Report: Bills expect Patriots defense to use this game plan in playoff matchup

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Report: Bills expect Patriots to deploy this defensive game plan originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Do J.C. Jackson and the Buffalo Bills have different ideas for how the New England Patriots will use the Pro Bowl cornerback on Saturday night?

Jackson took to Instagram on Saturday to express his excitement about matching up with Buffalo's top wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, in the AFC East rivals' Wild Card clash at Highmark Stadium.

But ESPN's Dianna Russini shared some insight into what the Bills expect the Patriots to do on defense Saturday, and it doesn't involve Jackson shadowing Diggs.

Russini elaborated on her report on ESPN's "NFL Postseason Countdown."

"(The Bills believe) the Patriots are going to do what they’ve done historically: double up the No. 1 receiver, put their best corner, J.C. Jackson, on the No. 2, which for the Bills, they think this gives a lot of opportunity to Dawson Knox and Cole Beasley here to perhaps get some more targets," Russini said, as transcribed by NESN.com's Zack Cox.

"And the Bills really feel like they left some deep shots on the field the last time they won in New England."

Jackson occasionally matched up with Diggs during the Patriots' and Bills' Week 16 meeting, and the results weren't pretty: Diggs caught a touchdown pass with Jackson in coverage and finished with seven catches for 85 yards.

Buffalo also will have Beasley and Gabriel Davis after both players missed that Week 16 contest, so New England's secondary will have its hands full -- especially with cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Sean Wade ruled out while still on the COVID-19/reserve list.

Curran: Patriots may need a Buffalo breakdown to pull this one off

So, is man coverage really the best strategy against quarterback Josh Allen and a fully-healthy Bills receiving corps? Our Phil Perry made the case for the Patriots to deploy zone in his AFC Wild Card preview.

"If the Patriots can play an aggressive zone that doesn't allow short throws to go for nine yards a pop, as was the case early in Week 16, that may be the way to go for Belichick's secondary," Perry wrote.

"Zone looks could potentially help guard against deep shots for Buffalo. Furthermore, defensive backs with 'zone eyes' -- peeking into the backfield while manning their areas -- would theoretically be able to help guard against Allen scrambles. And the Patriots may need help in that regard."

Allen's strong arm and running ability should give the Patriots problems no matter what coverages they deploy. But if defensive backs like Joejuan Williams and Myles Bryant struggle in man coverage early Saturday night, don't be surprised if Belichick's defense switches tactics.