The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in every game of the 2023 NFL season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2023’s tenth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 10 clash with the Denver Broncos. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Broncos Pass Defense
Statistically, Josh Allen has been the best quarterback in the NFL through nine weeks. His 64.15 QuBeR leads the league while he has three more touchdowns than any other player. That being said, something is clearly wrong with the Bills offense, an offense which is averaging just 20.2 points per game over their last five outings. Consistently the Bills are moving the ball down long fields but inconsistently, by their standards, are turning those drives into points. The good news for Buffalo is that Allen remains elite, Stefon Diggs a premier pass catcher in the NFL, Dalton Kincaid an up-and-coming star, and Khalil Shakir is a budding option in the passing game. At some point, this all needs to click for Buffalo, with Monday night against the Broncos presenting the perfect opportunity for just that to occur.
But the Broncos don’t look like they will be the pushover moving forward that their early season struggles suggested. Through their first five games Denver saw opponents average 36.2 points against them, but in their last three games just 15.0. Why? For one, their per-game pressure count has increased by 14% due largely to the play of their edge rushers, Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper. Bonitto and Cooper have combined for an acceptable 26 pressures and 10.0 sacks on the season as an unspectacular yet intriguing duo off the edge. On the interior, Denver’s pass rush becomes even more dynamic through the play of Zach Allen who is having an impressive season with 11 pressures and 3.0 sacks in his own right. There are some other intriguing prospects, such as Baron Browning (DE), that must be accounted for but all and all this is still one of the weaker pass-rushing units the Bills have faced this season. On the outside, there should be faith that Dion Dawkins (LT) and Spencer Brown (RT) can corral Bonitto and Cooper while the interior trio of Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and O’Cyrus Torrence should have the ability to dominate in pass pro. Do that, and Allen should have ample time to distribute the ball to his plethora of pass catchers.
And this week those pass catchers will be contending with an inconsistent secondary for Denver. At one end of the spectrum are two superstars that can single-handedly determine the outcome of games, Patrick Surtain (CB) and Justin Simmons (S). Now in his third season, Surtain has garnered a reputation as a lockdown cornerback who excels in both man and zone concepts with the ability to contain WR1s, ala Diggs. Behind him is Simmons, the three-time All-Pro Safety who is still playing at a high level even though he will be less than a week shy of 30 come kickoff Monday night. These two players are ones that Buffalo must game plan for and protect against, but outside of them, it’s overall a rough unit. Career special teamer P.J. Locke is currently manning the other safety spot until Kareem Jackson returns from suspension, journeyman Fabian Moreau recently took over as Denver’s other outside corner, and second-year UDFA Ja’Quan McMillian handles Nickel duties. Of those three Locke and Moreau are the ones Buffalo should look to expose while McMillian has played some really good football this season, but his inexperience could leave him vulnerable to some of Buffalo’s complex concepts.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Broncos Rush Defense
The Buffalo Bills have a rushing problem. Their RB1, James Cook, hasn’t surpassed 75 rushing yards since Week 3 (98) and most recently had just 20 yards on six attempts against the Bengals. Right now, the Bills have very little on the ground, forcing them to shift to something they have been trying to avoid all season, relying on their quarterback to pick up the slack on the ground. To those ends, Allen has recently been spectacular on the ground the past two weeks picking up nine first downs and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Moving forward they will need much of the same from Allen but to see his play supplemented by Cook, Latavius Murray, or even Leonard Fournette on the ground. The Bills’ offense did everything in its power to avoid being one-dimensional this season, they are quickly becoming that.
The good news for Buffalo is that the Broncos run defense is downright bad. They currently have a league-worst 5.4 rushing yards per attempt against which is in line with their No. 31 ranked Rush Defense DVOA (+6.4%). The issues begin up front where their lack of talent forces them to target one dimension of opposing offenses, often leaving them on an island against the run. Both Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper are pass rush specialists off the edge while their lack of quality beef in the middle of the defensive line sets them up for failure on any number of run plays. Much to the chagrin of Bills fans this vulnerability up front by the Broncos could lead to plenty of Sprint Draw or other runs out of shotgun by the Bills. Add to that the occasional designed QB run, or Josh Allen scramble, and Buffalo should see significant success in getting to the second level against the Broncos.
That second level is filled with solid to great players with the primary playmakers at that level of the field being Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton. Jewell was a name mentioned a lot at the trade deadline as a player who is adequate against both the run and the pass, something the Broncos covet him for. Coupling him with Singleton makes him even better with Singleton being one of the league’s premier tacklers. Last season Singleton finished fifth in the NFL with tackles at 163 and this season ranks No. 19 at 73 as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Add to those two Justin Simmons being a willing tackler coming down from deep and the Broncos should be much better against the run than they are. They will need to be much better this week if they hope to contain the run and that primarily means keeping a keen eye on Josh Allen regardless of if the play is a designed run or pass.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Broncos Pass Offense
The injury bug continues to smash the Bills with the latest victims being Christian Benford (CB) and Micah Hyde (S). Neither practiced on Thursday calling into question whether either will play on Monday night against the Broncos. The good news for Buffalo is it has some depth at each of those positions with Rasul Douglas set to make his starting debut and Taylor Rapp prepared to fill the hole left by Hyde. Douglas is the Bills CB1 moving forward, so him over Benford is a mini upgrade while Rapp is an adequate fill-in for Hyde at safety. These changes may prove fruitful this week for an anemic defense that has just one forced turnover in the past four weeks, a fumble forced by Jordan Poyer on Kendrick Bourne. The Bills need their defense to make a game-changing play at some point with this week being as good a time as ever.
This week they take on a quarterback that has been playing better football than last year in Russell Wilson. He has an above-average QuBeR at 52.58 and seems to be seeing his receivers better by the week for the Broncos. He only feeds two players though, that being big target Courtland Sutton and versatile option Jerry Jeudy. Sutton comes in at 6’4” with the frame to box out opposing defensive backs increasing the catch radius for Wilson to throw to. Jeudy on the other hand is a chess piece for Denver seeing 63.5% of his snaps in the slot and the rest out wide. That means that Jeudy will often be matched up with Bills Nickel Backer Taron Johnson in what should arguably be the most competitive matchup of the season. Outside of them, Wilson looks to his running backs, who have accounted for 33.77% of his completions this season, with the occasional bomb thrown to Marvin Mims who has a whopping 22.4 yards per reception this season on 11 catches. This all makes up for a more than adequate passing attack for the Broncos which in season’s past would foreshadow disastrous results against the Bills secondary, but 2023 is different.
Where the Bills can flip this matchup is in the trenches against an offensive line their defensive line is superior to. Despite starting the same five offensive linemen all season, they’ve struggled to protect Wilson consistently. The biggest issues have come off the edge where the name value of Garrett Bolles (LT) and Mike McGlinchey have outweighed their production this season. Bolles has been adequate giving up just two sacks this season but the 14 pressures he has given up are cause for concern. On the other side, the Broncos gave McGlinchey the seventh-highest average salary for a Right Tackle and have seen him give up five sacks and a whopping 31 pressures this season. The Bills have the horses to beat the Broncos off the edge this week and should see significant production from the likes of Leonard Floyd, Greg Rousseau, and/or A.J. Epenesa. If that happens what could theoretically be a close game could quickly flip into a blowout.
ADVANTAGE: Broncos 👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Broncos Rush Offense
A surprising strength for the Bills against the Bengals was their rush defense. The Bengals ran the ball 22 times last week but averaged just 2.45 yards per attempt. The Bills were winning enough in the trenches to cause this while seeing their linebackers make plays at or near the line of scrimmage. Then Terrel Bernard got hurt, and now there is very real concern. Going from Matt Milano and Terrel Bernard to Dorian Williams and Tyrel Dodson is an untenable task for any team, let alone one that has also lost multiple other starters on the defensive side of the ball like the Bills. Keep an eye on Bernard’s status this week as a player that is integral for the Bills’ future this season and may be the most important part of the puzzle for the Bills this week against the Broncos.
How can this Denver team beat the Bills? They can beat them on the ground. They have a three-headed monster at running back that has combined for a solid 4.7 yards per attempt. That trio is led by the now-healthy Javonte Williams who looks like his old self post his ACL tear in 2022. He’s mainly a power back but one that can also make quick enough cuts that should make him a challenge for any opposing defenses. After him, the Broncos look to the undrafted Jaleel McLaughlin as their change of pace back who can hit the hole and run out for big gains. The Bills don’t possess major speed on defense making McLaughlin a worrisome weapon heading into a critical Monday night game. Lastly is the ex-Bengals running back Samaje Perine. He’s primarily a receiving back with 22 receptions on the season but he has also accounted for 27 rushes as well and can bang on the inside against light boxes when called upon to do so.
Add to all the Broncos’ traditional options in the ground game Wilson’s ability on the ground and the Bills could struggle here. Wilson is running more than he has in years and is extending drives in the process behind an interior offensive line that can buy him time to find scramble lanes. Ben Powers (LG), Lloyd Cushenberry (C), and Quinn Meinerz (RG) make up a more than solid group in the interior of the line and should open lanes for whatever runner tries to run through them against the Bills. This will put an extra emphasis on Ed Oliver finding his early season form while the rotation of Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, and even Linval Joseph do an adequate job next to them. The Bills may not need to win this particular matchup, but they need to keep it close enough that the Broncos can’t burn the clock and control the ball for the majority of the night on Monday.
ADVANTAGE: Broncos 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Broncos Special Teams
Tyler Bass is now 38 out of 41 kicks on the season for a kick rate of 92.7%. He still has an outside shot at earning an All-Pro nod, but the Bills kicker will need to start consistently drilling 50+ yard attempts when the Bills call on him moving forward. After him, Sam Martin has had a really solid season, but something seemed to go awry against Cincinnati. His three punts had a net average of just 38.7 as the result of his punts set the Bengals up in good position, an abnormality for Martin. Lastly, the Bills return game remains rough at best. Deonte Harty still hasn’t done much on punt return while the Bills kick return needs to begin fair catching moving forward to avoid beginning drives behind the 25.
For the Broncos Will Lutz handles kicks as one of the league’s more consistent options. He’s 28 of 31 for a kick rate of 90.3% as a borderline automatic option anywhere inside of 52 yards for the Broncos. In the kicking room with him is Denver’s Punter, Riley Dixon. Dixon has struggled a bit this season with just 43.8 yards per punt and an even worse 38.7 net yards per punt. At some point this week it’s likely he will give Harty an option to make a big return, whether or not he will remain to be seen. Lastly for the Broncos is their return game which poses major concerns for any opponent. Marvin Mims enters the week averaging 20.3 yards per punt return and 34.0 yards per kick return, each far and away tops in the league. For a team like the Bills that likes to kick short on kickoff, this week, with Mims back there, is not the week to do that.
ADVANTAGE: Broncos 👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
This version of the Buffalo Bills can lose to anyone, including this Broncos team. On offense, it comes down to running the ball down the Bills throats while relying on veteran quarterback Russell Wilson to pick apart a banged-up Bills defense. Control the offensive line and there is no reason that the Broncos can’t put up 20+ points while simultaneously killing clock and controlling the ball in a game that could be frustrating to watch.
On the other side of the ball, the Broncos have the playmakers in the secondary to force Allen into his sixth consecutive game with an interception. In seasons past that one turnover wouldn’t be enough to beat the Bills but the same can’t be said this season. Force that one turnover and then ensure the Bills become a one-dimensional defense and what the Broncos did to the Chiefs on defense twice this season could easily be recreated against Buffalo, especially coming off of a bye.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Josh Allen is going to come out of the phone booth at some point with his Superman cape on. If and when he does that this Bills team that can lose to anyone can simultaneously beat anyone. Against this Broncos defense, Allen and the Bills offense have the opportunity to shred their opponent apart and put on a show for their home crowd. Expect Allen to continue to feed Kincaid while finding Diggs at will and in the process gaining multiple opportunities to scramble. You want one of those freakish games from Allen? This is the week for it.
On defense, the entry of Rasul Douglas could be a major catalyst for the Bills. They need some turnovers and Douglas is an expert at doing just that. Look for the Bills to be uber-aggressive in the secondary and in turn flip the script on what has been a rough-to-watch unit since the loss of Tre White, Matt Milano, and DaQuan Jones. Further, expect the Bills to dominate in the trenches where they are just significantly better than the Broncos which should mitigate issues with injuries behind that unit. The Bills need a get-right game on defense, this projects to be a get-right game.
Prediction: Bills 35 – Broncos 24
The Bills offense knows that something is not right and the pressure surrounding them means they must fix it now. Against the Broncos there are more reasons to believe they will fix it than won’t. Expect Allen to walk out of Week 10 with four-plus touchdowns in a game that reminds people just how elite he is. If he can do just that 28 points may be too much for the Broncos offense to overcome. Bills cover the spread for the first time in a while and improve to 6-4 in a game that is as close to must win without being must win as a game can be.