The Buffalo Bills (0-1) host the Los Angeles Chargers (0-1) Sunday at New Era Field. After a miserable start to the 2018 NFL season, losing 47-3 to the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott made the decision to promote rookie Josh Allen to starting quarterback. Allen replaced Nathan Peterman early in the third quarter of Buffalo’s blowout loss and while a glance at the box score doesn’t indicate much of a difference between how the two fared (Peterman- 5/18, 24 yards, 2 INT, Allen- 6-15/74 yards, 24 rushing yards) it didn’t take more than one or two drives to recognize that Allen is clearly the superior player.
But now, he’ll be making his first NFL start against a Chargers team that boasts a high-potent offense that can put points on the board quickly while their defense is extremely talented, led by star pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Just last year, Los Angeles ruined Peterman’s NFL debut, intercepting the rookie five times before he was benched at halftime. The Chargers went on to win 54-24.
LeSean McCoy already made it clear that the onus will be on his teammates – most notably, the offensive skill position players – to execute and make plays in order to build up Josh Allen’s confidence. But the Bills need more than a solid showing by Allen Sunday if they hope to bounce back from their ugly loss a week ago.
With that said, here are the top storylines you need to know for Sunday’s clash between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers.
Can Buffalo Bills OL limit Los Angeles Chargers pass rush?
Los Angeles has one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. Last season, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram combined to notch 126 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 23 sacks and 46 quarterback hits. Bosa missed the season opener with a foot injury and his status for Sunday remains unclear. If he is able to suit up, that will spell major problems for both Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills. Bosa is an elite player and having another All-Pro-level edge defender opposite him will really force Brian Daboll’s hand in terms of play-calling. The Bills’ offensive line is a shell of the unit that helped lead the NFL in rushing for two consecutive seasons before finishing fifth last year following the losses of Left tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood.
Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy and John Miller have been flat out terrible since the start of preseason and things don’t look to be swinging upwards anytime soon. After Allen and Peterman were each sacked three times and under duress on nearly every dropback against Baltimore, Buffalo’s priority for the week has to be devising a gameplan to neutralize the impact Ingram or Bosa can have on the contest.
Can Bills pass defense match up with the Philip Rivers-led Chargers?
Philip Rivers is a future Hall of Famer and the 36-year old shows no signs of slowing down. He opened the 2018 season by completing 34-of-51 passes for 424 yards, throwing three touchdown passes and one interception in the Chargers’ loss vs. Kansas City Chiefs. As always, Rivers spread the ball around, with eight Los Angeles players recording a catch and four that totaled over 80 receiving yards.
Quarterback Joe Flacco made Buffalo’s back-seven look lost as he methodically marched the offense downfield, picking and choosing matchups and dominating the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Flacco finished 25-of-34 for 236 yards and three touchdowns, but he did his most damage over the middle of the field, where he completed 16-of-20 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Rivers is a quarterback who spreads the ball around – four Chargers recorded 80-plus receiving yards in their loss to the Chiefs. Keenan Allen is lethal from the slot while running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler are fantastic dual-threat backs that can make plays in the run and pass game. The Bills must be up to the task.
Will Bills run game get going?
When trailing 33-0 minutes into the third quarter of a game, teams aren’t going to run the ball much but against the Ravens, Buffalo’s offensive line was manhandled. The team combined to rush 24 times for 84 yards – including gains of 14 and 12 yards. The losses of Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito and Eric Wood are proving costly as Vlad Ducasse and John Miller looked disastrous through the preseason and Jordan Mills has been, well, Jordan Mills.
Los Angeles limited the Chiefs to just 106 rushing yards on 27 carries in Week 1 with four attempts resulting in a tackle for loss. Melvin Gordon is a premier running back that can score from anywhere on the field while his backup Austin Eckler is slowly emerging into a household name. During the team’s meeting last season, Gordon and Ekeler combined for 210 rushing yards on 22 carries, finding the endzone twice.
Buffalo fared much better against Baltimore’s rushing attack last week. They allowed 117 yards on the ground but at 3.4 yards-per-carry. The improved run defense was the lone bright spot in a game with little to write home about and the Bills will hope that they can carry that momentum into today’s game.
Pass rush, anyone?
Last season, Buffalo was among the worst teams in the NFL at getting after opposing passers. Their 27 defensive sacks ranked 20th in the NFL, leading them to sign defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Trent Murphy with hopes of reversing that. However, against Baltimore, the Bills once again failed to generate any pressure on Joe Flacco, and the clean pocket he was given allowed him to pick and choose his matchups with ease.
Now, Jerry Hughes was his typical self, registering one sack and three total pressures but Buffalo will need to take advantage of the weak links on Los Angeles’ offensive line – left guard Dan Feeney and right tackle Sam Tevi, who each surrendered six pressures last week.