By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
It’s pretty incredible to think that even after a shaky start the Bills find themselves in a tie for first place in the AFC East. Sitting at 3-3, they head home for a must win game against the Tennessee Titans. After this week, the Bills have a bye to rest up before facing the Texans and Patriots. If they’re unable to pull out a victory against the Titans, they could find themselves looking directly in the eyes of a 3-6 start and a near impossible climb to get into the playoffs.
If the Bills are going to pull off the win they desperately need, they need to answer the following questions successfully.
Question One: Can the Bills contain Chris Johnson?
Chris Johnson has only been a shadow of his former self the past two seasons, but he’s still the most dynamic playmaker on an otherwise unimpressive offense. This season, he averages only 3.3 yards per carry and has seemed to be unable to use his speed to get more than what’s blocked for him. However, if you give him an opening, he’s still fast enough to take it to the house. With the way the Bills have been missing tackles in the middle of the field lately, it’s a scary thought. The linebackers need to stay in their lanes and wrap up when they get their hands on Johnson. If they don’t, then one run could change the entire game.
Question Two: Can the Bills find a cornerback to play opposite Gilmore?
Stephon Gilmore has continued to impress in his rookie season. He showed his physicality against Fitzgerald last week and has shown that he can contain even the most dynamic wide receivers. He’ll likely face Kenny Britt on Sunday and should match-up well with the Titans number one wide receiver. However, what happens on the other side of the field is a concern for Bills fans. Aaron Williams recently graded out as one of the worst cornerbacks in the league, and Terrence McGee has yet to prove that he’s 100% healthy. Both Nate Washington and Kendall Wright are solid wide receivers and can do real damage if the Bills aren’t able to get Williams or McGee up to task.
Question Three: Will the timeshare at runningback work?
This week CJ Spiller came out and said that rotation he and Fred Jackson used in Arizona was their idea. Wanting to get into the flow of offense as much as possible, the two backs decided to rotate two series’ at a time, and the scheme worked. Both runners seemed fresher than in previous weeks, and Gailey was still able to use the backs in specific situations, like Jackson in short yardage. It’s a plan of attack that should work against an average run defense that could be missing its middle linebacker if McCarthy can’t go. Last week the Bills controlled the game on the ground even without two starting offensive linemen, which they’d have to do again tomorrow. When they can do that it limits the pressure they put on Fitz and usually ends in fewer turnovers.
Question Four: Can the Bills take advantage of the Titans pass defense?
However, if the Bills want to do real damage on offense, the best avenue against the Titans might be through the air. The Titans currently have the 29th ranked pass defense, allowing 292.3 yards per game. During the week, Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick admitted that the need to find a way to take more shots downfield. So far, nearly all of Fitzpatrick’s attempts have gone awry. But this week, the opportunities will likely be there, and if the Bills want to continue to be able to run successfully and keep defenses on their toes, they need to connect on some of these passes.
Question Five: Can Fitzpatrick fix the problems he admits are there?
Which keeps us on the topic of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s admitted that this year hasn’t started the way he wanted, with him consistently throwing behind receivers and missing on deep balls. According to former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Rich Gannon, the misfires are the result of sloppy mechanics. Which is a problem that fans were told Fitz had solved this offseason. The simple fact is: the Bills win football games when Fitz doesn’t make mistakes. However, mistakes are not just picks. If he has a wide receiver open on a slant, or a back open in the flat, he has to hit on those throws. The Bills need to be able to move the chains through the air if they want to compete.
Question Six: Can the pass rush continue against a better offensive line?
The Bills pass rush looked great last week, with Mario Williams getting in the backfield, Chris Kelsay forcing a safety, and Kyle Moore showing good instincts and a variety of moves. But, everybody gets sacks on the Cardinals. The question is whether or not the Bills can do it against a solid offensive line. The Titans are currently allowing the 12th fewest sacks, with eleven. That’s only four more than the Bills and all we hear about is how few sacks we allow. It’s going to be more of a test, but that’s why they got paid big money.
Question Seven: Can the Bills contain another athletic tight end?
For as long as I can remember, the Bills have always had a problem with athletic tight ends. Perhaps it has to do with defense scheme or just poor coverage by the linebackers, but it’s never been the strength of a Bills defense. There aren’t many tight ends that are more athletic than Jared Cook. He’s underperformed so far this year, but has shown flashes on certain plays. If the Bills give him openings, he’s going to make them pay.
Prediction: Bills 27 Titans 13
As I mentioned earlier, this is a winnable game and a must win game. I think the Bills came out with enough urgency last week that I assume they know what’s on the line during this stretch of the season. When it comes down to it, I just don’t think the Titans have enough weapons. Hasselbeck is an average quarterback, their receivers are solid but inconsistent, and they haven’t been able to run all season. Add to that an average defense, and the Bills should be able to take care of business at home.
Make sure you check back first thing tomorrow morning to see Mike’s Five Keys to Success!