Coming off of a gutsy Thanksgiving Day win against the Detroit Lions, their second victory in four days, the Buffalo Bills look to build upon their success as they face the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football this week. Buffalo (8-3) sits just below the 8-3 Miami Dolphins atop the AFC East, while New England enters NFL Week 13 with a surprising 6-5 record – just one game out of the playoff picture.
After losing their first two divisional matchups, the Bills desperately need a victory in Foxboro. But what looked like a somewhat easy win entering the season is suddenly a more difficult task, as Josh Allen & Co. will face off with the Patriots’ No. 4 overall defense, led by edge rusher Matt Judon, while looking to contain one of the NFL’s rising stars at the running back position in Rhamondre Stevenson on defense.
Can Bills OL stop NFL’s sack-leader, Matt Judon?
Limiting the effect Matt Judon has on the game will be critical to Buffalo’s offensive success on Thursday. The 30-year-old edge rusher leads the NFL in sacks (13), while adding 43 tackles and 11 tackles for loss. His 50 quarterback pressures are fifth-most among edge rushers while his 11 quarterback hits rank sixth. His pass rush productivity – a Pro Football Focus stat that measures sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many pass rush snaps a player has – is 11.4, the second-highest rate at the position, trailing only Micah Parsons.
Judon is a big, physical edge defender that wins with power and underrated athleticism. He’s 6-foot-3, 261-pounds, and will primarily rush the passer from the left outside linebacker spot – meaning that he’ll see the majority of his snaps against Buffalo’s struggling right tackle, Spencer Brown.
Brown is coming off arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career. Against the Vikings, Browns, and Lions, the second-year lineman has surrendered a combined 16 quarterback pressures (one sack, two hits, 13 hurries). This play simply won’t cut it against another premier pass rusher.
In that three-game span, Josh Allen has struggled under pressure. He’s been hurried on 36.2 percent of his dropbacks (eighth-most) and completed just 50 percent (9th) of his passes for 250 yards, throwing one touchdown and two interceptions and taking a staggering 12 sacks.
Bill Belichick may not have the surplus of talent that he’s had in years past, but he’s one of the best defensive minds in the history of the sport and knows how to lock in on mismatches and take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses. You can bet he’s chomping at the bits to unleash Judon on Brown. Ken Dorsey needs to get creative and set Allen – and the entire offensive line – up for success with quick passing and RPOs to slow down the pass rush and get into a rhythm offensively.
Can Bills limit Rhamondre Stevenson’s effectiveness?
After a disastrous three-week stretch of unwatchable run defense, the Bills seem to have righted the ship, stymying Nick Chubb in Week 11 before holding Jamaal Williams and Deandre Swift to 85 yards and a score on 23 carries (3.6 yards per attempt). This week, they’ll be tasked with slowing one of the best young ball carriers in the NFL – Rhamondre Stevenson.
Stevenson, selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft showed promise as a rookie, rushing for 600 yards and five scores. But this year, thanks to Damien Harris being banged up, Stevenson has cemented himself as the starter for New England’s offense and has thrived. Stevenson has been lethal, both as a runner and a receiver. He’s gained 680 yards and four scores on 151 carries. But the 6-foot, 230-pounder is surprisingly one of the NFL’s best receiving backs, too. He trails only Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffery in running back receptions with 50, racking up 359 yards and a score in the process.
The 24-year-old is among the league’s best in yards after contact, averaging 3.56 yards after being hit. He’s forced 26 missed tackles and has 18 runs of 10-plus yards.
Tackling will be critical for the Bills, who have struggled mightily in that department this season, as eight players have six or more missed tackles. Damar Hamlin (13), Matt Milano (12), Dane Jackson (9), Taron Johnson (8), Jordan Phillips, and A.J. Epenesa (6) are the biggest culprits and the majority are full-time players. They’ll need to wrap up in order to Stevenson, who’s an extremely tough player to bring down in space.
Buffalo has had New England’s number in recent years, with the most recent game being a 47-17 assault that saw Josh Allen throw for 308 and five scores in the Wildcard Round of the 2021 playoffs. In his last four games against the Patriots, Josh Allen has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 1,087 yards, throwing 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions, with 202 rushing yards.
Buffalo is the more talented team, but any matchup against Bill Belichick leads to some nerves among the Bills’ fanbase. Playing on the road in a tough divisional matchup, the Bills need to be sound on both sides of the ball, and it starts with limiting New England’s two best players – Rhamondre Stevenson and Matt Judon.