Cold weather seemingly shouldn’t be a problem for Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
He didn’t play much in the cold while growing up in Firebaugh, Calif., outside of Fresno, but Allen spent two seasons at the University of Wyoming (elevation 7,200 feet) and has been in Buffalo now for four years. And at 6 feet 5 inches, 237 pounds, and with a cannon for an arm, Allen is seemingly built for the cold.
Yet there is something a little off about Allen’s performances this year in cold weather — or at least something off with the entire Bills offense.
While Allen has played like an MVP candidate in warm or mild weather, his numbers have dipped considerably in the cold.
It’s relevant, because with a forecast of 2 degrees for Saturday night in Orchard Park, N.Y., the wild-card game could be the coldest game in Patriots history and the second-coldest in Bills history.
“It’s not fun getting hit in the cold,” Allen said this week. “It’s more of a mental barrier than a physical barrier, but we’ve got to do our best to not let the elements limit us in what we can do.”
The Bills do have a 4-1 record in games played under 40 degrees. They lost to the Patriots in a game that featured wind gusts of 50 m.p.h., but have since won four straight over the Panthers, Patriots, Falcons, and Jets.
And Allen is certainly not the only quarterback whose passing numbers dip in the cold. As he deftly noted, “It’s going to be cold for both teams.”
But the bad weather unquestionably saps Allen of some of his incredible talents, and levels the playing field for a Patriots team that can’t match the Bills’ firepower on offense.
The two Patriots-Bills games in December offer perfect proof. In cold but relatively nice weather in Foxborough, Allen was unstoppable, throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-21 win. In cold and blustery weather in Buffalo, he was held to just 145 passing yards, and the Patriots squeaked out a 14-10 win despite throwing only three passes.
Allen’s warm/cold splits this year are eye-opening:
|Statistic||Above 40||Below 40|
|Runs of 10+||19||9|
▪ In 12 games above 40 degrees, he averaged 281.6 passing yards, completed nearly 67 percent of his passes, and compiled a 97.6 passer rating. The Bills scored 29.4 points per game.
▪ In five games below 40 degrees, Allen averaged 205.6 passing yards, completed just 54.4 percent of passes, and compiled a 78.3 rating. The Bills scored 26 points per game.
▪ Allen passed for 300 yards in 5 of 12 warm-weather games, but just 1 of 5 in cold weather (against the Patriots).
▪ In four cold-weather games at home, Allen had a 69.2 passer rating and completed just 51.1 percent of his passes. This included games of just 145 and 120 passing yards.
Allen hadn’t struggled much in the cold before this year. He is 11-3 in his career in games under 40 degrees, including 8-1 the last two years. In 2020, he compiled an impressive 98.9 passer rating in cold games.
Allen said the toughest part of playing in cold weather is managing his feet.
“I’ve got bad circulation in my feet,” he said. “My toes get really cold and they go numb a little bit. It’s keeping those suckers as warm and dry as possible. I’m a one-layer sock guy.
“We have these heated benches and the little foot-warmers. Sometimes when it’s super cold, it doesn’t feel like much, so you’ve got to get by the heaters.”
Allen’s feet are one of the Patriots’ primary concerns, too. He was third among NFL quarterbacks with 767 rushing yards, and first with a 6.25 average. He rushed 12 times for 64 yards in the win in Foxborough three weeks ago, and created several big plays in the passing game with his feet as well.
“We’ve been facing him for the past three years or so now,” noted Patriots linebackers coach DeMarcus Covington. “For us, it’s the same menu as far as making sure he doesn’t beat us with his feet. And that’s really the goal, whichever way we cook it up.”
Allen runs the ball more when the weather gets cold, too. He averages 8 carries and 54 rushing yards in cold games this year, and 6.8 carries and 41 yards in the other 12.
“Even when he drops back, he might run it,” Patriots safeties coach Brian Belichick said. “It brings everyone on the field into play. And we all have to be on point to shut a guy like that down, because he’s dangerous in every capacity — running, throwing, checking the play, getting them in the right play, all that.”
The Patriots have the utmost respect for Allen, especially after their loss in Week 16. The Bills didn’t punt all day and scored points on six of seven possessions. And preparing for Allen, an athletic unicorn, is not easy.
“We can’t replicate Josh Allen,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We don’t have anybody with the size, speed, arm strength that can do those things.”
But the Patriots’ best defense may be Mother Nature, whose frigid temperatures usually help neutralize Allen and the Bills offense.
“Josh is one of the best players in the league,” Bill Belichick said. “I think it’s unrealistic to think we’re going to go through the game and he’s not going to do anything. But we just need to make more [plays] than he does.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.