The New England Patriots’ goal Saturday night? Don’t let Josh Allen be Josh Allen.
Pro Bowl edge rusher Matthew Judon said Wednesday that New England’s top defensive priority in Saturday night’s wild-card playoff game needs to be preventing the Buffalo Bills’ dual-threat quarterback from using his legs to make and extend plays.
“I think in the two games we played, he had a gain over 15 (yards) with his legs,” Judon said, referring to the two Patriots-Bills matchups during the regular season. “That’s just tough when he can do both, so we have to — we have to keep him in the pocket and make him use his arm and make him beat the coverage instead of him uncovering everybody with just running.
“Especially when our DBs and linebackers have their back turned, then he can just kind of pick lanes and weave and end up with a 25-yard gain on what looked to be like we got everybody covered. So up front, we have to do a better job of just containing him.”
The Patriots seemed to place an emphasis on containing Allen when these teams met at Gillette Stadium three weeks ago, but he still got free in key moments. Allen scrambled 25 yards for a first down early in the second quarter, scrambled 11 yards into the red zone early in the fourth and took it himself on a pivotal fourth-and-1 to extend what proved to be a game-sealing touchdown drive. Linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback J.C. Jackson both had a shot at Allen on the latter but failed to corral the 6-foot-5, 237-pound QB.
Allen also had a 21-yard scramble late in New England’s 14-10 win in Buffalo in Week 13.
“You’ve just got to be stouter, make sure you’re locked out and can arm over and try to chase him down for maybe a 1- or 2-yard gain instead of him picking up a first down and more,” Judon said. “So just make sure you kind of have vision on him while rushing and just get some push in the pocket.”
There is a danger in playing Allen too conservatively, however. He’s also a talented passer with one of the NFL’s deepest receiving corps. Give him all day to throw, as the Patriots did at times in Week 16, and he’s capable of exploiting coverage breakdowns.
And those breakdowns could be more frequent this week given the current status of New England’s secondary. Safety Kyle Dugger has been sidelined by a hand injury, and cornerback Jalen Mills is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, putting their status for Saturday in doubt. Mills’ most likely replacement, Joejuan Williams, was a healthy scratch for three games late in the regular season, presenting a potential mismatch against this talented Bills passing attack.
Allen enjoyed one of the best games of his career in the most recent Patriots-Bills meeting, throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and adding 64 rushing yards in a 33-21 Buffalo victory.