It’s been a rough few weeks for the Buffalo Bills. After starting off 5-2, they now find themselves losers of their last two games. It includes an embarrassing 47-10 rout at the hands of the New Orleans Saints last week.
In that game, Tyrod Taylor endured his worst performance as an NFL starting quarterback. He completed just nine passes for 56 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 33.6 passer rating. It precipitated change from head coach Sean McDermott, with him naming rookie Nathan Peterman the starter for this week’s contest against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers are in a bit of a quarterback quandary of their own with news that Philip Rivers entered the concussion protocol earlier in the week. But the 14-year veteran practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday and head coach Anthony Lynn indicated he might play Sunday. If not, Kellen Clemens will take the reins in a battle of teams looking to return to winning ways after dropping their last two.
Making the long trip out west is always a challenge for teams on the other side of the country. But it’s especially been a struggle for the Bills. Since 2005, they have just a single win in eight games on the west coast, though it did occur last year in L.A. against the Rams. And you have to go all the back to December 6, 1981 to find the last time Buffalo won on the road against the Chargers.
So what needs to happen in order for the Bills to escape StubHub Center with a win, thus returning the club to winning ways? Below are the biggest keys to victory for the Bills in week 11.
Take the Pressure off Nathan Peterman
McDermott’s decision to make a change at quarterback certainly caught most observers off guard. Though Taylor didn’t exactly distinguish himself over the past two weeks, the idea of replacing him with the rookie fifth-round pick out of Pittsburgh seemed premature. But here we are. Peterman now has the keys to the car and on Sunday will become the fifth rookie to start an NFL game in 2017.
His debut in the City of Angels will be no day at the beach. The Chargers boast a formidable pass rush, particularly on the perimeter with edge defenders Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Together, the two form perhaps the most dynamic outside pass rush tandem in the NFL. Through ten weeks, they boast the two highest pass rush grades among players at their position from Pro Football Focus.
Similar to Taylor, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison needs to cater the playbook to Peterman’s strengths. At the same time, there is a necessity to make it fairly vanilla from a play-calling perspective to keep things simple in his first start. Though he lacks Taylor’s mobility, Peterman does possess some semblance of escapability. It could serve him well if left tackle Cordy Glenn remains a no-go due to an ankle injury.
Incorporating screens, quick slants and other high percentage pass plays can certainly make things easier for Peterman. But he also needs his run game to show up. That didn’t happen the past two weeks, as the Bills 66 yards per game on the ground in that span can attest. On paper, LeSean McCoy and company are due for a rebound against a Chargers team that’s second worst in the NFL against the run. Either way, they’ll need to bring their A-game as a means to an end associated with Peterman succeeding on his debut.
Run Defense Redemption
There are a wide variety of negative adjectives at one’s disposal to describe the Bills’ ability to defend the run over the previous two games. It began on Thursday Night Football in week nine when they let a past his prime Matt Forte turn back the clock with a Pro Bowl-esque performance. Things got worse last Sunday when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara ran roughshod over the Bills for a combined 237 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
It was a sudden and precipitous drop-off for a Bills team averaging just 80 rush yards allowed per game through its first seven. That number is now at 117, good for 21st in the NFL. But what’s even more concerning is that Buffalo has given up a league worst 14 rushing touchdowns. To put it in perspective, the two teams ranked second worst in that category have conceded four fewer scores on the ground.
So what went wrong during these past two games that’s led to such a stunning regression from the run defense? A few factors are at play. Many are citing poor tackling as a culprit, but it’s not the only thing. Inefficient pursuit angles, a frustrating inability to exhibit sound gap integrity, and simply getting out-schemed are also part of the problem. It’s led to the coaching staff preaching a return to fundamentals in the lead-up to Sunday’s game.
Sunday’s contest is an ideal matchup for a team looking to redeem itself. The Chargers are one of seven NFL teams yet to eclipse 800 yards rushing this year. Still, they do possess a talented feature back in Melvin Gordon who’s not only top ten among NFL running backs in rushing yardage, but he’s also dangerous in space as part of L.A.’s short passing game. Him and rookie Austin Ekeler already have a combined seven receiving touchdowns.
However it happens, whether it’s getting back to basics or just executing when the occasion calls for it, the Bills must improve against the run to emerge victorious this weekend.
A Return to Prominence in the Takeaway Department
The most talked about component of the Bills’ 5-2 start wasn’t Taylor’s play or even consistently stopping the run. It centered around an extraordinary proficiency in forcing turnovers, particularly as it relates to Buffalo’s new look secondary. All four primary starters played elsewhere in 2016, including rookie Tre’Davious White who was still making a name for himself at LSU.
And so one can’t do much but marvel at the accomplishments of this unit thus far. White has an interception, a fumble return for a touchdown and his 13 pass breakups is tied with three other players (Kevin Byard, Jalen Ramsey and Darius Slay) for the league lead. Byard is the only NFL player who’s totaled more interceptions than Micah Hyde‘s five on the year. And Buffalo remains one of seven teams with at least 11 picks in 2017.
But another characteristic of this current skid is the fact that the turnover well has suddenly dried up. The only takeaway in that span happened in the first quarter of the Saints game when Kyle Williams recovered a fumble in the red zone. Nothing came of it as the Bills punted on the ensuing possession. What it shows is that if Buffalo can’t consistently drink from the oasis of takeaways, their ability to win gets lost in the desert.
If Rivers does play Sunday, the Bills should have their opportunities to pounce. Of the ten quarterbacks with a minimum of 300 attempts thus far in 2017, Rivers is fourth-worst with seven interceptions. It includes one apiece in the last two games and a trio of picks in a week three home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Forcing turnovers personifies this Bills defense. Doing so on Sunday will indelibly determine whether or not they can, as the StubHub Center’s MLS tenant LA Galaxy describes it, get the full three points in week 11.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Week 11 Buffalo Bills Keys to Victory