The Buffalo Bills return home Sunday to take on 7-1 Minnesota. Buffalo enters Week 10 off a tough 20-17 road loss to the Jets in East Rutherford. The loss wasn’t the biggest news to come from New Jersey, but rather the health of Josh Allen’s throwing elbow for this matchup with the Vikings. I’m writing these top five keys to victory with the assumption that Allen does not play after missing practice all week. Here are the top five things I believe Buffalo needs to do to earn another in Orchard Park.
I know you may be asking: “but Greg, you said Josh Allen isn’t playing,” and you’d be correct. However, it could be me playing quarterback, and you get your best players the ball. Stefon Diggs is near the top in every pass-catching statistic for a reason.
HE IS HIM!
This key to victory isn’t just about the Bills and Diggs though. Looking at the Vikings’ defense, throwing to WR1 is a place to exploit them. Minnesota is ranked 30th against the opposing #1 WR in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) according to Football Outsiders. The Vikings are also coming off of a game where they were -24.2% on defensive passing DVOA, against the Commanders of all teams. Case Keenum may not be Josh Allen, but he may not have to be to find some success in the passing game.
Cooking with Motor Oil
The Bills’ run game (outside of Josh Allen) has been pretty stinky so far this season, but the best way to help a quarterback is to run the ball, and that is exactly what Devin Singletary, James Cook, and Nyheim Hines need to do.
We know Buffalo has one of the worst-graded run-blocking teams in the league, but again this group needs to band together and find some holes for the backs to hit, and they need to not only help move the ball but control the clock. Luckily, the Vikings aren’t juggernauts in run defense. They give up 4.2 yards per attempt on the ground and are middle of the pack allowing one rushing touchdown per game.
Something else Buffalo can do to help a limited offense is to stay ahead of the chains. Meaning, avoid second and third-and-long and give yourself the entire playbook to keep picking up first downs. With Josh Allen, the Bills have been fantastic on third down picking up a league-best 52.7% of their third-down attempts. I don’t expect a Keenum-led offense to keep up that pace, but even if they fell off by 10% they would still rank 12th in the league.
They can also slow the game down a bit. Entering Week 10, the Bills have the fifth fastest pace of play at one play every 27.5 seconds. Lastly, they can avoid penalties to stay in favorable down and distances. Buffalo currently ranks eighth in the league in penalties per game at 5.4.
Praise the Pigskin
Minnesota is one of the best teams in the league in turnover differential. They’re tied with Dallas for third-best with a plus .8 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Buffalo is 13th in the league with a plus .1 percent mark. Keeping the Vikings out of a favorable starting position and making Kirk Cousins work as close to 100 yards as much as possible will help the Bills’ defense, and putting Keenum and the offense in short fields will be advantageous as well. Hell, maybe score a defensive or special teams tuddy while you’re at it.
You signed Von Miller and drafted Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham to get after the passer. The quarterback you had in mind was Patrick Mahomes, but there is no reason you can’t make sure Cousins keeps his shirt on for the flight home while you’re at it. As things sit, the Bills have three of the top 15 pass rushers, per Pro Football Focus’ pass rush grades. They would be the three guys I mentioned a few words ago. The Bills’ 2.88 sacks per game are also good enough for 11th in the league. Conversely, Minnesota is in the middle of the pack at Pass Block Win Rate, according to ESPN at 14th overall with a 59% win rate. The Bills’ NASCAR package wreaking havoc in this game will also benefit Case Keenum and the offense.
*I’ve said I’d use “ALL GAS, NO BRAKES” each week, but if Josh Allen doesn’t play, I’m okay with leaning back off the throttle a bit.