By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If the Patriots want to stop the Bills’ passing attack before it can get going, it starts with shutting down shifty, versatile slot receiver Cole Beasley.
Generally, Josh Allen will look to Beasley as a drive-starter and safety valve, much like Tom Brady leans on Julian Edelman. Beasley will work the middle of the field with curls and in-cuts, try get separation with double-moves, and work upfield after the catch for extra yardage.
Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones will be one of their most important players on defense for these reasons. He’s gotten plenty of reps against Edelman over his summers in camp with the Patriots and he’s off to a phenomenal start working against opponents’ top slot options.
Beasley isn’t necessarily a perfect comp for Edelman – he’s a little bit smaller and will work his way inside from the “X” receiver spot a little more often. But his speed, footwork, and sure hands present a challenge that Edelman has given Jones in practice on many occasions.
“They do things a little bit different. [Beasley] has made a good career of being a slot receiver,” said Jones. “Julian is a good practice rep for a lot of guys. Getting work with him does nothing but make me better.”
The likelihood is that Jones will follow Beasley all over the field. The fourth-year corner has shown that he can play outside as well as inside in his recent performances. It’ll be key for him to step up again in order to slow the Bills down when they have the ball.
Some other matchups to watch for when the Patriots play the Bills…
— LB Jamie Collins vs. QB Josh Allen. The Patriots defense is off to a phenomenal start, but they have yet to face a quarterback like Allen – particularly, a guy who can take off and run. Collins could be the X-factor in solving that problem, because they haven’t had a player like him since trading him to the Browns in 2016. Mobile quarterbacks have given them problems in recent seasons, but Collins has been around the ball constantly and could be the key to containing Allen as a runner.
— WR Josh Gordon vs. CB Levi Wallace. Honorable mention goes to Phillip Dorsett vs. Tre’Davious White in a battle of former first-round picks. But at cornerback, the 6-foot, 180-pound Wallace is the Bills’ best bet at containing Gordon on the outside. He might need help from one of their two excellent safeties, Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde.
— Patriots’ interior offensive line vs. DT Ed Oliver. The ninth overall pick out of Houston, Oliver may be a rookie but he’s already proving to be disruptive. He’s made five tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass breakup in his first three games. He’s capable of shedding a double-team to work his way back to the middle of the field against the running game or short passes. Bill Belichick described Oliver as “a very talented player” and replacement for the retired Kyle Williams, who gave the Patriots some trouble in the past. Center Ted Karras and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will need to be on the same page in keeping him away from Tom Brady and containing him in the middle of the field.
— Patriots running backs vs. LB Tremaine Edmunds. It’s going to be tough for the Pats to run the ball to the second level with the 6-foot-5 Edmunds patrolling the middle of the field. His size and impressive speed can limit space in the areas where Brady typically likes to operate. Their best bet may be to work their backs to the perimeter instead of the middle. The Patriots still need to get their running game going, but it seems unlikely they’ll unlock something against Edmunds and the Bills front-seven.
If the Patriots can “win” all of these matchups, it will make life very difficult on the 3-0 Bills in their quest to upset the Super Bowl champions. But Jones shutting down Beasley could cause a domino effect for the defense.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.