By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
With the season reaching the waning moments, the Bills are out to prove that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey were correct in stating that this team is continuing to improve each year. Although the playoffs may no longer be a realistic possibility, the team needs to continue to assert itself as a legitimate opponent and no longer a stepping stone for playoff teams. If for no other reason than to keep the fanbase happy and relatively encouraged about the next season.
They might be able to achieve that goal if they can find the answers to the following questions…
Question One: How will the offensive line handle last week’s injuries?
It seems like every year the Bills offensive line gets decimated by injuries. Up until last week, the Bills had considered themselves mildly fortunate to only lose Erik Pears for the season, even though Kraig Urbik and Cordy Glenn had both missed extensive amounts of time. Now, with last week’s rain-soaked affair in the books, the Bills will likely be without both Eric Wood and Chris Hairston for the remainder of the season. It’s an understatement to say the offensive line will be in flux. The team signed former Steeler Chris Scott and promoted Keith Williams off of the practice squad. With the re-shuffling will the Bills be ready to contain a team that has the 4th most sacks in the NFL?
Question Two: Can the slot corners step up if Amendola plays?
Danny Amendola was back on the practice field Thursday. As one of the more dangerous slot receivers in football, that’s a problem for the Bills. So far this season, the Bills sub-package corners have been terrible. Justin Rogers has seemed out of sorts all season, Leodis McKelvin was poor when playing inside, and Ron Brooks is still only a rookie who’s play has been solid at times but inconsistent. With Aaron Williams and McKelvin banged up, the Bills are especially thin at corner heading into this weekend. If they can’t find somebody to step up and take Amendola away, he could continuously move the chains on third down and make it a very long day for Buffalo.
Question Three: Can the Bills defense continue to get pressure?
Since having surgery on his wrist during the bye week Mario Williams has been a completely different player. With 9.5 sacks on the season, he’s starting to return some money on the investment the Bills made in him. It’s no surprise that over that period of time, the Bills are getting continuous pressure on the quarterback and are now 9th in the NFL with 30 sacks. Against a Rams offensive line that has allowed 30 sacks on the season, placing them 25th in the league, Mario and company should have plenty of opportunities to get to Bradford. If they can disrupt his timing, it could go a long way to helping the Bills secure this game.
Question Four: Can CJ Spiller get back on track?
Spiller’s rise to the lead back role was obstructed last week by the rainy conditions and the success of Fred Jackson. Many Bills fans were upset with the distribution of carries, but I believe Gailey when he says that it was simply a result of the weather and the Bills needing to run out the clock late. The question is now whether Spiller will let the game affect him or whether he can come out this week against the 13th ranked rushing defense and continue to show the burst and explosiveness that he has all season.
Question Five: Can the run defense continue to play at a top level?
Since Week 9 the Bills have been the best team in the league in terms of yards per carry allowed. However, early season struggles still make them the 30th ranked rushing defense in the NFL. The question is, which Bills team will show up to face Steven Jackson and Darryl Richardson. The two offer different styles that can frustrate a defense, much like Spiller and Jackson. If the Bills hope to win the game, they need to prevent the Rams from moving the ball on the ground and controlling the clock.
Question Six: Can the secondary prevent Chris Givens from getting deep?
So far this season Givens has been producing the kind of deep play potential that the Bills were looking for when they drafted TJ Graham. With 559 yards receiving on the year, Givens is currently averaging 16.9 yards per catch. Since he became a starter in week four, he’s had under 50 yards receiving only once and has averaged over 20 yards per catch in four of the last six games. Against a Bills team that has allowed 36 plays over twenty yards so far this season, Givens might be licking his chops.
Question Seven: Can Fitz and beat-up receivers make plays through the air?
The injuries haven’t just hit the Bills on the offensive line. Donald Jones missed last week with a calf injury and Stevie Johnson left the game early with a hamstring concern. With the Bills already lacking in receiving options, those two injuries could prove costly if neither player is effective on Sunday. TJ Graham has seen his role in the offense increase slightly, but not enough to be counted on to carry to load. If the receivers struggle and Fitz feels compelled to make plays on his own, the Bills could be in real trouble. When Fitz starts taking too many chances and forces passes, it usually leads to turnovers and Bills losses.
Prediction: Bills 20 Rams 13
I think this will be a game of offenses struggling to get into a rhythm. With the Bills line and receiver injuries and the Rams lack of depth, the defenses should control the tempo of the game early. That means this game should come down to time of possession. With the Bills bringing in the superior rushing attack, I think they can keep the ball long enough for their playmakers to come through.