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New England Patriots Defense Will Pose Huge Challenge for Buffalo Bills

We're all familiar with Tom Brady's historic exploits, but keep an eye on the New England Patriots defense in Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
Patriots Defense

Whenever the New England Patriots team name gets brought up, the first person that comes to pretty much everyone’s mind is Tom Brady. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise given his exploits over the past two decades. And at the age of 42, he’s showing no signs of letting up. Through three games, Brady boasts the fourth-highest quarterback rating and the best Pro Football Focus grade among NFL quarterbacks. But as his team prepares for its annual foray into Western New York, it’s the Patriots defense the Buffalo Bills must adequately prepare for if they are to achieve victory.

New England Patriots Defense Proving Tough to Score On in 2019

The unit is exhibiting unprecedented stinginess early on in the season. Case in point: the Pats still have yet to allow an offensive touchdown. That makes them the first team since 1970 to prevent opposing offenses from finding the end zone over their first three regular-season games.

New England’s first two games saw them carve up the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins to the tune of a combined score of 76-3. Then they jumped out to a 30-0 lead over the New York Jets in Week 3 before Arthur Maulet recovered a muffed punt in the end zone late in the third quarter. And after rookie Jarrett Stidham replaced Brady in the fourth, Jamal Adams took his third pass as a pro the distance for a pick-six.

That’s right. If not for a special teams and defensive touchdown, the Pats’ would go into their Week 4 clash with the Bills having given up a mere three points. So not only will Buffalo have to contend with an offense led by a living legend at quarterback. They’ll also have to figure out a way to put points on the board against a defensive unit that has yet to concede a touchdown.

The Resurgence of Jamie Collins

It’s a group that’s buoyed by a stacked front seven which boasts a healthy combination of youth and experience. Perhaps the player Buffalo will have the most trouble containing is Jamie Collins. New England originally picked him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. But they traded him to the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and he spent the next two seasons there before returning to the Pats on a one-year contract this season.

That certainly has the feel of a prove-it deal. And through three games, Collins is certainly, well, proving he’s one of the league’s top outside linebackers. His 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss both lead the team, while only Devin McCourty has more interceptions (3) and pass breakups (4) than his two and three respectively. Needless to say, he’s demonstrating his value as a versatile, do-everything backer that can make plays in the backfield while also showcasing exceptional athletic ability when dropping into coverage.

It marks a return to prominence for Collins after a somewhat disappointing stint in Cleveland. After battling injury in 2017, he managed just four sacks last season before the Browns released him with two years remaining on his contract. Suddenly, he’s a legit early-season All-Pro contender and someone Josh Allen will need to deal with both in eluding pressure and when making short and intermediate throws.

Making Life Miserable for Opposing Quarterbacks

That last sentence is pretty important in more ways than one. Because the Patriots defense is terrorizing quarterbacks in a multitude of ways this season. Collins’ sack numbers are just a fraction of the team’s overall total, as they have 13 as a team for the year so far. That’s tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for tops in the league. Collins, Adam Butler, Michael Bennett, and rookie Chase Winovich have combined for nine by themselves. So significant preparation is key for the Bills offensive line in order for Allen to stay upright.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the Patriots secondary is also forcing myriad mistakes out of opposing signal-callers. Not only do their six interceptions as a team lead the league. But McCourty’s aforementioned three picks are also the NFL’s best individual interception total. His twin brother Jason McCourty is doing his part as well, with the corner totaling 15 tackles so far which is second to only Collins on the team. Both enjoy top 10 grades at their respective positions according to PFF.

Three games is a small sample size. But it should seem pretty clear to most observers that Allen has made significant progress as an NFL quarterback from his rookie year to 2019. Per PFF, his adjusted completion percentage of 81.3 percent is third-best in the league. He’s already led the Bills on two fourth-quarter comeback drives this year. But it must be said that the competition hasn’t exactly been stiff. The same could be said for the teams New England has faced. It all changes Sunday in a battle between two of the league’s eight remaining unbeaten teams. And it’ll be Allen’s stiffest challenge yet in his quest to evolve into the franchise quarterback Buffalo’s been missing for too long.

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