The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 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 2022’s 11th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 12 clash versus the Detroit Lions. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Lions Pass Defense
In Josh Allen’s first 4 drives against the Browns, he completed just 40% of his passes producing only 23 Net Yards. A clear lack of confidence and inability to make throws that Allen has routinely made look easy was a concern at the beginning of a game that Buffalo needed to win. In his final 6 drives, Allen would complete 82.4% of his passes for 170 Net Yards – including a cannon of a Touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs. The result was a big win over the Browns on a short and hectic week via a turnover-free effort. Doing this in the first of three games over a twelve-day stretch may be just what the doctor ordered to get Allen and the Bills’ offense back on track. Game number two happens Thanksgiving Morning, against the Lions, at 12:30PM.
The Lions team that the Bills are set to see on Thanksgiving is one of the league’s worst at stopping the pass. They rank 26th in Passer Rating against (96.5) and 23rd in Pass Defense DVOA (13.2%). A lack of top-end talent in the secondary has produced this environment and will be made worse this week by the loss of 3rd year CB1, Jeff Okudah, who is likely OUT due to concussion. The result is a secondary in a bit of disarray, where outside of starting Safeties DeShon Elliott and Kerby Joseph there are major question marks.
The most likely starting secondary we will see is Will Harris as CB1, Jerry Jacobs as CB2, and Mike Hughes as the Nickel. None of these players are viewed as ‘lock down’ defenders, and represent a group that Dan Campbell has been toying with all year as he tries to find some pairings that work. The Bills will try and facilitate mismatches through Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, and Nyheim Hines in a group they should be able to attack sideline to sideline.
The Lions’ only counter here is if they can get consistent pressure on Josh Allen. This isn’t exactly their strong suit though as they rank 27th in Sacks with only 17. Buffalo’s primary focus in preventing them from breaking out this week will be in slowing down rookie Aiden Hutchinson. Hutchinson has 5.5 Sacks thus far in his rookie campaign as Detroit’s best weapon against the pass. From a Detroit standpoint, they will hope for a similar performance to Hutchinson’s 3.0 sack week two performance while Buffalo will likely line Dawson Knox up on the same side of him to provide some chip help. Josh Allen’s movement may need to come into play here but coming into this game, the Lions have one of the lesser pass rushes the Bills have faced in 2022.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Lions Rush Defense
Bills RBs accounted for 164 rushing yards against the Browns, the first time since November 1, 2020 that Bills RBs have exceeded 150 rushing yards. In a game where Buffalo desperately needed their run game to be a potent complement to the passing game, it delivered. Devin Singletary continued to get the brunt of the workload with 18 carries but James Cook’s 11 matched his career high. The Bills may have finally found something on the ground altering pace between Singletary and Cook while using the short passing game to force defenders to mind passing lanes. If Buffalo can maintain this traditional success on the ground moving forward, what is already a powerful offense may get even stronger.
This week’s game against the Lions provides a perfect opportunity to keep the ground game rolling. Coming into Thanksgiving the Lions have the 3rd worst Y/A against at 5.2 and will look to their Linebackers to play better to improve that. MLB Alex Anzalone is the only stalwart option for the Lions while his flanker has been in flux all season. Malcolm Rodriguez was the primary option early on, but has seen his snap share drop with Derrick Barnes being the most recent beneficiary, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. Detroit held Giants Superstar RB Saquon Barkley to just 22 rushing yards last week due in large part to Barnes’ 6 solo tackles. Expect him to continue out snapping Rodriguez this week while the Lions still mix and match defensive personnel in an effort to find a grouping that doesn’t just work, but excels.
That flux at LB is likely in full swing this week as the Lions try to not just shut down the Bills’ newly confident RBs, but also their running Quarterback. Allen’s 7 rushing yards against the Browns was his lowest amount in his past 20 games so that should be eyed as an anomaly as opposed to a new reality. The Lions will rely heavily on their LBs as well as safeties DeShon Elliott and Kerby Joseph to stop Allen from picking up big yardage when he breaks the pocket but what happens prior to that is even more important. Key on rookie Aiden Hutchinson this week who will be tasked with not only pressuring Allen all game but keeping him from getting to the edge of the field on scrambles. The Lions can ill afford to lose this matchup in this game, and don’t project to.
EDGE: Lions 👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Lions Pass Offense
In the past two games, Kirk Cousins and Jacoby Brissett have combined for a Passer Rating of 91.9 against the Bills. In all other games this season against the Bills, opposing QBs have a Passer Rating of 73.4. Buffalo has essentially survived the injury bug this season as more often than not, they are playing with 3, or even 4, backups in the secondary. Health does project to improve for the Bills though as Jordan Poyer looks to be back (and playing through) his elbow injury while Kaiir Elam likely returns from injury this week. Add to that the somewhat imminent return of All-Pro CB Tre White and Buffalo should quietly see a massive improvement to their pass defense as the season progresses. This week, that slightly healthier secondary isn’t set for a walk in the park as the Lions have the ability to do damage through the air.
Detroit Quarterback Jared Goff began the season as hot as any NFL Quarterback but as of late has shifted into his perceived normality. Through the first 4 games of the season, Goff had an impressive 11:3 TD:TO ratio but in his last 6 has a TD:TO ratio of 4:6.
Predicting which version of Goff will show up on Thanksgiving is difficult, but assuming the latter seems more likely. That assumption isn’t based on just his play as of late, it also comes from his lack of weapons. Amon-Ra St. Brown is an upcoming force out of the slot, which will make for an important matchup with Bills Nickel CB Taron Johnson, but that’s where the talent ceases. TE T.J. Hockenson was shipped to the Vikings at the deadline leaving the Lions with just Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds as traditional pass catchers. Raymond is a small, yet fast, gadget-esque WR while Reynolds is a lanky WR that will test smaller CBs. This below-average trio shouldn’t be taken lightly but it is far and away the worst group of receivers the Bills have played this season.
Making life even more difficult for Goff and the Lions’ air attack is an Offensive Line that is dealing with some major injuries. The entire starting interior of their line in Jonah Jackson (LG), Frank Ragnow (C), and Evan Brown (RG) appeared as DNP on the injury report this week, presenting an opportunity for the Bills to throw interior pressure at Goff. Most of this will come from Ed Oliver (DT) who’s 0.5 sacks masks the domination he has been applying on the field lately. Oliver, along with players like Boogie Basham, Jordan Phillips, and Tim Settle will make it difficult for the Lions to double-team Von Miller – meaning he will either be 1-on-1 with a Tackle, or Detroit must depend on an RB/TE to chip. The Lions should struggle to move the ball through the air against Buffalo but if the Bills can apply high levels of pressure this game could get ugly quickly for Detroit.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Lions Rush Offense
I think we can all agree that the Titans’ Derrick Henry and the Browns’ Nick Chubb are two of the best RBs in the NFL. When not playing the Bills this season, the two combine to average 104.9 yards per game and a Y/A of 5.0. Against the Bills this season the two combined to average 22.0 yards per game and a Y/A of 1.6.
While Buffalo has struggled against the run at times this season, their ability to slow down elite RBs suggests they possess one of the better run defenses in the NFL. A lot of the credit for this is given to Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, for good reason, but more needs to be given to the Bills’ DL. DaQuan Jones and Ed Oliver have been forces against the run and their ability to not only contact runners in the backfield but to keep blockers off of their linebackers has been a huge boost for what in years past has been a poor run defense.
The Bills are going to look to apply a similar game plan to Detroit this week that they applied to the Browns last week. The Lions two-headed monster of Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift presents yet another challenge on the ground for Buffalo. Coming into the season, the assumption was that Swift would be the bell cow for the Lions, but both an ankle sprain and shoulder sprain have slowed down the do-it-all back for Detroit. The result was more opportunities for 6th-year RB, Jamaal Williams who has taken those opportunities in stride. The physical runner now leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns and is averaging 15.9 carries per game. The contrasting styles of Swift and Williams project to cause issues for a Bills team that likely will be without their starting MLB in Tremaine Edmunds for a second consecutive week. Two back systems have given Buffalo issues in the past, it very well may do so again this week.
In order to limit those issues, Buffalo will lean on their revamped Defensive Line. The depth there will be tested with Buffalo likely missing Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa meaning more Shaq Lawson and Boogie Basham on the edge. Each will have to apply an extra effort to contain the Lions’ RBs from bouncing to the edge while the interior defensive line continues its typical rotations.
The good news for Buffalo is that their healthy starting linebacker, Matt Milano, is playing the best football of his career and arguably the best football of any Bills defender. One of the better open-field tacklers in the NFL will be relied on heavily this week, with the Bills’ injuries in the front seven. But assuming he continues the level of play he has been at this season, the concern shouldn’t be deafening.
EDGE: Lions 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Lions Special Teams
Tyler Bass has been the most dependable Kicker in the NFL this season. He is 22/25 on Field Goals, 2 of which were blocked, and just extended his consecutive regular season XP streak to 102. After his 19-point game against the Browns, Bass has firmly entered the All-Pro conversation. Meanwhile, Bills Punter, Sam Martin, has yet to exceed 3 Punts in a game but has been equally as dependable as Bass. His 48.3 Gross Average and 43.7 Net Average would both be top half in the league if Martin qualified for leaderboards. Lastly, Nyheim Hines has taken over all returning duties for Buffalo and is a threat to flip the field any time he gets an opportunity for a return.
The Lions signed Kicker Michael Badgley on October 1 and since then he has been automatic. He has yet to miss for the Lions at 6/6 on FGs and 12/12 on XPs. Their Punter, Jack Fox, has also been impressive. He has a solid 48.6 Gross Average and 40.2 Net Average however, returners are averaging 12.6 yards per return against him. Fox versus Hines will be something to monitor on Thursday. Lastly, returning for the Lions is Kalif Raymond on Punts and Justin Jackson on Kicks. Raymond has a solid, albeit non-impressive, Y/PR of 7.9 while Jackson’s Y/KR of 26.8 would be tops in the league (If he qualified).
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Lions currently hold the NFC’s longest win streak at 3 games because they are playing good football as of late. During that winning stretch, their defense is giving up just 19 points per game, a stark contrast to the previous 7 games, where they were giving up 32 points per game. Depth changes by Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell have proven fruitful and against a Bills team in a bit of an offensive rut could be game-changing. This isn’t the same Lions team that left October at 1-6.
On offense, the Lions have two talented RBs that will give the banged-up Bills fits. Detroit will lean heavily on those runners to keep the sticks moving while testing Buffalo’s weakened secondary with St. Brown and Raymond. As long as the Lions get at least one of their IOL starters on the field this weekend both the rush offense and pass offense should find some success. As long as Goff can keep the turnovers to a minimum there’s no reason to think the Lions can’t be in this game late in their house on Thanksgiving.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Josh Allen’s confidence seemed to grow as the Browns game went on, something he will look to keep going against the Lions. If the Bills can score early in the game, that confidence will turn into a full-fledged fire as the Bills look to regain the form they had early this season as the most dominant offense in the NFL. The Lions being without Jeff Okudah makes this even more likely as there is no single player in the Lions’ secondary capable of containing Stefon Diggs. Add to that the possibility that the Bills may have found their run game and it’s a scary proposition for any defense to play this team.
On the defensive side of the ball Buffalo is quietly getting healthy and with some of the best depth in the NFL can compete in the interim. The Bills will try to goad Goff into a turnover or two when he does throw the ball, while simultaneously stacking the box to slow down Williams and Swift. Buffalo’s defensive line should also round back into form this week with the injuries the Lions are dealing with, as they look to contact Lions RBs in the backfield and put pressure on Goff. One prediction, Von Miller gets to Jared Goff on what will be a massive strip sack.
Prediction: Bills 34 – Lions 21
The Bills played a sloppy game on offense against the Browns last week and still put up 357 yards and 31 points. This week, Buffalo won’t kick 6 Field Goals, but instead will turn those opportunities into Touchdowns. The Lions shouldn’t be taken lightly as they clearly have some confidence heading into this game but the recent lack of confidence in the Bills has gone to far. Buffalo has a big game on offense and the defense does enough leading to Josh Allen achieving the NFL’s first-ever Turkey Day Turkey.