On paper, the Patriots clearly haven’t done enough to move the needle against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills defensively this season, especially in the secondary. Aside from getting Jonathan Jones, who didn’t play in any of the three contests against the Bills last season, drafting rookie cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones and swapping out Dont’a Hightower for a bunch of depth pieces at linebacker, the personnel is largely the same now as when the Bills went two games without punting on the Patriots.
For the latest on the Patriots, check out WEEI and Audacy's "1st and Foxborough."
Stefon Diggs might not be in Justin Jefferson’s category – who is? – but he’s not far below it. He and Allen represent one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in football, and not even Bill Belichick can take that away forever.
Then, you throw in the big, physical Gabriel Davis, the ridiculously quick Isaiah McKenzie and a pass-catching weapon at tight end in Dawson Knox, and the Patriots will have their handful on passing downs (which are basically all the time when you face the Bills) Thursday night.
At first glance, there’s not a whole lot scheme-wise the Patriots can do to stop Allen. But there might be a personnel adjustment they can try.
With Myles Bryant struggling in coverage and committing costly penalties, New England experimented with moving Jonathan Jones back inside to his accustomed slot cornerback role and having Jack Jones play outside, according to Taylor Kyles of CLNS Media and NextGen Stats.
That task even included occasionally shadowing Jefferson across the formation at times in the fourth quarter. The young cornerback was not targeted on any of those reps.
This strategy could prove key against the Bills given how Buffalo beat them in Week 16 last season, repeatedly the Patriots with crossing routes out of the slot by Isaiah McKenzie. Bryant was no match for McKenzie’s 4.4 speed, and those plays yielded several critical first downs.
If the Patriots felt comfortable enough to allow Jack Jones to play one-on-one against Davis or even Diggs, it could allow Jonathan Jones to mitigate those deadly crossers and force the Bills to beat New England outside the numbers. Allen certainly can do that, of course, but he hasn’t quite been himself in recent weeks after suffering a ligament injury to his right elbow.
Also, the Bills’ pass-heaviness means Jack Jones, who’s currently the third-ranked coverage corner in football according to Pro Football Focus, might convince the Patriots to leave him on the field more, especially if they don’t have to worry about Buffalo trying to exploit him in the run game.
The fourth-round cornerback isn’t going to be a magic pill to help New England suddenly stop the Bills offense. If we’re keeping it real, Allen’s recent inconsistency and injuries/illness on Buffalo’s side are probably the only hope the Patriots have of this game staying close.
But as far as adjustments go, Jack Jones might be the one wrinkle the Patriots can throw at the Bills that they didn’t see last year.