FOXBORO -- Seems like a long time ago now, but think back if you can to a point in time when the Patriots defense was less stingy, back when they had a hell of a time trying to slow mobile quarterbacks.
From Week 1 to Week 6, Bill Belichick's defense was a lock to allow 300 yards passing. Athletic passers like Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton -- even Josh McCown -- gave them fits.
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Now, as they prepare to take on another talented athlete at the position in Bills signal-caller Tyrod Taylor, it's worth wondering if those same issues will reemerge.
As spotty as New England's recent history against athletic quarterbacks has been, in Taylor's career against Belichick, he's 1-4, he's completed 61 percent of his passes, he has a 76.5 rating and a 1-to-1 touchdown-to-interception. Given the growth the Patriots defense has exhibited in recent weeks, and given their history against Taylor . . . they should be OK.
But Belichick's concerned.
To hear him explain it, it's not only Taylor's threat to run that makes him dangerous. It's his ability to avoid pressure, allow receivers to uncover, and to pick up chunk plays on what look like playground calls.
"We want to try to keep him out of those situations as much as possible," Belichick said Wednesday. "We don’t want him extending the play. He’s a lot better at extending the plays than we are. Inevitably, those are going to come up and we're going to have to defend them. The more that we can limit those loose plays, extended plays, I think the better off we'll be.
"I don’t think you can eliminate them completely, but we certainly aren’t looking to get into those situations. Go back, let him run around, let him extend the play and see if we can defend it. We're certainly not trying to do that and no team has been very successful with that with him. He’s very good. If you don’t let him run laterally and throw the ball, he can run up the middle and run the ball and he’s hard to tackle."
So the question then is what do you do with him? If you want to avoid those extended plays, if you want to keep him from taking off and hurting you with his legs, then what? Spy him, right?
Belichick pounced on that thought before it was even brought up.
"I'll ask the questions before you guys ask it, 'Why don't we just put a mirror on him?' Oh yeah, great, that’s fine," Belichick said. "You’ve still got to tackle him and that’s an issue. Plenty of teams have put a spy on him and then he beats the spy and there’s nobody left, and so it’s 20, 30 yards. To just throw a spy on him, that’s not really the answer. You’ve got to do it right and he’s got to be able to get him and he’s got to get him."
The best athlete for that kind of job might be Devin McCourty, who has found himself in the box as a strong safety more and more this season. Maybe Kyle Van Noy, who has been a jack-of-all-trades and showed good skills in space against the Dolphins, will be an option.
That there's no real clear-cut answer on how to deal with Taylor's movement -- other than the obvious: keep him in the pocket -- is a reminder that this group that hasn't really been tested the way it was through the first six weeks of the season, when a mobile quarterback seemed to be on the docket every week.
They'll have their crack at another one on Sunday. If they can't contain him better than Smith, Watson or Newton, what should be a walk in Orchard Park could feel like ride down I-90 with the brakes cut.