7 Bills players to watch in Sunday’s Patriots game

Patriots

The Bills have one of the league’s top quarterbacks and arguably the best pass rush.

Josh Allen and the Bills have had tremendous success against the Patriots over the last few seasons. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The 1-5 Patriots are in desperate need of a win in Week 7. Unfortunately for them, they take on a Bills team that is one of the most talented in the league and has given them fits over the last few seasons.

The Bills have won six of the last seven matchups between the AFC East rivals and look to be every bit of the team that’s won the division the last three seasons. They’re off to a 4-2 start, losing to the Jets in overtime and the Jaguars overseas, and have delivered the 5-1 Dolphins their only loss so far this season.

As Buffalo is a heavy favorite to win Sunday’s matchup, here are seven Bills players to watch when the Patriots take them on in Week 7.

Josh Allen

It’s no secret that Josh Allen has dominated the Patriots in recent years, but the stats are still ridiculous. 

The Bills star quarterback has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 1,564 yards, 18 touchdowns, and one interception in his last six games against the Patriots. That comes out to an average of roughly 260 passing yards and three passing touchdowns per game, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt and a 117.3 passer rating. That’s not even including the 240 rushing yards he has over those six games, averaging 40 per game.

So yeah, it’s no surprise that the Bills have gone 5-1 in those games with their only loss coming in a windstorm. 

Allen still looks every bit the MVP candidate that he’s been the last three seasons through the first six games of this season as well. He’s completed a league-best 71.7 percent of his passes for 1,576 yards, 13 touchdowns, and six interceptions with a 102.8 passer rating. 

There are some slight concerns surrounding Allen entering Sunday’s game. He’s dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder, which he suffered in their Week 6 win over the Giants. But he said there’s “no concern” over the ailment, describing his placement on the injury report this week as more of an injury management issue. He’s also thrown an interception in each of the last two games and in three of the last four games, but Allen has still mostly dominated, regardless of turnovers.

James Cook

The second-year running back has had a bit of an under-the-radar type of a season so far. He enters Week 7 ranked 16th in rushing with 363 rushing yards. He’s also done it in an efficient manner, rushing for 4.8 yards per carry, which is the 14th-best mark in the league among qualified players. 

Cook had some success against New England as a rookie last season. He rushed for 64 yards on 4.6 yards per carry in the first matchup and 45 yards on five yards per carry in the regular season finale, progressing as the season went along.

While plenty has gone wrong with the Patriots this season, the one area where they’ve been strong at is defending the run. They’re 15th in rushing yards allowed, but third in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.4), largely keeping opposing running backs in check this season.

With Damien Harris out, Cook will likely carry even more of the burden on Sunday. 

Stefon Diggs

A big reason for Allen’s dominance over the Patriots the last three seasons is the arrival of the All-Pro receiver.

Diggs has dominated the Patriots just as much as Allen has in that span. He’s recorded 43 receptions for 629 yards and six touchdowns over those games, averaging 6.1 receptions and 89.9 receiving yards per game. He only has one game where he’s recorded fewer than four receptions and just one game where he’s posted fewer than 60 receiving yards over that stretch. 

Diggs did a lot of that damage against J.C. Jackson as well, whom the Patriots reacquired earlier in October after he signed with the Chargers last year. He gave up four receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns to Diggs in the Week 16 matchup in 2020. He also gave up five receptions for 69 yards to Diggs in the Week 16 game in 2021, all per Pro Football Focus. 

The Patriots have done a fine enough job of keeping the opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver in check so far this season, even after Christian Gonzalez’s season-ending injury. They actually rank first in DVOA in defending the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver this season, but Diggs might end up being an exception. 

Leonard Floyd, A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau

There’s a reason why Bill Belichick said the Bills have the “best pass rush” in the league and that their defensive linemen are “probably the most disruptive” in the league.

The Bills lead the NFL with 24 sacks so far this season, getting a handful of players to record at least a few sacks this season as opposed to just one or two players doing the majority of the damage. They have four players with at least three sacks this season and six players who have recorded multiple sacks this year, getting contributions all along their defensive line.

Their edge rushers, in particular, have all stepped up this season as Von Miller missed the first four games as he recovered from his torn ACL from last season. Floyd, who signed with the Bills in June after being released by the Rams, couldn’t have asked for a better start to his tenure in Buffalo, already recording 6.5 sacks, which is the sixth-best in the league. He’s also done that while playing roughly half of the Bills’ defensive snaps so far this season.

Meanwhile, Epenesa and Rousseau have built off their solid 2022 seasons with even stronger starts this season. Epenesa has four sacks this season, recording 15 total pressures and four batted passes, per Pro Football Focus. Rousseau has three sacks with 17 pressures, but is the strongest run defender of the group of edgers rushers with 10 run stops, according to PFF.

The Patriots caught a bit of a break this week. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who has four sacks this season, will miss Sunday’s game due to a toe injury and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones likely suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 after recording 2.5 sacks to start the season.

So, the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line won’t have as tough of a battle, and the unit can use as much help as it can get as it still ranks among the worst in the NFL in several metrics. But it’ll still have its hands full on Sunday.

Micah Hyde

The star safety delivered a game-defining play the last time he went up against the Patriots. Hyde recorded an over-the-shoulder interception of Mac Jones on a deep pass to the end zone in New England’s opening drive of what ended up being a 47-17 blowout playoff win for Buffalo.

Hyde ended up missing both games against the Patriots last season due to a neck injury he suffered in Week 2, ending his season prematurely. But the 32-year-old still looks every bit the All-Pro player he was prior to the injury.

Hyde has 28 total tackles this season and two interceptions, playing almost every defensive snaps for the Bills so far. He’s allowed 11 receptions on 14 targets for 102 yards and a touchdown, mostly covering tight ends and running backs when he isn’t playing as a deep safety.


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