The Patriots return to the playoffs against the Bills in the rubber match this season in the Wild Card Game in Buffalo. Although they made big strides in the rebuild in 2021, they enter the postseason limping after going just 1-4 down the stretch. One of the mantras of the Bill Belichick era has been having the team playing its best football after Thanksgiving. That hasn’t been the case in 2020 or 2021.
During the 2-4 start of the season, they made mental mistakes, turned the ball over, had awful gaffes on STs, and were gashed on defense at key times of the game. During the seven-game winning streak, they cleaned all of that up. Down the stretch, those issues all resurfaced and they struggled.
The good news is that all of those issues are correctable. They have some veteran players who have been there and done that. Several of them have won multiple Super Bowls and have the leadership to provide the team during the postseason. Those players will have to step and play huge roles. The bad news is that, other than the game against the woeful Jaguars, they’ve started games terribly during this stretch and have put themselves in a deep hole.
So…we’re on to the Wild Card game.
The Patriots (10-7) lost to the Miami Dolphins 33-24. The team fell behind (sound familiar?), 17-0 and although they made the game interesting in the 4th quarter, they ultimately couldn’t make the big stop by the defense to get the ball back at crunch time, with too many mistakes, turnovers, and awful special teams’ play.
The Bills (11-6) blew out the New York Jets 27-10. While the Jets made things interesting for a little bit, the score was just 13-10 at the half, the Bills were dominating on the field. Buffalo’s defense was absolutely dominant, allowing just 4 first downs and just 53 total yards on 46 offensive plays (1.2-yard average).
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Charles Davis as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. The game will be broadcast on the radio by 98.5 The Sports Hub. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2021 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out. So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game was very effective in both earlier games against the Bills, rushing for 222 and 149 yards respectively. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards in both games, while Rhamondre Stevenson missed the second game due to a concussion.
Buffalo’s defense is back to 100 percent heading into this game. The Patriots were effective at running right at the defense, the Bills linebackers are very fast and athletic so those slow-developing plays to the outside will get stuffed, but aren’t the biggest guys. They were susceptible to overpursuing plays and having the backs cut back.
Isaiah Wynn left last week’s game in Miami with an injury. If Wynn can’t go, rather than going with Justin Herron, as they did last week, it may be best to slide Trent Brown over to left tackle and place Michael Onwenu at right tackle.
The bottom line is the Patriots have to run the ball effectively and early in this game to set the tempo if they are going to upset the Bills. Having both Harris and Stevenson available is key here. Look for the Bills to stack the box again to take away the run, especially with the weather conditions that are forecast.
Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary – Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots’ passing game relied on Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, and Hunter Henry all season, as they are the most reliable targets for Mac Jones. Buffalo easily took them away in the second game because Nelson Agholor was out of that game with a concussion. He provides a cushion for them to operate underneath. But this week, he may have a large role in attacking the perimeter of the Bills’ defense.
Buffalo’s pass defense remains the #1 unit in the league, allowing just 163 yards per game and just 5.2 yards per pass. They have generated 19 interceptions and 42 sacks. While their best corner Tre’Davious White went down with an injury, they seemingly haven’t missed him due to having arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL.
How the Patriots choose Buffalo’s pass defense may ultimately depend on the protection Jones gets from the offensive line. The Bills will try to take away the middle of the field and Jones’ short check-downs and force him to throw outside the numbers. In Miami, Josh McDaniels opted to go vertical to attack the defense, which means more to Agholor and possibly the backs down the field. Will the weather conditions allow that? It may end up being the best way for the Patriots to find a way to win.
Next up is the Buffalo offense:
Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots’ run defense has been progressively regressing down the stretch. Against a horrible (31st) rushing attack of Miami’s that entered the game averaging 85.8 yards per game, they were gashed for 195 yards.
The Bills running game centers around Devin Singletary who has picked up his production as the weather has turned colder. But Josh Allen had great success running the ball (763 yards rushing) and gashed the Patriots repeatedly during the last game. I expect the Bills to rely on Allen heavily in this one, both in the running and passing game.
Once again, gap discipline and setting the edge are a must for the Patriots in this game. Matthew Judon, Lawrence Guy, Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Kyle Van Noy will have to step up their games this week. If they play as they did in New England for the second game, it will be a long night for the defense.
Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots’ secondary is really thin right now. Myles Bryant missed last week’s game with COVID-19 and this week, Jaylen Mills is now on the list. Kyle Dugger missed last week’s game with a hand injury. In the last meeting, Allen eviscerated the Patriots’ defense passing for over 300 yards and 3 TDs.
The Bills have built a prolific passing offense with Allen having Stephon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie as well as tight end Dawson Knox to throw the ball to. McKenzie killed them in the last game with shallow crossers that Bryant couldn’t keep up with. The defense never adjusted or gave Bryant help.
Look for the Bills to again spread out the Patriots defense which will allow Allen to run or throw, especially with designed runs up the middle and roll-outs to put pressure on the front seven. With so many weapons to throw to and a secondary far from 100 percent physically, this is a big advantage for the Bills
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots’special teams’ units with the exception of Nick Folk were just awful on Sunday and have been for much of the season. For a team with about a dozen players on the roster strictly for their STs prowess, this is unacceptable. Too many blocked punts, missed extra points, lack of return yardage, spotty coverage, and far too many bad, ill-timed penalties have handcuffed the team that has come to rely on them.
Next up, who wins and why…
This week’s game could come down to third downs, red zone production, and the weather. While the weather forecast calls for a low of 0 degrees with some snow flurries, that shouldn’t slow down Allen and the Bills’ passing game much.
But the worse the weather conditions are, the more it may benefit the Patriots’ power running game. But converting on 3rd downs (the Patriots were 1-10 in the last matchup).
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Start in the 1st Quarter, Not the 3rd:
One of the hallmarks of the Patriots’ losses this season have been incredibly slow starts, 20-0 to the Colts, 17-7 to Buffalo, 17-0 to Miami, etc. Another start like that will guarantee them to be one and done.
There are zero excuses not to come out fired up and ready to play. When they do that, they are in much better shape to win as this team isn’t built for playing from multiple scores down.
Run The Ball Setting Up Play Action – The Patriots can be one of the most physical teams in the league, and on Saturday, they have to be able to not just running the ball but passing as well. There is no next week without a win and for better or worse they have to be aggressive with Jones.
Get Pressure By Rushing Four– The Patriots’ front seven have been sagging down the stretch and they’ve been much less aggressive and it shows in their lack of pressure/sacks in recent games. They opted to mix aggressiveness and containment against Allen the last time and accomplished neither. Allen had all day to throw. That has to change this time, while maintaining gap discipline.
Clean it Up This Week – The Patriots need to finish drives, stop the presnap penalties and cut out turnovers this week. The offense has to have a somewhat balanced approach and keep the Bills defense from completely dictating to them. The defense has to be much, much better, stopping the run and getting after the QB.
I don’t have a good feeling about this one. With the secondary already thin, having a couple of their starters out is a recipe for Allen having another big game. I don’t see the defense being able to stop Buffalo in this one. Bills 31-17
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Playoffs
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower Hunter Henry Isaiah McKenzie Jamie Collins Jordan Poyer Josh Allen Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones Matthew Judon Micah Hyde Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson Stefon Diggs