The Buffalo Bills have a tough test coming out of their mini-bye as they visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday Night Football. Cincinnati enters this contest riding high, winners of their last three games to move their record to 4-3. Buffalo has won two of three, but none of the victories were as convincing as fans would like, scoring 24 and 14 in the wins and 25 in a loss. As of writing this, the Bengals are a 2-point favorite, according to Las Vegas. However, ESPN’s analytics puts Buffalo on the winning side, with a spread of 5.9 points. None of that matters when it comes to playing the game on the field, though. What does matter is getting the dub, so here are my five keys to a Bills’ victory when they kickoff with the Bengals on Sunday Night Football.
Run The Rock
The Bengals are giving up 138.6 rushing yards per game. That ranks as the fifth worst in the NFL. Cincinnati is also giving up just under one rushing TD per game, the 18th-best in the league. They allow 7.6 rushing first downs per game, which slots 26th out of 32 teams. Lastly, to go a little number nerdy, the Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade for the Bengals’ run blocking is 59.9. For context, I’ve had plenty of fans tell me that is an area where the Bills struggle and their grade is 63.0, four spots better than the Bengals. Buffalo is also fourth, per ESPN, in run block win rate. Add that all together, and the Bills need to be willing to run the ball and not give up on it if it is a slow burn at the start.
The Bengals have been fantastic at NOT throwing interceptions this season. Joe Burrow has just four on the year. That number looks even better on a per-game basis. Cincinnati is sixth in the league at picks per game, with just .6 per contest. During their three-game winning streak, the number is .7 per game. The Bengals are turning the ball over in the air on just 1.51% of their attempts. Conversely, the Bills have eight interceptions on the season, or one per game. Buffalo is seventh in coverage grade at 81.2, per PFF. If the opportunity is there, a pick could be a huge momentum swing for the Bills.
I’m going to keep this one simple. The Bills are averaging just one point per first quarter in their last three games, tied for the fewest in the league. Who are they tied with? The offensive powers known as Las Vegas and Green Bay. The number only grows to 6.7 points averaged in the first half over those three games, the fourth fewest in the league. I’ll avoid speaking in absolutes, but the Bills will struggle to defeat a Burrow-led Bengals team if they replicate these stats.
Protect the Pocket
The Bengals pass rush has been sneaky good this season. Their three sacks per game rank 10th in the league. Looking at the numbers a little deeper, they have two guys in the top 25 of PFF’s PRP (A formula that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer). So, in short, the Cincinnati EDGEs can disrupt the pocket. Despite how bad many of us thought the Bills’ offensive line would be, they’ve been exceptional this season. ESPN ranks them fifth in pass block win rate at 64%. PFF grades the Bills as the sixth-best at pass blocking. Keeping Allen clean and ahead of the sticks will be important on Sunday.
The Bills need to get after Joe Burrow. He is a surgeon when given time to stand in the pocket. Using the same stats as above, Buffalo should be able to bother Burrow. Cincinnati’s pass block win rate is 49% or 29th in the league. The Bills’ pass block win rate is 58% or third best in the NFL. Looking back at PFF’s PRP, the Bills have four guys ranked inside the top 45.