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 2nd iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ upcoming game against the Titans. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Titans Pass Defense
What’s the best way to follow up on a legendary 2021 playoff? With whatever Josh Allen did in Week #1. 348 Net Yards and 4 Touchdowns on just 43 touches resulted in a rout of the defending NFL champion Los Angeles Rams. The only blemish on Allen’s day was a pair of Interceptions – one his fault (thrown behind Jamison Crowder) and one not (dropped by Isaiah McKenzie). The Bills’ new-look offense didn’t miss a beat as new OC Ken Dorsey added his own pizzazz to an already electrifying offense. In Week 1, that meant dropping Allen’s release time to 2.47s (2.9s in 2021) which could be a foreshadowing of what’s to come. In Week 2, expect yet another wrinkle from Dorsey as Buffalo’s passing attack looks to counter yet another talented defense.
That defense comes in the form of the Tennessee Titans, one of the more well-rounded units the Bills will see in 2022. It starts up front with a DL capable of producing heavy pressure without assistance. In 2021, they were one of four teams (LVR, SF, PHI) to impose a 24.0% pressure rate on opposing Quarterbacks while blitzing under 20.0% of the time. This is in large part due to the bonafide game wrecker, 2021 All-Pro DT Jeffery Simmons. Similar to Rams DT Aaron Donald, the Bills will need to scheme specifically to slow down Simmons. This means yet another test for the Bills’ new IOL of Rodger Saffold (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and Rick Bates (RG). On the edge, Dion Dawkins (LT) and Spencer Brown (RT) will also have their hands full with the likes of Bud Dupree and Denico Autry. Even after losing Pro-Bowl ER, Harold Landry, the Titans have a more than competent pass rush, something that should concern the Bills.
That pass rush is joined by a surprisingly deep secondary headlined by All-Pro Safety Kevin Byard. Since 2017 Byard has 23 Interceptions and 328 Tackles, numbers comparable to Jordan Poyer’s 19 Interceptions and 366 Tackles. Allen will have to account for Byard as well as his running mate, Amani Hooker, who had an impressive Interception in Week 1. In front of them are outside CBs Kristian Fulton and Roger McCreary as well as slot CB Ugo Amadi. The third-year Fulton and rookie McCreary will be tasked with slowing down Buffalo’s duo of Gabe Davis and Stefon Diggs. Last week that duo proved too much for Rams CBs Jalen Ramsey and Troy Hill and this week the talent discrepancy seems to be even larger. Meanwhile, at slot CB, Ugo Amadi will be countering the Bills’ top two Slot WRs of Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie. Crowder the traditionalist and McKenzie the speedster each represents their own challenge for the newly converted Slot CB, Ugo Amadi.
Bills Rush Offense vs. Titans Rush Defense
There is a short list of things that Sean McDermott will not tolerate on a football field, one being fumbles. Against the Rams, both James Cook and Zack Moss committed that exact sin. Cook fumbled on his first career carry and Moss fumbled late in the game as the Bills were attempting to run out the clock. It shouldn’t come as a surprise in Week #2 if one of these RBs is a healthy scratch as the Bills shift more of the workload to an RB who did not fumble, Devin Singletary. Buffalo’s true RB1 may have carried the ball just 8 times but he still accounted for 48 yards, a Y/A of 6. Couple that with his abilities as a pass protector and Singletary is quietly earning bell-cow status in Buffalo.
Against the Titans, the Bills’ ground game will be tested by a complete Front-7. Simmons may be the highlight but Teair Tart will also play an important role in slowing down Buffalo’s run game. Tart is listed as a Nose Tackle but has a skillset proficient at both 1T and 3T. An ascending player, Tart and Simmons should be more than capable of keeping the Bills OL from extending their blocks to the Titans LBs.
The Titans have two talented LBs in Zach Cunningham and David Long. Cunningham is a run-stopping specialist and is just a year removed from leading the NFL in tackles with 164 (2020). Long, the more complete of the LBs is also competing against the run but provides a more complete skill set. Though undersized for an ILB at just 5’foot-11 and 227-pounds, Long’s elite play recognition coupled with his above-average twitch make him a challenging defender to deal with.
Long’s role in the run game will extend to slowing down the Bills’ best runner, Josh Allen. Allen carried the ball 10 times in Week #1 averaging 5.6 Y/A. This week’s highlights included stiff-arming a Safety into oblivion and dunking a Touchdown over Bobby Wagner. Allen’s legs again will play largely in Buffalo’s game plan and must be countered by the Titans.
Up front, that means the Titans’ DL maintaining pocket integrity as they rush the passer. A tight rush without opening up any glaring holes theoretically reduces Allen’s ability to escape both inside and outside pressure. A spy is also expected as the Titans look to mirror Allen’s pocket movements. Long, Byard, and Hooker all have the athletic profile to play this role, an important one that very well could determine the outcome of this game.
🚨 Josh Allen stiff arm alert! 🚨
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 9, 2022
Bills Pass Defense vs. Titans Pass Offense
Buffalo largely plays zone defense and has done so at a high level consistently for the past half-decade. The teams that have proven capable of cracking this zone are ones able to extend plays through either elite line play or the mobility of their Quarterback. For a few seasons now, the Bills have been looking to address this by investing heavily in their pass rush. That investment may finally be paying off in 2022. Week 1 saw the Bills produce a Pressure Rate of 30.6% with 7 sacks against a veteran QB, with solid weapons, and a decent OL.
It may have only been Week 1 but the offseason additions of Von Miller, Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, and Jordan Phillips proved fruitful while young players like Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, and A.J. Epenesa seem to be coming into their own. It remains to be seen if this level of play is legitimate but if the Bills can continue against the Titans we could have the makings of a legendary unit in Buffalo.
Contending with this Buffalo defense is another veteran QB in Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has the mobility to counter most pass rushes and will leverage that behind an OL returning 3 starters in Taylor Lewan (LT), Ben Jones (C), and Nate Davis (RG). They range weekly from elite to mediocre but are a solid trio that would start for most NFL teams. The other two starters are Aaron Brewer (LG) and Nicholas Petit-Frere (RT) who replace Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry, both of whom are now with the Bills. Brewer’s first two seasons had him primarily serve as a backup while Petit-Frere is a 2022 third-round rookie with a lot yet to prove. Expect Buffalo to attack those two through their DL rotation which pushes different players all over the front. Yes, Tannehill’s legs should help slow down the Bills’ rush but will it provide him enough time to make plays down the field?
If Tannehill can buy time, he will have his work cut out for him as a fairly weak set of skill players takes on an elite secondary. In Week 1, fifth-rounder Kyle Phillips led all Titans receivers in Targets with 9, while Treylon Burks, Dontrell Hilliard, and Robert Woods rounded out the top-4 targeted WRs. None of these players quite inspire the fear that Cooper Kupp or Allen Robinson do, which should provide the Bills more versatility in coverage packages. This will make the CB2 rotation of Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam even more interesting to watch while Dane Jackson should continue to impress at CB1. Add to that the All-Pro Safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, along with slot guru Taron Johnson and the Tennessee air attack could be in for a rough night at the office on Monday.
Bills Rush Defense vs. Titans Rush Offense
Just as impressive as the Bills revamped pass rush was their revamped rush defense. The Bills held the entire Rams team to a Y/A of just 3.5 on 15 carries with only two runs going for 6+ yards. A lot of credit is due to the introduction of DaQuan Jones who soaked up blocks at a level Buffalo fans have not witnessed since the days of Marcell Dareus. The result was a Tremaine Edmunds who looked quicker and more instinctual than seasons past and a Matt Milano who was able to drop two separate hit sticks. This was impressive against Darrell Henderson, but Week 2 brings a different level of monster to contend with.
That monster is none other than The King, Derrick Henry. In 56 games since 2018 Henry has produced 5645 rushing yards and 55 rushing TDs through a Y/A of 5.0. At 6’3″, 247lb Henry’s speed makes him nearly impossible to solo tackle in the open field. There have been many attempts to counter this, but the most proven method is preventing him from reaching top speed. This means meeting Henry with strong contact at or behind the line of scrimmage, either through DL penetration or extra blitzers. Doing so exposes Henry’s lack of agility, making it easier to bring down the conceivable future Hall of Famer. Of course, writing this is easy, but actually implementing this in a real game situation lined up with Henry has proven most difficult.
Buffalo’s linebackers will also play an important role in slowing down the Tennessee run game. Tremaine Edmunds looked proficient against the Rams but will be met with an important early test against the Titans. He and Matt Milano will be the keys to slowing down Henry and will often be joined by Jordan Poyer in the box. The preferred result by this trio is a lack of consistent Y/A at the expense of one or two big runs. Still, Buffalo projects to struggle against Henry and if they don’t the Titans have another weapon to help on the ground, Ryan Tannehill. Like Josh Allen, Tannehill is one of the most mobile Quarterbacks in the league but while he doesn’t run often, he consistently runs well.
Derrick Henry stiff arms are back. 💪
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
Bills Special Teams vs. Titans Special Teams
It is hard to fully evaluate Buffalo’s special teams when they simply don’t punt. Buffalo became the first team since 1939 to not punt in 3 out of 4 games. As of now, the expectation is that Sam Martin will be a fine punter in Buffalo but until he actually kicks the ball we can’t truly evaluate him. Kicker we can evaluate, and Tyler Bass is a good one. Bass hit all 5 of his kicks in Week #1 (4XP, 1FG) and is rocking a 76 XP made streak. The Bills’ Special Teams rounds out with Jamison Crowder at PR and Isaiah McKenzie at KR each of whom looked comfortable in limited duty.
For the Titans, rookie Punter Ryan Stonehouse impressed in his debut. Each of his 6 punts either ended up inside the opponent’s 10 or traveled over 50 yards in the air. His status as a rookie provides some room for concern but Stonehouse does have the makings of an elite NFL Punter. Kicker Randy Bullock didn’t have as good a season opener but did play well. He made both of his XPs and went 2/3 on FGs with his only miss coming as time expired from 47 yards out. Meanwhile rookie Kyle Phillips impressed at PR with a 15.5 Y/PR, including a long of 46, while veteran RB Trenton Cannon was proficient in limited KR duties.
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Titans may have lost to the Giants but they are a much better team than what they showed in Week #1. That much better team is one that wills itself to victory under Head Coach Mike Vrabel. He strives for physicality on both sides of the ball, which is something Buffalo has struggled with in seasons past. On offense, Tennessee can run the ball down the Bills’ throat, and the more and more they do it the more and more they can push the Bills onto their heels. In 2021, that is exactly what happened and the result was a second half where Tannehill eviscerated Buffalo through the air. Exactly this, could happen again.
On defense, the Titans have a secondary that will attack the ball and a DL that will attack the Quarterback. Both of these combine to make a recipe that nullifies gunslingers like Josh Allen. Buffalo turned the ball over 4 times in Week 1 and still won by 21 which is more of an anomaly than consistent feasibility. A few turnovers through the air, coupled with a run game that could struggle could spell for a difficult home opener for a Bills team that may be looking ahead to the Dolphins.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Etch this line into your head and don’t forget it, the Bills are the better team. On offense, possibly the best Quarterback in the league has the ability to reach levels where he is unstoppable. Josh Allen did that against the Rams and didn’t play anywhere near his best football. Add to that a set of skill players that are better than the Titans’ coverage players, and the Bills have a chance to dominate through the air. We could go on and on about Buffalo’s improved OL, Josh Allen’s legs, Devin Singletary as RB, or even Dawson Knox – just know that this offense is elite.
On defense, the Bills’ pass rushers will have the ability to feast. Against the Rams they were able to expose two new starters on their OL and against the Titans, will have a chance to do the same. The result will be pressure on Ryan Tannehill, who isn’t the same caliber of quarterback that Matthew Stafford is and doesn’t have the weapons he has. Buffalo’s secondary is better than the sum of its parts and its parts are better than Tennessee’s parts. This likely forces the Titans into a one-dimensional game plan of running the football, which they are very good at. Running the football, though, probably won’t be enough to keep up with how many points the Bills can score on Monday night.
Prediction: Bills 31 – Titans 17
The Titans have had Buffalo’s number the past two seasons but this is a different Bills team. There seems to be a different level of energy this season where Buffalo isn’t just looking to win games, they’re looking to dominate them. Reinforcing the trenches allows them to do just that, and against a team like the Titans, should prove valuable. Couple that with a Bills offense that should play at an incredibly high level and Buffalo should run away with this one in front of a packed stadium of rabid Bills fans.