Three years ago, a weary Bill Belichick confided in the last group of people you would ever expect him to trust.
During a private production meeting before a Patriots-Bills game on Monday Night Football, Belichick dismissed Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen as an MVP candidate to ESPN. The suggestion alone apparently made him animated.
“There was no question that Bill really got fired up when talking to him about potentially being swept, Josh Allen being one of the MVP favorites,” added Louis Riddick revealed on the December 2020 broadcast. “He was not having any of it.”
Yeah, about that.
Not only did Allen rip the Patriots that night in a 38-9 rout, passing for 320 yards, four touchdowns and no picks, he hasn’t stopped. Allen is now universally recognized as one of the game’s greats. In the process, he’s become something more: Belichick-proof.
Against Belichick, Allen owns the highest passer rating of any quarterback to make more than five career starts or attempt at least 200 passes versus his defense. He’s 6-1 versus the Patriots the past three years, during which time Buffalo has averaged more than 30 points per game. Last season, the Bills became the first team to beat the Pats by 10 or more points in three consecutive games since Belichick took over in 2000.
But enough about passer rating, a flawed, archaic metric, and win-loss record, a measure of team success, not quarterback play. Let’s dive deeper.
Patriots defender Deatrich Wise (91) applies pressure to Bills quarterback Josh Allen during a Dec. 1, 2022 game in Foxboro. (Staff Photo/Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Over the last three seasons, Belichick has thrown every X and every O at Allen: disguised zone coverages, man-blitzes, zone blitzes, simulated pressures, three-man rushes, quarterback spies. He’s proven scheme-proof in the way Tom Brady did lording over Buffalo for two decades. Allen’s ascension is among the chief reasons the Pats and Bills have switched places within the division.
No quarterback has thwarted Belichick as consistently and ruthlessly as Allen. He is at the heart of Belichick’s heartache.
Unlike Brady, but akin to all modern stars, Allen is a master inside the pocket and on the run. Armed with 4.7 speed at 240 pounds, he can eat up free yards on scrambles or escape closing pockets to buy his receivers more time to uncover. His escapability powered Buffalo’s most memorable wins over the Patriots in recent years.
In 2021, after Belichick’s privately dismissed Allen, the Bills famously didn’t punt in the last two of their three meetings with the Pats. Over a 33-21 regular-season win and 47-17 thumping in the Wild Card round, three-quarters of Allen’s dropbacks lasted 2.5 seconds or longer, per Pro Football Focus. Often, this time and place becomes a danger zone for quarterbacks, who are fated for a coverage sack or bad decision.
He converted a first down on more than half these plays, an unprecedented conversion rate for even the greatest offenses in NFL history. He also threw an accurate pass on 84.8% of his attempts, per PFF, for five touchdowns and zero interceptions. As a runner, he scrambled five times for 103 rushing yards.
So naturally last season, the Pats emphasized containing Allen and keeping him inside the pocket, where he would be forced to confront Belichick’s schemes on Belichick’s time instead of slipping out and playing backyard ball. Instead, Allen shoved humble pie down their throats.
Over two regular-season meetings, the Bills outscored the Patriots by 26. Allen went 27-of-42 for 360 yards, five touchdowns and an interception on longer-developing pass plays, which accounted for 70% of all his dropbacks. Buffalo played on Allen’s time, and marched to the playoffs.
At 4-2, Allen has again primed himself for the MVP discussion. The Bills are among the league’s most devastating offensive teams. Allen ranks second in the NFL by passing touchdowns and QBR.
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He has been fully weaponized, and should inflict more damage Sunday in Foxboro. If the 8.5-point spread holds through kickoff, Allen and Co. will become the largest road favorites to ever kick off inside Gillette Stadium; perhaps the best measure of how the gap has widened between Buffalo and the Patriots.
To hurry Allen without Pro Bowl pass rusher Matt Judon and likely Josh Uche (who’s dealing with a knee injury), the Patriots must blitz. The good news is, they’re already blitzing at the second-highest rate in the league to protect a hurting secondary.
The bad news?
Allen owns a sparkling 109.1 passer rating against the blitz this season, seventh-highest in the league.
Meaning before he even sits down at the table, Belichick might already be out of cards.