The Buffalo Bills are 3-0 for the first time since 2011, which also happens to be the last time Tom Brady and the Patriots lost in Western New York. But while those Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Bills eventually fell apart and finished 6-10, there seems to be something different about this year’s version.
Sean McDermott has a young quarterback in Josh Allen, and while the second-year starter is still prone to young mistakes he’s also displayed some ability as well as more than a little moxie. Both have been on display in the early going when Buffalo rebounded from a 16-0 deficit on the road against the Jets and again last week at home against the Bengals.
While neither victory will reside in Canton anytime soon, both saw Allen shake off mistakes to put together some of his best football when it mattered most. As a result, Buffalo has something to be excited about for the first time in a long time.
Kyle Van Noy has noticed what Allen has done, and he’s been impressed. The Patriots linebacker talked about the challenges of facing an athletic quarterback with the size to run tacklers over, which should be one of the key matchups to watch on Sunday.
“He does a little bit of everything pretty well,” Van Noy said. “I think he’s gotten better sitting in the pocket and reading the defense but when he’s at his best is when he’s on the move. He’s really good at scrambling, throwing on the run and his arm talent is out of this world.
“He’s headed in the right direction. [Offensive coordinator Brian] Daboll’s doing a great job with him, helping him mature each and every game it seems like at this point. We need to try to limit him as best as we can and make it hard on him.”
Allen’s numbers have indeed improved. He completed just 52 percent of his passes as a rookie but that number has climbed to 64.1 percent thus far in 2019. He also continues to run effectively, both as a scrambler and on plays designed to take advantage of his speed. So far he’s rushed for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 carries.
Might the Patriots linebackers serve as a spy and follow him on Sunday? Van Noy obviously wasn’t getting into any specifics of the game plan, but he did acknowledge Allen’s ability to run.
One element that could be interesting on Sunday is just exactly how the Patriots feel it would be best to attack Allen. Oftentimes when facing mobile quarterbacks, Bill Belichick likes to employ his pass rushers in a manner that will contain them in the pocket and force them to throw from there to best him.
In Allen’s case, he tends to make mistakes when trying to do too much outside the pocket on the run. Although he has the skills to succeed in some unconventional ways, two of his three interceptions have come on broken plays where he’s tried to force the issue.
“At the end of the day we’re just going to try to do what we do best,” Van Noy said. “We’re not necessarily going to try to make him do one thing or another. It kind of falls on us. He has to play to what we do and he has to play all 11 of us. That’s what we’ve been doing each and every week and we hope to continue to do that.”
Forcing a few mistakes from the young Allen might be the key to victory on Sunday. While the Bills appear to be headed in the right direction, the fact is they’ve played some tight games against less-than-stellar competition. One reason for that has been Allen’s inconsistency.
But Van Noy has seen Allen come through when it matters most.
“Go back to the first game against the Jets. They’re down 16-0 and he rallies the team back. I don’t know if he could have done that last year,” he said. “He’s just a gamer. I admire that from him. He has that little ‘it’ factor. People listen. He’s a QB. When he walks in the room you know it’s the QB and he kind of has that.”
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 4 matchup against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday, September 29, 2019.