Offensive Line Dominant in Windy Orchard Park
The Patriots came into the game a surprising half-game up on Buffalo in the AFC East. The Bills had swept them in 2020 and easily won the division. The national media had Buffalo as the early-season media darlings that had an excellent chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Patriots meanwhile were supposed to be rebuilding …for quite a while.
Buffalo has been inconsistent and developing a deserved reputation as a soft team. They were run roughshod over by the Titans and Colts, two physical teams that run the football. Those efforts were bad. Monday night was worse. With the winds blowing the ball all over the field, the Patriots didn’t even make a show of attempting to throw the football. They knew it, the Bills knew it, everyone watching it on television knew it, even the drunk, table-breaking mouth breathers knew it.
So, the Bills stacked the box with 8, 9, and even 10 men trying to stop the run against the team that has been their nemesis for the past two decades. And the Patriots asserted their will and ran for 222 yards on those stacked boxes. At least in the earlier two games, the Titans and Colts had the opportunity to throw the ball. Buffalo didn’t have any such illusions on Monday night.
The Patriots pride themselves on being tough, physical, smart. They knew how big this game was (to both teams) and dominated the trenches. When the two teams meet again in three weeks, the same running game will be there, but so will the passing game, the one Buffalo still hasn’t seen.
So, here are our positional grades this week for the Patriots-Bills game. And now the team is on their bye week before they take on the Colts in Indianapolis. It is the latest bye week in NFL history but comes at a great time.
Quarterback: INC (C)
When it comes to Mac Jones and the WRs, there isn’t much to grade on, but in the spirit of “you can only grade what you see”, we’ll call ‘em like we saw ‘em.
Mac Jones was on the winning end of a game where he threw three (3) passes. But he spread the err hmm, wealth around, targeting a WR, a TE, and a RB with those three passes. Jones was 2-3 for 19 yards.
It was the least in a winning effort since 1974, and the least for the Patriots since Steve Grogan threw five in the “Snow Bowl” game against Miami in 1982. Grogan was 2-5 for 13 yards and a pick. But the Patriots ran for 199 yards.
Jones took the snaps and handed them off and not much else. However, he had two QB sneaks back to back that got them a key first down and burned out the end of the third quarter where Buffalo had the wind.
Running Backs: A-
Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris both were excellent in this game, combining for 34 carries and 189 yards, and a touchdown. Harris broke a big 64-yard touchdown on a crack toss, early in the game and the Patriots never looked back.
Going against those stacked boxes by the Bills the duo carried 26 times for 141 yards (5.42-yard average) and a touchdown. Stevenson is averaging 2.6 yards after contact which is terrific. Brandon Bolden added 28 yards on four carries and had a nice two-point conversion run after Harris’ TD. He was also the recipient of one of Jones’ two pass completions. Jakob Johnson was excellent as a lead blocker, clearing the way for the backs to run.
Wide Receivers: INC (B)
“Are you crazy?… “They didn’t catch a single pass!” Nope the Patriots’ wide receivers caught zilch in the passing game and were only targeted once, Nelson Agholor was the only WR targeted, but Jones’ pass on a designed rollout was knocked away. But the one thing the WRs also didn’t catch was cold.
The game plan called for the wideouts to block and that they did. And the best WR on the field for the Patriots on Monday night was N’Keal Harry (more to him later). Nelson Agholor had a six-yard run and Kendrick Bourne chipped in with a 3-yard run, but this was an old-school blocking type of game for the skill position players.
Tight Ends: INC (B-)
Jonnu Smith had a tremendous catch on the Patriots’ first pass play of the game, one that sailed on Mac Jones. He went up high and was able to corral it for an incredible circus catch. Hunter Henry wasn’t targeted. But the pair of them did a solid job of blocking overall.
Smith had a holding penalty which knocks down the grade a bit. He also had one run but was hit for a one-yard loss.
Offensive Line: A
The offensive line was D-O-M-I-N-A-N-T on Monday night. The Bills stacked the box all night long but the offensive line dug in and smash-mouthed Buffalo’s defense for 222 yards and 4.8 yards per carry. They added Michael Onwenu as a sixth offensive lineman on about 60 percent of the 46 running plays and on those they averaged a nifty 5.4 yards per rush. They were physical, tough, and when the Bills chirped after plays, they chirped right back.
Star Lotulelei’s return was supposed to be a shot in the arm for Buffalo’s lack of physicality in their run defense. The offensive line put him on a milk carton. He didn’t show up on the field or on the stat sheet.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was as dominant as the offensive line was, and when you dominate in the trenches, good things happen. Buffalo’s backs (Matt Breida, Zack Moss, and Devin Singletary) combined for just 60 yards on 19 carries, barely three yards a pop.
The big men up front were tasked to stuff the run and maintain their gap discipline so that Josh Allen had nowhere to scramble. They were excellent at the first and were doing great on the latter until the 4th quarter when Allen broke free.
Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy were outstanding. Godchaux had 10 tackles and had arguably his best game as a Patriot. Guy had three run stuffs and recovered a fumble. Christian Barmore had a QB hit and a pressure. Daniel Ekuale had a sack.
The linebackers were a big part of the run defense as well. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower combined for 15 tackles. Kyle Van Noy was acting like a spy on Allen during passing downs but added a run stuff and a QB hit.
Matthew Judon had a sack that forced a FG attempt (that missed) and a tackle for a loss. But he rushed too far upfield and allowed Allen a clear running lane for a 21-yard gain. Judon also had an offside penalty, while Hightower was flagged for a horse collar.
The secondary’s job was made a tad bit easier with the wind since they knew that most of the Bills’ WRs would be cutting off their routes, but they still did a very good job. Allen was 15-30 for 145 yards (only 4.8 yards per pass) and a touchdown.
But they did a great job of limiting Stefon Diggs to 4 catches for 51 yards, with 26 coming on a nice catch along the sideline. Emmanuel Sanders was mostly invisible 3 catches for 22 yards and Cole Beasley only had one catch for 11.
With Kyle Dugger out, Myles Bryant stepped up and played solid and had the final big play for the defense, knocking down a pass from Allen on 4th down. Adrian Phillips and J.C. Jackson were both standouts as usual. Phillips had a key pass breakup in the end zone while Jackson shadowed Diggs and should have had a pick-six.
Special Teams: B
The Patriots’ Special Teams had one disastrous play, one near one, and a lot of positives. But the punt that just grazed N’Keal Harry’s facemask was the disaster. That set the Bills up for their only TD which took all of one play. But don’t blame Harry. Why did Cam Achord put him back there as the deep man, to begin with? He hadn’t fielded a punt since entering the NFL and to put him back there in those conditions was foolhardy.
Jake Bailey had one punt go out of bounds after just 15 yards into the wind. But then he added a 71-yarder with the wind. On a bad windy night, he still ended up with an average of 42 yards. Nick Folk? He’s just money, he was 2-2 on FG attempts in terrible conditions and one can’t ask for better than that.
The Patriots’ coaching staff had a simple game plan and the team executed it, darned near perfectly. They wanted to get out to an early lead, run the ball, be more physical than the Bills, control the clock, the tempo, and force Allen to beat them by going into the wind in the 4th quarter.
Belichick doesn’t care about style points or storylines. The win is the important, most important factor. The bad decision to have Harry back on the punt return, which could have cost them the game, knocks down the score one entire grade.
But the team is in first place in the division and currently owns the AFC’s top spot. We’re on to bye week and then the Colts.
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Buffalo Bills Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower Emmanuel Sanders Jamie Collins Jordan Poyer Josh Allen Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones N'Keal Harry New England Patriots Sean McDermott Stefon Diggs