The Bills signed practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis to start his second career NFL game against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Only sometimes-shaky play from quarterback Andy Dalton has kept the Bengals from being better than 3-2. That the Bills can pull even with Cincinnati at 3-3 with a win is a testament to how much parity exists in the NFL. But it's not entirely indicative of just how many steps ahead Cincy is of Buffalo.
Bills on offense
The Bills' game plan honestly won't differ much than when EJ Manuel led the offense. The Bills are third in the NFL with 152.6 rushing yards per game. Look for Fred Jackson (309 yards) and C.J. Spiller (296 yards) to again get 55 or more carries between them as offensive coordinator Nate Hackett keeps his quarterback from having to win the game. Getting going may be tough, though, against the 10th-best rushing defense in the league (95.6 yards against per game).
The difference between Manuel and Lewis is Manuel has shown signs he can pull a game out in the end – which he did with his last-minute win over Carolina, a game in which he nearly eclipsed the 300-yard plateau. Should Lewis fall behind, there's no reason to believe he can win a game for Buffalo – especially since top wideout Stevie Johnson remains a game time decision with a back injury.
They face a defense that is coming off a 13-6 win over New England, during which the Bengals kept Tom Brady to less than 200 yards and ended his 52-game touchdown streak. The Bengals have held Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers to a combined 63.2 passer rating in wins over their respective teams – granted, all those wins were in Ohio.
"I think they do a very good job up front, putting pressure on the quarterback," coach Doug Marrone said of the Bengals. "They make you make quick decisions. Obviously they will bring guys up, mug them up on third down, also sometimes in between the downs."
Cornerback Leon Hall is set to return for Cincinnati, but defensive end Michael Johnson is not. The Bills hope to have rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin back in the lineup.
Bills on defense
Buffalo's defense is certainly better than last year. The Bills are third in the NFL with 18 sacks (7.5 from Mario Williams) and have a fifth-best plus-3 turnover ratio, including a league-leading nine interceptions (a league-leading four from NFL Rookie of the Month Kiko Alonso).
But Buffalo still surrenders too many yards (377 per game), points (26) and can't get off the field on third down. The good news is most of the starting secondary should be back. Safety Jairus Byrd is expected to make his season debut after plantar fasciitis sidelines him the first five games. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore could also make his season debut after breaking his hand – a big gain for a secondary that was down to fourth-string cornerbacks after Leodis McKelvin's injury a few weeks ago. Nickel back Ron Brooks may also be ready.
They will try to contain Dalton, who's thrown for 1,215 yards but has only five touchdowns on the year and has led only one touchdown in the last two weeks. He hasn't gotten much help from his ground game, which racks up only 99 yards per game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard (209 yards each) split the carries, with Bernard acting as a main target through the air out of the backfield. A.J Green leads Cincy with 31 catches for 361 yards.
This game probably won't be too pretty unless you're a fan of one of the teams. The Bengals try to get out of their own way for the most part on offense, while the Bills' offense without Manuel last week was atrocious. Lewis has had a full week to prepare, so that should improve somewhat, but it still won't look good.
The Bengals can pretty much keep 11 men in the box, because Buffalo will run and run often. When the ground game gets rolling, that's a good thing, but Buffalo gets itself into a lot of third-and-long situations as a result. Given the growing pains at quarterback – regardless of who's in there – that means a lot of punts.
The Bengals won't light anyone up. But they're great at shutting people down. So expect them to give Buffalo fits throughout the afternoon. And Dalton should be able to do enough against a defense that's still porous at times to pull out the win. Cincinnati 20, Buffalo 10.
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