The New England Patriots defense has yet to allow a touchdown on the season… can they continue that dominant trend against the 3-0 Buffalo Bills?
There are many parallels to examine between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills as the two teams get ready for their clash on Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park.
Both are 3-0 and undefeated on the season so far. Both have punishing defenses that rank top ten in the NFL in terms of yards and points allowed. And both play in the AFC East, a division that only one team can win in order to guarantee a playoff berth.
Of course, New England has enjoyed much more postseason success – and just success in general – than Buffalo ever since the arrival of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in 2000. To date, Brady owns a ridiculous 30-3 all-time record against the Bills… and he’s actually won more games in Buffalo than any Bills quarterback has won since 2001, per SportsNaut’s David Kenyon.
That said, the real story entering this suddenly (and surprisingly) high-profile matchup between undefeated teams isn’t the history of Brady’s success against the Bills. The real story is whether or not New England’s defense – which has carried the team in the first three weeks of the season – can continue making history.
According to ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith, Belichick’s unit is the “first defense in the Super Bowl era not to give up a touchdown in the first three games of the season.”
While the Pats D did surrender a field goal to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, they completely shut out the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. The 14 points scored against the Patriots on Sunday by the Jets all came courtesy of New England gaffes on special teams and offense.
In fact, the Patriots defense pulled off an even more impressive accomplishment against the Jets on Sunday when it came to the amount of total yards they surrendered. According to NFL Research, the 105 total yards they allowed was the lowest number in the history of Belichick’s tenure with the team.
Now, it’s fair to point out that the Patriots haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of opponents this season… especially on offense. They got a perhaps-already-injured Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1 with no Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown to help him out, then faced the full-tank-mode Dolphins in Week 2, and finally hosted the Jets in Week 3 – a team that was starting their third-string quarterback at the time.
Those three squads are collectively 0-9 on the year and all rank among the league’s worst in terms of offense, so New England was absolutely expected to dismantle each of them (with only the Steelers game seen as being potentially competitive).
Still, it’s the manner in which the Patriots have dismantled all three teams that should be impressing and frightening football fans around the NFL. Despite all the upheaval on offense (multiple injuries along the offensive line, Sony Michel not getting anything going in the run game, all the Antonio Brown drama, having no tight ends to speak of, etc), the Pats are still averaging over 35 points per game.
And again, it’s the manner in which New England’s defense contained those three opposing offenses that is most impressive.
It’s virtually unheard-of to hold a modern-day NFL team to 105 total yards in a game, no matter how bad that team’s offense is.
And even though the Dolphins are a full-fledged dumpster fire, they still managed to muster 10 points at home against the Baltimore Ravens and six points on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, both of whom have terrific defenses. The Patriots went into an oppressively hot and humid Miami – a place that has proved a house of horrors over the years for New England – and shut out the Dolphins completely.
All of this begs the question: can the Patriots extend their touchdown-less defensive streak against the Bills on Sunday afternoon?
It will be difficult, no doubt. Buffalo’s 3-0 start isn’t a fluke, and the Bills have a defense that is certainly comparable in terms of talent and execution to the Patriots. Buffalo will also have the advantage of playing at home in front of a raucous fanbase that just saw their team complete a thrilling comeback in Week 3 to stay perfect on the season.
While none of those factors can be discounted, it’s important to point out that Buffalo hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut along the way.
Second-year quarterback Josh Allen is making the right plays when his team needs him most, but the Bills are winning on the strength of their fifth-ranked run game and their sixth-ranked defense. Allen and the Buffalo passing attack are ranked just 19th in the NFL currently – which is notable, since the Patriots presently boast the No. 2 passing defense in the league. The former Wyoming Cowboy only has one passing touchdown in each of Buffalo’s three wins this year; though he also has one rushing touchdown in two of those three games as well.
Per CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar, the entire starting secondary for New England ranks top ten at their position in the league, courtesy of ProFootballFocus. That’s an impressive achievement, and it speaks volumes about just how talented the Patriots are from both an individual as well as from a collective standpoint.
And as good as the New England defense has been against the pass, they’ve actually been even better against the run. Largely thanks to an unheralded defensive line comprised of players like Danny Shelton, Adam Butler, and Lawrence Guy, the Patriots currently rank No. 1 in the NFL in rushing defense, having held opponents to a paltry 36.7 yards per game.
Usually this is where naysayers will chime in that opponents are often forced to abandon the run as they play catch-up to the Patriots, which is an assertion that has some merit.
Still, New England began all three games this season tied 0-0 with their opponents. The Steelers had James Conner and Jaylen Samuels working against the Pats’ defensive front, and neither averaged more than 2.1 yards per tote. Conner was expected to be among the better bell-cow backs in the league this year, and Samuels absolutely decimated New England on the ground less than a year ago at Heinz Field; neither player was remotely a factor in Week 1.
The Dolphins’ combination of Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage was similarly bottled up in Week 2, with the pair running for just 25 yards on 10 combined attempts.
And whatever excuses can be made about the sorry state of the Jets offense and quarterback situation, their starting running back is still Le’Veon Bell, and he still rushed for less than two yards per carry. The always-dangerous Bell was held to just 35 yards on 18 rushes and an additional 28 yards on four receptions.
Make no mistake – the Buffalo Bills have a better offense than these two doormats in the AFC East, the Jets and the Dolphins. They also look like they have a better offense than the Steelers this year, especially with Roethlisberger on injured reserve.
That said, this New England defense has the look of a unit that could end up posting one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history. And while it will surely be tested down the line – games against the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, and Kansas City Chiefs stand out already – this Bills offense is far from a surefire lock to be the first unit to score a touchdown on them, even with Buffalo 3-0 and playing at home.