The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills matchup 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 fifth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 5 clash with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Jaguars Pass Defense
“Aberration:” a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected. Week 1 was an aberration for Josh Allen. Since then, Allen has been the NFL’s best quarterback as he’s reeled in his aggressiveness and taken his shots when opponents adjust to his underneath throws. The results? A three-week stretch where he has accounted for 865 net yards, 10 touchdowns, one turnover, and an 87.52 QuBeR. Now the MVP front runner (+350), Allen looks poised to maintain his dominance as offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey continues to scheme up routes at every level and subsection of the field. It’s the synergy between those two and arguably the best-supporting cast that Allen has played with in his career that presents a difficult task for any opposing defensive coordinator to scheme against.
This week the DC that will attempt to slow down the Bills’ air attack is the Jaguars’ Mike Caldwell. Leveraging one of the more varied coverage packages, Caldwell will mix and match zone and man to confuse opposing quarterbacks. This relies heavily on the Jaguars’ outside corners excelling based on their alignments, which Tyson Campbell (CB) and Darious Williams (CB) have done to the tune of an 88.6 passer rating against this season. These two players do provide the Bills with opportunities for mismatches though, so expect the Bills to leverage pre-snap motion to get their preferred matchups. That would be Gabe Davis lined up against the 5’9” Williams and Stefon Diggs on the less-than-agile Campbell, as suggested by his sub 3.0 RAS shuttle (4.45) and three-cone (7.15). The Bills personnel should also force the Jaguars into Nickel often, which means Tre Herndon (CB) lined up over the likes of Deonte Harty (WR) or Dalton Kincaid (TE) with safety help over the top. Those safeties are Rayshawn Jenkins (S) and Andre Cisco (S) each of whom are more than capable ball hawks that have combined for eight interceptions since the start of the 2022 season.
The Jaguars’ secondary is solid but at a clear disadvantage against the Bills skill players, placing an extra emphasis on their ability to win up front. Against the pass, they won’t do that from the interior, but they have the horses to dominate on the outside. Tyson Campbell (LB) and the Jaguars Josh Allen (LB) make for one of the better edge rush duos in the NFL. Campbell is building off his rookie season on pace for 8.5 sacks this year while Allen currently leads the NFL with six sacks. Campbell will line up over right tackle Spencer Brown which could force the Bills to again chip and route Dawson Knox while on the other side the battle between Allen and Dion Dawkins (LT) could be the most important one this week for both teams. Jacksonville will likely get to the quarterback multiple times this week but as long as Buffalo’s improved offensive line can keep their version of Josh Allen relatively clean, the Bills overall should win this particular matchup handedly for the fourth consecutive week.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Jaguars Rush Defense
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Bills rank eighth in Rushing Yards per game at 138.0, 80.2% of which has been generated by Running Backs. That RB rushing share is a far cry from 60.8% in 2021 and 63.5% in 2022 as the Bills seem to have finally found their footing in the traditional ground game. James Cook has taken a major step in his second season in the league ranking third in scrimmage yards (411) amongst NFL RBs. Latavius Murray, the oldest running back in the league, still has plenty of juice and can thump when needed and accelerate through open lanes when they present themselves. And Damien Harris, though he has just 19 carries, has converted 36.8% of them for first downs making him an important piece at reducing the hits the Bills franchise Quarterback takes each week. The Bills have been able to beat you on the ground in seasons past but are doing so in a much different way thus far in 2023.
This week though looks like it will be tough sledding against a team that currently ranks seventh in Rush Defense DVOA (-21.2%). The primary reason for the Jaguars’ success against the run is none other than back-to-back tackle champ, Foyesade Oluokun. Over the past two seasons, Oluokun had 403 tackles and thus far in 2023 ranks fifth with 46. A freak athlete, Oluokun plays full speed to the ball carrier on every play while also possessing the ability to cover Tight Ends and/or Running Backs in the passing game. He is generally paired with another great run defender in Devin Lloyd; however, due to injury, Lloyd didn’t make the trip to London. This has paved the way for second-year player Chad Muma to see an expanded role in the Jaguars defense. Just like Oluokun, Muma is a sensational athlete but his inability to quickly process plays and struggles with block shedding have resulted in issues in the early stages of his career. The Bills will try to exploit Muma by getting blockers to the second level this week, something the Jaguars will call on their defensive line to prevent.
On the interior of that Defensive Line, the Jaguars employ a five-man rotation that is highlighted by two players. The first of those is Roy Robertson-Harris, the DE/DT hybrid. Harris has built a nice seven-year career off his ability to play on the interior or over tackles possessing the length and speed to get to ball carriers behind the LOS and the strength to stack blockers. He’s often joined by a prototypical nose tackle, the 318lb Folorunso Fatukasi. While capable of doing damage in the backfield, Fatukasi’s primary responsibility is to keep the Jaguars’ linebackers clean by soaking up the Center and at least one Guard on any given play. This will be paramount against a Bills team that possesses an athletic Left Guard in Connor McGovern and Center in Mitch Morse, each of whom have the ability to block at the second level. They will also need to contend with an up-and-coming Right Guard in O’Cyrus Torrence who seems to be steadily improving and more consistently opening gaping holes for Bills ball carriers to run through. On paper, the Jaguars have a slight advantage in the box against the Bills but an advantage that the Bills could easily flip with a combination of outside runs and the occasional quarterback keeper.
Bills Pass Defense vs. Jaguars Pass Offense
Against his first three opponents, Tua Tagovailoa produced an elite QuBeR of 74.96. Against Buffalo, Tagovailoa generated a below-average QuBeR of 41.04. That’s Sean McDermott’s defense for you, a defense that is causing sleepless nights for opposing Offensive Coordinators. While the complexity of the Bills’ coverage schemes remains as difficult as seasons past to dissect, it’s the aggressive nature of a now-attack-first defense that has made Buffalo even more dangerous. That may mean one of the Bills’ two speedy linebackers coming on a blitz, their interchangeable safeties flipping positions, or a defensive end rotating into an interior pass rush. Confusion is the name of the game for the Bills and chaos is what they thrive on. This week that chaos is set to rear its ugly head in London against an offense that has yet to click in 2023.
This week the Jaguars offense will need to get going if they want to compete with the Bills and that means Trevor Lawrence having a big game. So far, he hasn’t exceeded 300 net yards and is averaging just one touchdown per game while Jacksonville ranks No. 20 in points scored at 80 (total). That’s not the start expected by a team that has five legitimate receiving threats, making for one of the more well-rounded groups in the NFL. On the outside is the newly unsuspended WR1, Calvin Ridley, who got off to a blazing hot start in Week 1 with 101 receiving yards but since is averaging just 36.7 per game. He is joined by ex-Bills wideout Zay Jones who has had a career resurgence in Jacksonville. Both Jones and Ridley will be contending with a Bills corner situation in flux due to injuries resulting in an unknown combination of Christian Benford (CB), Dane Jackson (CB), and Kaiir Elam (CB) manning the two outside roles. On the inside will be Christian Kirk who is taking 70.1% of his snaps out of the slot. He will be often matched up against the underrated Taron Johnson (CB) who is arguably the best Nickel CB in the NFL. The Jaguars also have one of the best pass-catching Tight Ends in the league in Evan Engram as well as Travis Etienne (RB) who is a threat out of the backfield. Each will put extra stress on Bills Safeties Micah Hyde and Taylor Rapp/Jordan Poyer as well as the Bills’ athletic Linebackers.
There is a possibility that all the above equals out to a wash but even if that is the case the Bills gain a massive advantage in the trenches. Through four weeks Lawrence is being pressured on 23.5% and this week Jacksonville will be shuffling their OL. Cam Robinson is set to return from suspension and take over his role at Left Tackle with Walker Little likely kicking inside to Left Guard, a position he has not taken a snap at collegiately or professionally since 2017. That is one of the two spots a strong Bills pass rush will try to exploit with Buffalo relying on DaQuan Jones (DT) and or Ed Oliver (DT) to beat up on Little. The other spot of concern for the Jaguars will be at Right Tackle where rookie Anton Harrison will have his hands full with one of the Bills’ many edge rushers and/or disguised linebacker stunts. It remains to be seen who those edge rushers will be for Buffalo this week, but whether it’s Greg Rousseau (who’s dealing with an injury), Leonard Floyd, A.J. Epenesa, or even the possible return of Von Miller the Jaguars could have a rough go of protecting the at times fumble prone Lawrence.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
In 40 career games, Trevor Lawrence has fumbled the ball 24 times, losing 15 of them.
— Hänsel (@UberHansen) October 5, 2023
Bills Rush Defense vs. Jaguars Rush Offense
The Bills are currently giving up a league-worst 6.3 Y/A yet have the 11th-best rush defense by DVOA (-16.2%). Why? Because despite giving up the occasional big run the Bills are generating negative plays at the highest rate in the league. Teams have run the ball just 75 times against Buffalo while the Bills have generated 24 Tackles for a Loss. That’s a higher rate than that of the Cleveland Browns who are off to a historically good defensive start this season. Right now, Buffalo is dominating in the trenches, where 19 of its TFLs have come from, and have speedy linebackers running downhill to meet opponents at or behind the Line of Scrimmage. This is a matchup opponents must win to compete with the Bills which is something the Jaguars will attempt to do in a multitude of ways.
That starts with the speedy scatback Travis Etienne. Etienne has the agility to make defenders miss in confined spaces but also has the instincts and power to shift to a bruising downhill runner at a moment’s notice. Since missing his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, Etienne has been worth the first-round pick the Jaguars spent on him averaging 86.9 scrimmage yards per game. His homerun speed specifically will make him a challenge for the Bills linebacker and safeties who will need to tackle him in space to avoid consistent big gains on the ground. He is occasionally, though rarely, spelled by Tank Bigsby in short-yardage situations, a runner who has the strength and center of gravity to pick up a couple of yards when called upon. That leaves the Jaguars other only real rushing threat being Lawrence. By no means the most athletic Quarterback, Lawrence is willing and able to pick up yards on the ground when the opportunity presents itself. On the season he has run the ball 23 times, 12 of which have been designed and 11 of which have been scrambles making him a player that Terrel Bernard (LB) and Matt Milano (LB) will need to account for both against the run and pass.
When the Jaguars do run, they like to run tight to their tackles either inside or outside. This will stress the Bills pass rush and test their ability to maintain the edge while getting to Lawrence. Arguably the Bills best run-stopping Defensive End, Greg Rousseau, remains questionable for this game significantly reducing the Bills’ efficiency in this area. The likely replacement for Rousseau will be Shaq Lawson who at this point in his career is a far superior run defender to pass rusher. Simultaneously the Bills will need to rely on their two linebackers to make plays at or near the line of scrimmage which they have been doing all season to this point. Both Milano and Bernard are regarded as film junkies, something Doug Pederson may attempt to use against them by tossing the occasional wrinkle into his offensive gameplan on Sunday morning.
ADVANTAGE: Jaguars 👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Jaguars Special Teams
Right now, the best Kicker in the NFL is on the Bills. Tyler Bass currently leads the NFL in nearly all major Kicking categories including Kicks Attempted (25), Kicks Made (25), and Kick Percentage (100%). If the season ended today, he would be the clear First Team All-Pro but he still has a way to go to earn that honor. As for Punter, it often seems as though the Bills don’t roster that position Sam Martin does in fact exist. Outside of his punt returned for a Touchdown in Week 1 when called upon, 1.75 times per game, he has been solid for the Bills. Lastly are the Bills return men where Deonte Harty handles punts and on Kicks the Bills go two deep with Khalil Shakir and Damien Harris. Harty seems poised to break a big return any week now with his current long being 23 while the combo of Shakir and Harris have three Kick Returns for an average of 28.0 yards.
The Jaguars also have one of the league’s best Kickers in Brandon McManus. On the season he has drilled all eight of his Extra Points while missing only two of his 10 Field Goal tries from 48 and one that was blocked from 51. He has leg to burn allowing the Jaguars to line him up from as far as the 44-yard line. At Punter is Logan Cooke who is in his sixth season with the Jaguars. His career Touchback rate of 6.2% versus his Inside-20 rate of 40.7% is one of the biggest margins you will see, making him a player who can consistently pin opponents deep. Last is dangerous return man and 2017 All-Pro, Jamal Agnew. If he plays, Agnew is a player the Bills will need to avoid as he still possesses the speed and vision to take either a kick or punt to the house at any point in the game.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Jaguars have their back against the wall a bit here and desperately need a win to get over .500. At some point Lawrence must break through and have a big game, so why not this week? Jacksonville has enough receiving options to make life difficult for even the best defenses and assuming Lawrence is given time there is no reason he can’t pick apart the Bills banged-up secondary. Add to that Etienne’s speed out of the backfield and a couple of big runs could change the trajectory of this game quickly.
On the other side of the ball, there are real concerns for Buffalo that the travel disadvantage could result in a rusty start, something that is optimal for Jacksonville. Playing from ahead is the only way to beat the Bills in their current state and the lethargy coupled with a Jags team eyeing turnovers is a recipe for disaster for the Bills. The last time these two teams faced, Jacksonville’s Josh Allen owned Buffalo’s Josh Allen and he will need to do more of the same this week. But this Jaguars team is better now than it was in 2021, so don’t be surprised if this Jacksonville pulls the upset here.
Why Buffalo Will Win
There are few teams in the NFL that can match up with the Bills in their current state. Allen is surgical right now and still using his massive arm and legs to make plays when needed. Star talent is paramount at every level to slow down Buffalo and that’s just something the Jaguars don’t have. There is no single player on Jacksonville’s side that can match up with Stefon Diggs and with the Bills’ plethora of weapons doubling him is something that can be very risky. The Bills should be able to throw the ball all over this team and when they take the lead, pound the rock up the middle with their trio of RBs.
On the defensive side of the ball despite the injuries the Bills are dealing with they still possess one of the most complete defenses in the NFL. Bernard and Milano alone are so good against the run and pass that it likely requires a near-flawless performance to drop 28 points on them, a number you likely need to beat the Bills. But where Buffalo will dominate this game is in the trenches just like they have to every opponent they have faced thus far. Whether your poison is Oliver, Jones, Floyd, etc. you can’t block every pass rusher they send Lawrence’s way. Oh yeah, and that Von Miller guy, he may be back this week, and he’s not bad either.
Prediction: Bills 35 – Jaguars 21
The travel concerns are very real and could play a role in this game. That being said, we just watched this Bills team dismantle the best team from Florida, so why should this week be any different? Allen keeps playing like the MVP version of himself while the defense makes Lawrence uncomfortable all day in another double-digit win for the Bills. Will it be their fourth consecutive win by 28+ points, probably not, but a 14-point win seems about right for a Bills team set to go on a fairly long winning streak.