Five games into the season, and this might be a good time for the Buffalo offense to account for itself.
The Bills are 3-2 and right in the mix in the jumbled AFC playoff picture, and there’s basically one reason for that: The defense has been mostly superb, and has carried the offense on a weekly basis.
The Bills’ two losses came in games where they allowed nine points, and 20 points. Any semblance of offense in either game, and the Bills might be sitting atop the AFC with a perfect record because both of those games were there for the taking.
If anyone is concerned about hard feelings between the defense and offense in the locker room, don’t be, says coach Sean McDermott.
“No, I don’t worry about, not with these guys, and that’s why the DNA is important,” said McDermott. “They put the team first, and there (have) been moments for the offense as well. There (have) been moments where the defense has played well, special teams has played well, so the greatest part about good football teams is that they’re very unselfish and they evolve throughout the year. One week it’s the offense carrying the team, the next week it’s the special teams, the next week it may in fact be the defense, and that’s what good teams do.”
1. Can the Bills take advantage of a weak Tampa Bay pass defense?
It has been a mess on offense for most of the season for Buffalo, and the numbers are well-documented. But here’s an opportunity to get right as Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled all season and sits 30th in yards allowed, 31st in passing yards, last in sacks, and 22nd in points allowed. Even with a struggling receiving corps, the Bills should be able to do some damage through the air against a Bucs defense that is yielding 301.6 yards passing per game. Rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves has allowed QBs a 128.7 passer rating when they target him, so that’s an area Tyrod Taylor must attack. The question is, can the Bills’ wideouts win, even against a struggling player such as Hargreaves? On the other side, CB Brent Grimes has allowed a 68.6 passer rating. The Bills will try to establish the run, but how they throw the ball could determine the outcome.
2. Will LeSean McCoy emerge from his slumber?
We all know how terrible the passing game has been and Taylor and the wide receivers have taken much of the blame, but when the Bills don’t run effectively, it impacts everything negatively, not only on offense, but even for the defense because the Bills don’t sustain drives and the defense has to be on the field more. McCoy is off to a miserable start, and he acknowledged that earlier in the week, even saying that “it’s about time” he gets things turned around. If the Bills’ line can get Bucs DT Gerald McCoy blocked and get Shady to the second level, he may be able to inflict the same type of damage the allegedly over-the-hill Adrian Peterson did on the Bucs last week. McCoy knows there are yards to be gained in this game, and if he gets them in big chunks, the rest of the Bills’ offense will benefit.
3. Will the Bills’ secondary be able to handle the Bucs’ talented receivers?
That depends on the performance of Jameis Winston, who is coming back from a shoulder injury. The Bucs have a dynamic passing game with a pass-catching gang that includes WRs Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, plus TE Cameron Brate. Jackson remains a blazing deep threat, and Evans is a big, physical player who makes the tough, contested catches. The Bucs rank second in the NFL in passing, and the Bills' secondary – still stinging from the beat-down put on them by Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and A.J. Green – needs to be on point. It looks like CB E.J. Gaines should be back, so that will take some of the heat off rookie CB Tre’Davious White, though it's still possible White travels with Evans.
The Bills stubbed their toes in Cincinnati, there’s no getting around that. It was a game they needed to win, should have won, and would have won had they just been able to do anything on offense with some of the great field position they had.
This is another game where there should be no excuses for the Bills not to win. The Bucs have been a mediocrity thus far with a decent offense but woeful defense, and their 2-3 record is no surprise. Buffalo is coming off its bye and is at home, Tampa Bay is reeling from a loss out west to Arizona, has to travel again and perhaps play without its starting quarterback. It’s going to become a trend each week, but if the Bills want to prove they are a legitimate playoff contender, they can’t falter in a game like this. They did that in Cincinnati, and it conjured up some of the “same old Bills” talk that has permeated these parts for so long. The Bucs are 0-2 on the road and have yielded 72 points, so the Bills’ offense may finally have a breakout day. MY PICK: Bills 24, Bucs 17.
By the Numbers
27 – Receiving touchdowns for Bucs WR Mike Evans in his first three seasons (2014-16), ninth-most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, tied with Dallas' Dez Bryant (2010-12).
26 – Touchdown receptions of 50 yards or more for Bucs WR DeSean Jackson, tied for fourth-most since the merger behind Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, and Terrell Owens.
27 – Points scored in the fourth quarter by the Bucs last week in Arizona, the most for one quarter in franchise history.
► QB Tyrod Taylor on his confidence in the Bills offense: “I have confidence in all of the guys that are playing receiver or offensive line. They’re doing their best to go out there and compete at a high level. Having guys come back, guys that were starters, having those guys come back definitely makes our group stronger. But whoever is out there, there’s no complaining, there’s no finger pointing, we’re going out there and trying to get a job done.”
►Bills DT Jerry Hughes on LB Preston Brown: “He’s our leader out there, he’s our signal-caller. He communicates to everybody, and certainly being underappreciated just because of the way the defense is flowing and we credit that to him. For him to get the calls in and be able to communicate to the front four and then turn around and talk to the back seven, and everything like that, that’s perfect, to get everybody in perfect unison. We understood that last year it wasn’t Bills football, it wasn’t anything up to our caliber. He made that personal, and we certainly can see it.”
► RB LeSean McCoy acknowledging his slow start: “I want to get going. It’s something that I’ve really put my mindset on, getting going and getting back to just playing my ball, finding the end zone, first downs, big runs, big chunks, making guys miss, you know, highlight plays. All that, even it’s good for me, but it’s good for our team.”
Quote to Note
Bills DT Kyle Williams speaking of Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “Well let me say, as a teammate, he’s one of my favorites because the guy, he’s charismatic, all of his teammates care about him and love him, he’s tough, he competes. There’s so many things to like about him, and as a teammate, that’s all you can ask for. A guy that you know that every time when you go out, he’s going to give you all he’s got, he’s going to play hurt, he’s going to play bloody to knocked up, and he’s still going to go out there and give you everything he’s got.”
NFL rankings Bills Buccaneers
Total offense: 271.6 yards (31st) ; 382.0 (4th)
Rush offense: 106.6 yards (17th); 82.4 (30th)
Pass offense: 165.0 yards (30th); 299.6 (2nd)
Points scored: 17.8 (27th); 23.6 (13th)
Total defense: 322.4 yards (13th); 403.4 (30th)
Rush defense: 87.6 yards (7th); 101.8 (12th)
Pass defense: 234.8 yards (21st); 301.6 (31st)
Points allowed: 14.8 (1st); 24.2 (22nd)