.7 against the Ravens allowing 5 receptions for 119 yards on 8 targets. The Dolphins secondary played too far off man, resulting in Howard being exploited against the speedy Bateman.

Buffalo Bills Week 2

The Bills are off to a red hot start in 2022, following wins against the Super Bowl Champions and last year’s #1 seed in the AFC. The Bills were relentless against the Titans putting up 34 unanswered points, with Josh Allen being allowed to rest up during the fourth quarter.

Buffalo are clicking on all fronts following another strong defensive performance in which they held the Titan’s offense to a mere 187 total yards. Tyreek Hill had more yards than the entire Titan’s offense in Week 2.

Dolphins vs Bills- Keys to Success

A battle of two undefeated teams, and staunch divisional rivals. This Dolphins vs Bills game is set up to be a real showdown for two teams with the playoffs firmly in their sights.

Buffalo are the consensus Super Bowl favorites and have dominated Miami in recent years. So what will the Dolphins need to do to stand a chance of going toe to toe with the Bills, who are #1 in scoring offense and #1 in scoring defense?

1. Improvements on Defense

It is safe to say that Buffalo has had their way with Miami in recent years. In 2021, the Dolphins were outscored 61-11, mainly attributable to Miami’s offensive woes.

In the Week 8 matchup, the Dolphins’ defense kept the game within one score until the fourth quarter when Buffalo ran away with the game. However, Tua and this offense are vastly improved and should help the defense by keeping Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense off the field.

If the Dolphins are to stand a chance in this game, their defense must improve and that starts with the pass rush. Jaelan Phillips and Jerome Baker have been incredibly quiet to start the season.

Strong performances from these two will not only limit the time that Allen has to sit in the pocket, but also take away his ability to escape the pocket and run with the ball.

2.  A Confident Tua

Tua is his own biggest critic, which is hard to believe given the amount of critics that he has. He was the first to admit that his first half performance was not up to standard, often trying to force plays when things were not clicking offensively.

However, in the second half against the Ravens, Tua played with more confidence than he ever has in his career and it showed. A confident Tua who plays with poise and consistency will be key to victory on Sunday.

“I want his confidence to outweigh his perfectionism, or whatever that word would be, so that he can continue along his journey, but also be a little more present in reality.”

Coach Mike McDaniel

Tua slowed down his game was able to focus his fundamentals and the individual play in question to deliver in key moments. I urge all Dolphins fans to watch the film breakdown below.

3. Discipline

While discipline is a key to victory in just about every game, Buffalo’s ability to punish on extended drives will be detrimental to any hopes that the Dolphins have in starting the season 3-0.

Special teams’ mistakes, forced interceptions and penalties almost resulted in Miami contributing to their own downfall in Week 2. Make no mistake, they will need to be at their very best to beat this Buffalo side.

Injury Concerns

Buffalo’s victory against the Titans did not come without a cost. With Tre’Davious White remaining on IR, the Bills secondary is badly beaten up. Both starting safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer sat out of practice on Thursday.

Both Hill and Waddle will look to take full advantage of this on Sunday. Meanwhile, look for Gabe Davis to potentially return after just missing out in Week 2.

Miami are not without their own injury concerns. Terron Armstead (toe) did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday. Let us hope that this is just Miami being cautious with the highly experienced veteran not needing as many practice reps to be game ready.

The Dolphins also appear to have caught a break in their secondary. Despite not practicing on Wednesday, Xavien Howard returned to practice on Thursday and looks likely to play on Sunday. His involvement will be key to keeping the Dolphins in this game.

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AFC East Preview: Offseason Recap and Predictions

The AFC East has gained a new look since Tom Brady left for Tampa. Four young quarterbacks look to be their teams answer for the next decade as they battle for the title: AFC East Champions. Big stars enter the division this year. Let’s see who joined and how it all will end in our AFC East preview.

AFC East Preview

4. New York Jets

Key loses – OT Morgan Moses, WR Jamison Crowder, DE Foley Fatukasi, FS Marcus Maye,

Key additions – OG Laken Tomlinson, CB D.J. Reed, TE C.J. Uzomah, TE Tyler Conklin, OT Duane Brown, S Jordan Whitehead, OLB Jake Martin, DE Solomon Thomas, K Greg Zuerlein, ILB Kwon Alexander, CB Ahmad Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, RB Breece Hall, DE Jermaine Johnson II, TE Jeremy Ruckert

Re-signed – FB Nick Bawden (1-year)

Head coach Robert Saleh’s first season in East Rutherford wasn’t ideal. The team went 4-13 and got swept by the rest of the AFC East. They were one of the worst teams in the league, but added a lot of talent in the offseason. With a handful of high NFL draft picks, this Jets team could now be a somewhat competitive team.

Last season’s offense would end up having four different quarterbacks play for them due to injuries. Zach Wilson started a majority of them, and he comes into this season looking to prove he is the future in New York. The front office helped him out by getting some weapons. Rookie wideout Garrett Wilson will be trying to become Wilson’s top target, and tight end C.J. Uzomah is going to be a safety valve.

While Michael Carter is listed as the #1 running back, rookie Breece Hall should see plenty of snaps as he looks to take over the #1 spot. This offensive line is up-and-coming, and has the potential to become elite. It is still a young offense, so there will be some hiccups along the way, but the Jets should improve on their 26th ranked offense.

Jets fans had a tough time watching their offense last year, but the defense was even worse. They ranked dead last in the NFL in yards, points for, and first downs allowed. They did add some talent, though, with rookies Jermaine Johnson II and Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner. Johnson II helps to create a solid defensive front four with John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams.

Gardner pairs up with newly acquired cornerback D.J. Reed, causing this secondary to have one of the most improved units in the NFL. However, the Jets still have one of the worst linebacker corps in the league with C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, who both had one of the worst seasons of their careers last season.

Prediction

While the Jets improved a lot this offseason, they still have a ways to go. They still have to find out if Wilson is the answer, so I have them finishing 5-12, and 1-5 against the AFC East. They are heading in the right direction, and this season needs to be an improvement.

3. New England Patriots

Key loses – WR Gunner Olszewski, CB J.C. Jackson, ILB Kyle Van Noy, C Ted Karras, RB Brandon Bolden

Key additions – WR Ty Montgomery, S Jabrill Peppers, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Malcolm Butler, OG Cole Strange, WR Tyquan Thornton, CB Marcus Jones, CB Jack Jones

Re-signed – OT Trent Brown (2-years), ILB Ja’whaun Bentley (2-years), K Nick Folk (2-years), WR/ST Matthew Slater (1-year)

Extensions – S Adrian Phillips (3-years, $14 million), P Jake Bailey (4-years, $13 million), DT Davon Godchaux (2-years, $20 million), RB James White (2-years, $5 million)

Year two without Tom Brady, and the Patriots ended up making the playoffs. With Mac Jones becoming the first rookie quarterback since 1993 to start for the Patriots, they went 10-7. They would go on to lose 47-17 in the playoffs to the Buffalo Bills in the worst postseason loss of head coach Bill Belichick’s tenure. It was an interesting offseason for the Patriots, as they hope to reach the postseason again.

Mac Jones and the Patriots offense finished 15th in total offense a year ago. Yet, they didn’t do much this offseason on that side of the ball. Drafting Cole Strange in the first round was definitely strange to fans, but he helps create a top ten offensive line. This should help out their running back committee, as they hope to lead the Patriots to a top ten finish in rushing again.

Wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne had solid seasons in 2021. They are hoping their chemistry with Jones causes another leap in their statistics. This offense still features below average weapons, and with questionable play calling, they might be one of the bottom ten offenses in the league.

Bill Belichick’s been known for his defensive mind, and last season showed another reason why. The Patriots finished fourth in total defense. However, they struggled against the run, finishing 22nd in yards against. It didn’t help to lose JC Jackson this offseason, but bringing back Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is a decent consolation. The secondary has depth and a great safety duo, but might struggle against elite receivers.

The linebacker corps took a hit losing Kyle Van Noy, but has two guys that play hard in Bentley and Wilson. The young defensive line looks to make a jump next to veteran Matthew Judon. With Bill Belichick at the helm, I don’t see this defense being ranked lower than ten.

Prediction

One of the harder teams to predict in this league, I believe the Patriots will finish 7-10 after going 1-5 in the division. Mac Jones will need to take a big leap this season for them to reach the playoffs.

2. Miami Dolphins

Key loses – QB Jacoby Brissett, OG Jesse Davis, WR Albert Wilson, CB Justin Coleman

Key additions – OT Terron Armstead, WR Cedrick Wilson, C Connor Williams, RB Chase Edmonds, CB Keion Crossen, FB Alec Ingold, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OLB Melvin Ingram, RB Raheem Mostert, DE Trey Flowers, P Thomas Morstead, WR Tyreek Hill, LB Channing Tindall, WR Erik Ezukanma, QB Skylar Thompson

Re-signed – TE Durham Smythe (2-years)

Extensions – CB Xavien Howard (5-years, $50 million), WR Tyreek Hill (4-years, $120 million)

After starting 1-7, Miami would finish the season winning eight out of their last nine to finish with a record of 9-8. Despite the second-half success, they still decided to fire head coach Brian Flores and hire Mike McDaniel. They would make another big move this offseason, trading for superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill. It creates one of the fastest duos in NFL history, and the Dolphins are looking to challenge Buffalo for the division.

With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa should have no issue getting the ball out fast. With this offensive line, Tua will need to get the ball out fast. Even with the upgrades made from last season, they still rank in the bottom ten in the league. Overall, the receiving corps will help boost this offense up from their 25th ranked offense last season.

The new running back committee will have a tough time between the tackles, but should get plenty of touches out of the backfield to make plays. The offensive line holds this offense back, but they should still rank in the middle of the league.

The defense last season was up-and-down. They ranked 15th in total yards while not exceling against either the run or the pass. They added some older veterans to help this defenses rise in the rankings. The secondary is a top five group, with cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Bryon Jones leading the way. That helps an average defensive line, as they are able to be an excellent blitzing team.

The only concern on this defense is the linebackers. Jerome Baker leads the group, and he has yet to show that he is an elite linebacker. Rookie Channing Tindall should get a chance to help this group out. This is a solid defense overall, and I expect them to be just outside the top ten this season.

Prediction

The Miami Dolphins will be fighting for the playoffs this season, as I believe they finish 10-7 after going 4-2 in the AFC East. It could come down to tiebreakers for Miami, as the loaded AFC will be close.

1. Buffalo Bills

Key loses – DE Mario Addison, DE Jerry Hughes, P Matt Haack, DT Harrison Phillips, C Jon Feliciano, CB Levi Wallace, WR Cole Beasley, OC Brian Daboll

Key additions – OLB Von Miller, DT DaQuan Jones, DT Tim Settle, OG Rodger Saffold, DE Jordan Phillips, WR Jamison Crowder, OT David Quessenberry, P Sam Martin, CB Kaiir Elam, RB James Cook, WR Khalil Shakir, LB Terrel Bernard, CB Christian Benford

Re-signed – RB/ST Taiwan Jones (1-year), OG Ike Boettger (1-year), CB Siran Neal (3-years), LB Tyrel Dodson (1-year)

Extensions – WR Stefon Diggs (4-years, $96 million), FB Reggie Gilliam (2-years, $5 million)

A gut-wrenching loss against the Chiefs last season ended the Bills season one game away from the AFC Championship. This season, they are looking to go the farthest they have since 1994, the Super Bowl. With the addition of two-time Super Bowl Champion Von Miller, they are primed and ready to win back-to-back AFC East titles — and maybe more. Will Buffalo be able to get the job done, or will they have another season that ends in heartbreak?

The Bills finished fifth in total offense last season while being effective in both the passing and rushing game. Josh Allen is back and is looking to have an MVP season with wideouts Stefon Diggs and breakout hopeful Gabe Davis. With Dawson Knox, the Bills have plenty of guys to throw to, and they added another in the draft. Running back James Cook is looking to provide that threat out of the backfield in the passing game, while we’ll see a lot of Devin Singletary in the run game.

All of these weapons make Allen’s, and the offensive line’s, job a lot easier. It’s an offensive line that ranks in the middle of the NFL, with the potential to be a top ten group. New offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey will have some fun taking over.

The top defense in the NFL last season got even better. They went out and added future hall of famer Von Miller to help rush the passer. They are hoping he can finally bring an elite pass rush to Buffalo alongside Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau. Elite depth at the position should help plug up the middle and get after the quarterback.

Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, but is still solid. This creates a duo with Matt Milano that still has the potential to boost this group into the top ten. The secondary is getting corner Tre White back midseason, but in the meantime will have to rely on three young guys to step up. Their job will be easier in Buffalo with the help of the arguably the best safety duo in the league. This defense should be in the top three yet again this season.

Prediction

It’s Super Bowl or bust this season for the Bills, as the hype is the highest it’s been in two decades. I predict that the Bills will go 14-3 and 6-0 against the AFC East. They have the most talented roster in the NFL and, barring injuries, should compete for the Lombardi trophy.

The Patriots Defense Has a Josh Allen Problem

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands. How will they work on fixing this problem before it’s too late

Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Pats Can’t Stop Allen

The Patriots defense has a big problem on their hands: Josh Allen, the 6’5”, 237 lbs, has a cannon for a right arm, and wears number 17 for the Buffalo Bills.

With 13:48 remaining in the third quarter of week 14, the Patriots would see Bills punter Matt Haack for the last time. In the next 20 Bills’ possessions against the Patriots, Haack would be missing-in-action as they went without a punt against a division rival.

When the Patriots left Orchard Park that Monday night in December, they were in first place in the AFC East and controlled their destiny for the top seed in the playoffs. They would return to lose four of their next five games, including two complete dominations at the hands of the rival Buffalo Bills.

In the Bills’ next 20 possessions following that final Haack punt, they would score 11 touchdowns. Of the other nine possessions, they attempted three field goals and turned the ball over on downs twice –once at the New England 14-yard line to end the Monday Night showdown, and the other at the New England 1-yard line in the Week 16 rematch. The remaining four possessions were kneel downs at the end of a half or the end of the game.

Not good.

The Bills’ absolute bludgeoning of the Pats in the final 9 7/8 quarters against them was largely due to Allen. He was supernova hot after that final Haack punt. After Haack punted on the Bills first possession of the week 14 matchup, Allen would go 59 of 89 for 710 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, while adding 162 yards on 21 carries in the next 129:15 of game time against the Pats. The Bills would outscore the Patriots during that same stretch 83-41.

Not good.

Allen Offers Massive Roadblock for Pats

How far the Patriots go from here is largely dependent on how they can handle their Josh Allen problem. The defense requires a compete reboot to give the Patriots a legitimate chance at reclaiming the throne atop the AFC East, let alone advancing in the playoffs. The AFC is flush with talented young quarterbacks, but getting over the hump against Allen should be the Patriots’ top priority as he remains within their division. Start there before focusing on the conference.

The Patriots defense faded down the stretch, putting up clunker after clunker after the bye week. For a stretch in the middle of the season, the defense played lights out. They dominated opponents. They racked up sacks and piled up the takeaways.

After the bye, it all stopped.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this sag in performance coincided with Matt Judon also largely disappearing. Before contracting COVID-19 during the bye week, Judon had 12.5 sacks and was constantly disruptive. After the bye, he failed to record a single sack.

Recent Drafts to Blame?

The Patriots have also gotten next to no production from recent day two draft picks. Chase Winovich was taken 77th overall in 2019. The high energy pass rusher had six total tackles this year and no sacks.

The Patriots traded up to draft Josh Uche 60th overall in 2020, and he produced only 10 tackles and 3.0 sacks this year; all three sacks came in the first two weeks of the season.

Anfernee Jennings was taken 87 overall in 2020. He has 10 career tackles, all from his rookie campaign. Finally, there’s Ronnie Perkins, taken as a pass rush specialist this past draft at 96th overall. He was a healthy scratch for 13 games before being placed on IR.

16 tackles and three sacks for the 2020 season from four top 100 prospects over the past three years. For a defense that was completely outmatched against the Bills, this area would be a good place to start.

All four of these players are known to be fast-twitch pass rushers with high motors. While they may not be three-down players, they should be offering more value than they have. For comparison, Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals had nine tackles (three for a loss), and one pass defensed in the Super Bowl. Wilson was taken five picks after Uche in the 2020 NFL draft.

Belichick is known for shapeshifting his defensive game plan to match his opponents’ strengths on a week-to-week basis. Perhaps the complex roles and differing approaches is leaving young players lost and confused. Belichick’s best defenses have often been veteran-laden units.

However, Belichick always seems to be able to unlock players’ potential by maximizing their talents within his defensive scheme. The examples are endless. Aqib Talib. Kyle Van Noy. Akiem Hicks. Part two of Patrick Chung. The disconnect here is more than scheme fit or ability, and that is worrisome.

Offseason Plans

This offseason becomes even more important if an in-house fix isn’t available. Making the front seven a more explosive and faster unit should be priority number one. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins are set to be free agents, and all are solid in their own respect.

Losing a leader like Hightower would shake the locker room and lead to a decrease in the on-field product. Collins should stick around on the cheap as a solid role player. Meanwhile, Bentley had a down 2020 before looking much better surrounded by increased talent in 2021, and might be tough to keep.

The Patriots should look to add in free agency and the draft to inject talent into the front seven. Moreover, free agency is littered with intriguing names. The draft is relatively deep in the first along the defensive line, but top linebackers may be in short supply. Regardless, the Patriots need to address their Josh Allen problem or there will be more disappointed offseasons in the future.

Patriots Playoff hopes dwindling

he Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.

The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.

Troubling Trend?

Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.

The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.

The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.

Where did complementary football go?

The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.

In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.

The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.

Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.

On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.

That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.

What happened to the defense?

The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.

The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.

Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.

If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.

Patriots Run by Bills for Seventh Straight Win

As for the Pats, Mark Twain may have said it best; “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A year after finishing third in the division, the Pats are again eyeing home field throughout the playoffs.

patriots bills
Orchard Park, NY – December 6: New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) hits the hole and is off to the races with the Patriots only touchdown of the game. The Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots in a Monday night NFL game at Highmark stadium in Orchard Park, NY on Dec. 6, 2021. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Patriots escaped Orchard Park with a 14-10 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. The win firmly planted the Patriots as the division leaders of the AFC East. A loss by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday had given the Patriots the top spot in the conference before even taking the field Monday. Beating the Bills was a vehement declaration that the big bad Patriots are back.

For Bills fans, it’s a tale as old as time. A year after winning their first division title since the Jim Kelly-led 1995 season, the Bills were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender but now find themselves fighting for a playoff spot as we enter the final quarter of the season.

The Bills were supposed to run away with the division this year. Now they’re in second place, staring up at the Patriots again. For a team that had finally gotten over the hump in a division the Indianapolis Colts had won more recently before last year, the loss put them back in familiar territory.

As for the Pats, Mark Twain may have said it best; “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” A year after finishing third in the division, the Pats are again eyeing home field throughout the playoffs.

Big Time Play in Crunch Time

The game came down to a critical 4th and 14 at the two-minute mark of the 4th quarter. The bills had the ball at the New England 18-yard line with a chance to score and take the lead, or perhaps more damning, to get a first down and run the clock down before punching it in.

The Bills came out in 11 personnel with two wide receivers split left and wide receiver Stefon Diggs flanking tight end Dawson Knox to the right. The Patriots countered with nickel personnel. Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant were over the wideouts to the left while JC Jackson was manned up with Stefon Diggs. Devin McCourty was shaded over Dawson Know on the left flank and practice squad call up Sean Davis in the box covering the running back. The defensive call was a max blitz cover 0.

Explaining Cover 0

Cover 0 is often described as having no safety help, which is true, but in actuality, it means having no help anywhere. No low-hole dropper, no robber, just a defender against the offensive skill player. The play call is aggressive and only works if the defensive guys do their job. The situational awareness that was displayed on multiple layers proves how well-coached this Patriots team is.

In cover 0, a defensive back is taught to break on a wide receiver’s first move. When the receiver makes a cut, the defensive back is supposed to take a straight line to intercept that route. The purpose of calling cover 0 is to force the ball out quickly. The receiver’s first break should be the only break in the timing of the play. If McCourty allows Allen to escape, the play is extended, and the receivers will have the upper hand.

Perfect Execution

McCourty initially isn’t involved in the pressure scheme and only adds after Dawson Knox stays in to protect. When Knox chose to take on the blitzing Kyle Van No, it allowed McCourty a free run at Josh Allen. McCourty plays it beautifully by adding with intent but in control. The reason he does not add at full speed was on display just a few plays earlier. Allen is a slippery QB. Coming in out of control would give Allen a chance to escape to his right, which is his throwing side, and extend the play.

The second aspect of this play that shows the level of coaching the Pats defenders have received was in the defensive backs doing exactly the opposite of the traditional cover 0 rules. The DB’s aligned with depth and allowed the routes to declare. This comes from understanding the situation. 4th and 14. If a ball is going to be caught, it has to be in front of the defender and tackled before the sticks.

The Patriots’ defensive backs played this situation with a match zone technique. Meaning they kept their eyes on Allen while mirroring their assigned WR’s. This technique is what allowed slot corner Myles Bryant to peel from his assignment to break up the pass. This is next-level execution of a ballsy play call for the situation.

Pounding the Rock

The Patriots implemented a power-running scheme almost exclusively against the Bills. The Patriots ran the ball on 46 of 49 plays. At one point they ran 32 straight times. The Pats deployed six offensive linemen on 61% of their snaps and were under center 93% of the time. It was no secret what their plan was. And yet, the Bills couldn’t stop it. The Patriots rushed for 222 yards against seven- and eight-man boxes. 144 yards came after contact.

There is not a more demoralizing way to lose than to be unable to stop the obvious. There is nothing more demoralizing in football than to be clearly physically beaten by an opponent. The Patriots did just that. It was a “you know what we’re doing, now stop us” kind of game. And the Bills couldn’t.

Defensive Dominance

The Patriots’ defense has been incredible the last few weeks. They haven’t allowed more than 13 points in five straight games, a franchise record. A week after being gashed by the Titans for 270 rushing yards, the Patriots’ defense held Bills’ running backs to 50 yards on 19 carries. At the center of that effort was offseason acquisition Davon Godchaux. Godchaux finished with a team-high ten tackles.

It’s rare for a defensive tackle to pace the team. Kyle Van Noy submitted another solid game with four QB pressures, a run stuff, and a batted pass on an early third down. As the weather gets colder, a dominating defense will mean more and more for this team’s chances.

Record Setting Night for Mac

Much was made after the game about a lack of faith from Belichick in his rookie QB, leading to calling only three pass attempts. It shouldn’t be forgotten that against the defending world champs Belichick had his offense run it eight times while throwing it 42 times…in inclement weather. Belichick has his team humming along because everyone in the locker room has bought in. No ego is bigger than the team. Sounds a lot like the teams of the first Patriots dynasty.

In a weird anecdote, the three passes were the fewest number of passes by a winning team in 30 years. The most passes by a winning team in that same timeframe was 70 attempts, thrown by Drew Bledsoe in week 11, 1994. Oddly, both statistical anomalies occurred in each QB’s ninth career win.

The lack of passing calls on Monday night, every other passing concept installed last week in practice is still usable the next time these teams meet. Each week the offensive game plan is formulated on how to attack certain defensive tendencies. Belichick already ran circles around McDermott and now has half the offensive game plan installed three weeks before the rematch.

Nobody is Perfect, Including the Hoodie

Belichick was nearly perfect against the Bills, he did make a questionable decision having N’Keal Harry in to receive punts. It backfired when the ball glanced off Harry’s facemask and the Bills recovered. The recovery set up the Bills’ only touchdown of the night. The Patriots had deployed Gunner Olszewski as the up-man in that situation, an interesting decision as the Bills were punting with the wind.

A simple flipping of position there may have provided a better outcome. Despite that error, the Patriots had the upper hand in the elements throughout the game. Interestingly, the Patriots practiced outside all week leading up the game. The Bills, off for a week and a half thanks to a Thursday/Monday split, took their Thursday practice indoors.

Things to Watch During the Bye

The Patriots are off this week before returning to take on the Indianapolis Colts. On the injury front, the Pats will be watching Damien Harris’s return from a strained hamstring and all will be waiting on news of Adrian Phillips’s knee. Kyle Dugger’s progress through COVID protocols also bears watching.

If you’re gonna be watching football this weekend without the Pats on, some rooting interests include Browns over the Ravens, Buccaneers over the Bills, a miracle Jaguars upset over the Titans, and a Raider victory over the Chiefs.

Go Pats!