The New England Patriots enter Week 16 looking to break an ugly two-game losing streak. At 9-5, the Patriots currently sit in the three seed and need some help if they’re to get another playoff bye. Fortunately, the Patriots host a team they normally dominate in the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. While the Bills offense has struggled throughout the season, they’ve come alive in recent weeks thanks to the rookie duo of quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Robert Foster.
While nobody would confuse this duo with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, these rookies have managed to hook up for some big plays over the past few weeks. If New England wants to ensure victory, they’ll need to put all their defensive focus on taking these two players out of the game. Foster is only a threat in the passing game, but Allen is just as much a threat with his legs as his feet.
New England Patriots Gameplan: Stopping Robert Foster, Josh Allen Top Defensive Priorities
It’s no secret that the Buffalo Bills aren’t exactly stacked at the wide receiver position. Commonly perceived as one of the worst receiving groups throughout the majority of the regular season, Robert Foster has started to turn that narrative around over the past month or so.
In Buffalo’s last five games (four with Josh Allen at quarterback), Foster has hauled in 438 yards and two touchdowns on 17 receptions. This corresponds to 25.76 yards per catch, which shows that Foster is capable of making a big play every time he touches the ball.
In a way, Robert Foster and Josh Allen were made to play football together. Allen has an absolute cannon of an arm, capable of throwing the football to the moon and back. Accuracy is a major issue, but there’s really no part of the football field Allen cannot reach at any given moment. Foster is something of a one-trick pony, but he does that one trick incredibly well. He can get open deep, and Josh Allen tends to find him for the big play.
To say Foster is the engine that powers the passing game would be an understatement. Since Josh Allen returned in Week 12, the rookie has thrown for 801 yards and four touchdowns. Of those 801 yards, 333 went to Foster, along with two of the touchdowns. If the Patriots can take away Foster, then they can basically stop Buffalo’s entire passing attack.
Allen On The Ground
Josh Allen has a case for being the most athletic quarterback in the league not named Cam Newton. The 6’-5”, 237-pound quarterback isn’t afraid to take off with the ball and do damage with his legs. Combining an elite combination of speed and size (relative to the quarterback position), Allen has run for 351 yards and three touchdowns over the past four weeks. From Weeks 12-14, Allen’s 335 rushing yards were second in the league to Saquon Barkley’s 396. While his standing has dropped after his 16-yard Week 15 performance, there’s no denying that Allen is a game-changing talent on the ground.
Historically speaking, the Patriots struggle with mobile quarterbacks like this. However, New England’s defense has been surprisingly good against scramblers during the 2018 season. So far this year, the Patriots have faced mobile threats in Deshaun Watson, Blake Bortles, Andrew Luck, Mitchell Trubisky, and Marcus Mariota. Of those five quarterbacks, only Mitchell Trubisky found success on the ground (six carries, 81 yards, and a touchdown).
Whatever the Patriots are doing to contain mobile quarterbacks appears to be working. However, they’ve never faced someone like Allen. Of the quarterbacks mentioned, Allen is probably the most willing to scramble and is definitely the most dangerous guy on the run. New England will need to put even more focus on ensuring Allen stays in the pocket on Sunday.
How to Stop Foster
Fortunately, the Patriots are made to stop a guy like Robert Foster. This Patriots defense has some major flaws, but stopping top wide receivers isn’t one of them. New England has perhaps the best cornerback in the league in Stephon Gilmore. The recently-nominated Pro Bowler is coming off a week where he limited Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown to 25 yards while also forcing an interception. If he can do that to Brown, he’s more than capable of stopping Foster.
The Patriots could also decide to throw undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson at Foster. Despite his undrafted status, Jackson has actually been one of the better cornerbacks in the league in recent weeks. Taking over for a struggling Jason McCourty, Jackson allowed just 48 passing yards against Pittsburgh, while mostly covering superstar Juju Smith-Schuster.
Gilmore could easily work on an island against Foster, but Smith-Schuster could probably use some help. Fortunately, the Patriots have two good deep safeties in Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty. Foster does almost all of his damage in the deep portions of the field, so New England could use either player to shadow Foster over the top.
How to Stop Allen
Stopping Allen on the ground is going to be the harder task. The first the Patriots need to do is ensure they set the edge and trap Allen in the pocket. At this point in his career, Allen is far more dangerous with his legs than his arm. Setting the edge comes at the expense of registering sacks, but the Patriots need to make sure Allen can’t escape from the pocket and pick up an easy 15 yards. The Patriots struggle with setting the edge, so this will be a big game for Trey Flowers and the rest of the edge defenders.
Adequately setting the edge won’t be enough to completely stop Allen. If and when Allen escapes the pocket, there needs to be somebody waiting to take him down. Normally, this spy role falls to a linebacker like Kyle Van Noy or Dont’a Hightower. However, due to Allen’s high athleticism, New England should consider using strong safety Patrick Chung in this role.
Allen is probably too fast for any of the Patriots linebackers to consistently catch in open space. While Chung isn’t the fastest player in the world, he’s still capable of tracking down Allen should he take off. While he’s normally charged with covering tight ends, Buffalo doesn’t really have a tight end worth worrying about (apologies to Charles Clay). Chung’s tackling is second to none, and he has the speed to stick with Allen in the open field. Allen will probably have or two first-down runs regardless, but keeping Chung as a spy is the best way to limit Allen’s scrambling ability.
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