Week 15 Preview: Buffalo Bills Look to Right the Ship Against the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Buffalo Bills need their run defense to play better than they have in recent weeks. (Photo: Rob Foldy — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski

After an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) last week, all pre-bye momentum for the Buffalo Bills (4-9) has flown out the proverbial window. In fact, they now find themselves closer to playing for the No. 1 overall pick than for the playoffs. As frustrated as Bills fans and players might be, it’s another winter of playing for the future in Buffalo, which needs to start in earnest Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9).

With the league’s third-youngest roster (as of the start of the season, per Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com), the Bills have many guys who can positively impact their future by closing the season confidently. Despite winning four of their last five games, the Jacksonville Jaguars are still below league average in all major offensive and defensive categories, and are a team the Bills should be able to handle.

Storylines 

EJ Manuel only has three games remaining to get his game play back on track in advance of the 2014 season. (Photo: Kim Klement — USA Today Sports)

EJ Manuel’s development

Last week I said that EJ Manuel would need to continue to progress in order for Bills fans to go into the offseason feeling confident about next year’s team. Instead, he completed just 54 percent of his passing attempts for 184 yards and four interceptions against Tampa Bay. Not exactly a tour de force performance.

Bills coach Doug Marrone said after Sunday’s game he was going to scale back the offense for Manuel, telling Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com that Bills coaches had been “giving him more and more and now it’s a point where you have to re-evaluate that.”

“We’ve been going fast with his progression and now we just have to look at it and get him started again,” Marrone said according to Brown. “And it’s not starting over, don’t get me wrong. We have to look to see what we can do and probably cut down what we’re doing.”

While the notion of scaling back the offense in Week 15 probably does not instill confidence, it is important to remember that Manuel was a raw prospect when drafted this year out of Florida State. Expectations were raised when he won the starting quarterback job, but his inconsistencies have come back with a vengeance over the past few weeks.

Manuel needs to show mental toughness down the stretch, and continue to grow as a player, if the Bills are to be confident they have their quarterback of the future.

Inept Bills run defense

Despite a defensive line that includes Pro Bowlers Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, 2011 No. 3 overall draft pick Marcell Dareus, and talented rotational linemen Jerry Hughes and Alan Branch, the Bills’ run defense has continued to play poorly. It goes into Sunday’s game ranked 26th in the NFL with 124.8 rushing yards per game allowed on the ground and having given up 14 runs of 20 or more yards, the second-most in the league.

Last week was one of Buffalo’s worst performances on run defense. Bobby Rainey, who became Tampa Bay’s starting running back only after season-ending injuries to both Doug Martin and Mike James, ran for 127 yards on 22 carries, including an 80-yard rushing touchdown on Tampa Bay’s second play from scrimmage.

Many assumed that the Bills’ previous failures to stop the run were due to poor defensive schemes and linebacker play. Now the Bills have a new defensive coordinator (Mike Pettine) and a potential Defensive Rookie of the Year (Kiko Alonso) at linebacker, and they still can’t stop the run.

Buffalo needs to figure out why fast.

Pride of the Bills organization

Fred Jackson said after last week’s game that for as badly as the fans may be feeling about the 2013 Buffalo Bills, the players are feeling worse.

“I’m sure they’re upset but so are we,” Jackson said, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. “This isn’t just about them, this is about us, too. We don’t want to be a part of this situation. This isn’t how we want to be remembered for our 2013 season.  We’re going to keep working. I’m sure fans are going to start throwing in the towel and saying we’re the same-old, same-old Bills and they have every right to do that … but we’re going to keep working. This thing is far from over for us. We’ve still got a lot to play for this season and we’re going to continue to do that.”

It’s time to show it. The Bills can’t just talk about knowing that they need to win; they need to prove that they can win. When this season started, many thought the Jaguars might be one of the least-talented NFL teams ever. They’ve obviously performed above expectations, but this is still a game the Bills should win.

As the captain, Jackson tried to rally the troops after last game, but that motivation also needs to come from the top. Marrone needs to respond as a first-year coach in order to get his team moving in the right direction, and the team needs to prove that it can actually get the results warranted from the talent it has on the roster.

Key Matchups 

Expecting to start in Maurice Jones-Drew’s place, Jordan Todman has an opportunity this week to face a struggling run defense. (Photo: Troy Taormina — USA Today Sports)

Jordan Todman vs. Bills rushing defense

While the Bills have allowed 124.8 rushing yards per game, the Jaguars have only rushed for 76.6 yards per game as a team this season. On top of that, Jacksonville’s top running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a foot injury on the Jaguars’ injury report. Jordan Todman, expected to start in Jones-Drew’s place, has averaged 3.2 yards per carry this season.

Bills pass-rush vs. Jaguars offensive line

For as awful as the Bills defensive line has been in run support, it has been nearly as impressive rushing the passer. The Bills lead the NFL with 44 sacks, which could become a big part of the game against a Jaguars team that has allowed 40 sacks this season.

Though the Jaguars went into the season with a very promising pair of offensive tackles in Eugene Monroe and rookie Luke Joeckel, it traded Monroe while Joeckel suffered a season-ending injury, leaving the Jaguars with a thin offensive line bookended by Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor.

With inconsistent quarterback play under center from Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne, the Bills could really disrupt the Jacksonville offense if they are able to bring pressure consistently.

Kiko Alonso vs. Paul Posluszny

This matchup may not happen, as Alonso is listed as questionable to play on the team’s injury report with a knee injury. If it does, it will be the Bills’ rookie middle linebacker, their middle linebacker of the future, versus Posluszny, who in 2007 was a second-round pick of the Bills like Alonso was this season.

Since the Jaguars paid an exorbitant amount of money to lure Posluszny away from Buffalo, he has not received much attention on the national scene. That said, he seems to have taken to Gus Bradley’s defense scheme quickly in Bradley’s first year as Jacksonville head coach. He leads the Jaguars with 126 tackles this season to go along with 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and nine passes defended.

Both linebackers can help their team to come out victorious by making plays and as the playcallers, making proper mid-game adjustments.

Prediction

The Bills have not played well in recent weeks, but I really don’t think the Jaguars are a good team. This is a game where the talent difference is readily apparent in Buffalo’s favor, and the Bills need to take advantage.

Bills 27, Jaguars 13

Tags: EJ Manuel, Game Previews, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jordan Todman, Kiko Alonso, Paul Posluszny, Previews, Week 15

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