Bills vs. Chargers Week 16 Preview: Put One Foot In Front of the Other

12/22/2023
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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 fifteenth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 16 clash with the Los Angeles Chargers. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).

Bills Pass Offense vs. Chargers Pass Defense

It’s extremely rare for the Bills offense to be able to lean on a player not named Josh Allen, it just so happens that Week 15 was one of those weeks. Allen would finish with just 94 passing yards, his lowest in a game where he played more than two quarters since his rookie season. Make no mistake though, the Bills quarterback is still one of the most dangerous players in the NFL and is a legitimate contender for the MVP award. That’s due in large part to his league-leading 37 touchdowns and third-most net yards (3823) as well as the potential that he could do something this week that no one else in the history of the NFL has accomplished. If Allen accounts for three touchdowns against the Chargers, he will become the first player ever to have four consecutive seasons of 40+ touchdowns, and there is just one other player with three consecutive seasons (Drew Brees). It’s been a special year for Allen and if the Bills have any hope of making and/or advancing in the playoffs, they are going to need that pace of play to continue.Josh Allen QuBeR

The next challenge will take place against a Chargers team that is chock full of talent but lacking in consistency. They currently rank No. 28 in pass defense due to their superstars’ ability to slow down opposing defenses but their auxiliary pieces’ inability to slow down anything. For example, both Derwin James (S) and Asante Samuel Jr. (CB) are studs in their own right whilst Alohi Gilman (S), Michael Davis (CB), and the platoon at Slot CB of Ja’Sir Taylor (CB), and Essang Bassey (CB) have struggled mightily. Add to this the propensity for the Chargers to push James into the box (36.8%) and you can see a situation where Buffalo should feast in the air against the Chargers. This may be Dalton Kincaid (TE) underneath, Dawson Knox (TE) up the seam, Stefon Diggs on the outside, or any number of combinations the Bills can develop that results in mismatches which further improves Allen’s ability to push the ball downfield. The Chargers have the studs to compete with most teams but against a team like the Bills, there are serious questions about whether they have enough to contend.

Thus, we shift to the pass rush where the Chargers have the horses to push Allen off his spot. Khalil Mack has been one of the most dominant pass rushers of 2023, leading the Chargers with 15.0 sacks, good for third in the NFL. The issue is that his running mate, Joey Bosa, is unlikely to play, and sans him, the consistency of the Chargers’ pass rush is lacking. Through the first eight weeks of the season, Morgan Fox had 5.5 sacks and Tuli Tuipulotu had 4.0 sacks but through the last six weeks, the two have combined for exactly zero sacks. The Chargers have propagated that pass rush with their linebackers in Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray who have combined for six sacks on the season but against an offensive line like the Bills, there are serious questions about whether that is enough. With Dion Dawkins (LT) playing at an All-Pro level and the rest of the offensive line playing well above average the Chargers may struggle to get after Allen, and if that happens this game could quickly become a recap of what happened during the 63-point disaster in Las Vegas.

ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏

Bills Rush Offense vs. Chargers Rush Defense

James Cook was the product of the perfect storm that occurred in Week 15, and he deserves all the flowers, but the Bills offensive line was special. When you see Dawkins blowing a player 20 yards off the ball or Spencer Brown eating Micah Parsons’ lunch or Mitch Morse/O’Cyrus Torrence/Connor McGovern physically dominating up front you know you are in for a dominant day. That’s this Bills team though, they can beat you in the trenches with a slew of running backs that can beat you in different ways. It may seem wild but at this point, Allen as Superman has found his Justice League and they can win games for him whenever need be.

So now we introduce the Chargers run defense to the Bills rush offense and it should be a battle of attrition. By that we mean, if the Chargers want to bail out to stop the Bills’ rushing attack, Buffalo should beat them over the top, if they bail out to stop the pass, well just the opposite should happen. Coming into this game the Chargers rank No. 25 in Rush Defense DVOA (-1.2%) and seemingly don’t have the horses to compete up front. In the interior of their defensive line, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson are the primary options whilst Nick Williams remains a questionable active as an interior depth piece. These players coupled with the prioritization of pass rush off the edge set up a scenario where the Bills should be able to win up front and push to the Chargers’ second level to facilitate a determination of who should win this matchup.

At that second level, the Chargers are rock solid. Whilst Kendricks isn’t the player he once was, his talent as a linebacker is still obvious and when paired with Murray the Chargers are sufficient at linebacker. Kendricks at nearly 32 is still solid against the run while Murray is a rare dual-threat asset at the position that still has some evolution required at the position. Couple that with James in the box and the Chargers do have talent up front, when need be, to contend with the Bills finesses running backs but questions remain if they can contend with the brutal force of the Bills offensive line. If they ignore the latter the Bills could push their offensive line to the second level and overwhelm the Chargers second level to consistently move the ball. That should free lanes for Cook and Latavius Murray for another big game on the ground while Allen’s abilities with his legs loom large as another weapon for the Bills’ offense.

ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏

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Bills Pass Defense vs. Chargers Pass Offense

What the Bills did to the Cowboys’ offense is quietly going understated as we move forward past Week 15. The seven weeks prior the Cowboys had averaged 308 passing yards and against the Bills put up just 106, much of which came in garbage time. The Bills accomplished this without their CB1 (Tre White), S1 (Micah Hyde), and LB1 (Matt Milano) as their scheme trumped their talent yet again this week. In one of Sean McDermott’s best gameplans, he put the Bills defenders in a situation to demolish the Cowboys and they did so with vigor and violence. The style in which they played is of utmost importance as they head into the final stretch of the seasons and are starting to play at a level that is beginning to terrify opponents.

And now McDermott will gameplan against Easton Stick, a quarterback with the experience level that McDermott tends to eat alive. Stick is set to appear in just his fourth career game and second career start and will have to contend against a defense whose goal is to confuse and force turnovers. Now do that with a banged-up set of skill players and Stick will need to play the game of his life if the Chargers expect to move the ball consistently through the air against the Bills. With Mike Williams done for the season and Keenan Allen out, the Chargers will be relegated to Quentin Johnson and Joshua Palmer at receiver. Johnson has a case of the dropsies in his first season in the NFL while Palmer is a solid but uninspiring NFL wideout. That means more balls to tight ends like Gerald Everett and running backs like Austin Ekeler as the Chargers try to cover up Stick’s deficiencies while simultaneously feeding the ball to their better offensive weapons.

Matters get worse up front where injuries are creating more issues as the Chargers could struggle to protect their quarterback. Most importantly, the Chargers starting center, Corey Linsley, is out as well as their backup center Will Clapp. This likely means Cameron Tom will be feeding the ball to Stick and then be quick blocking to Ed Oliver who has been one of the most unheralded forces in the interior this season. Tom could be decent, but despite the injury concerns in that part of the field for the Bills, Buffalo should be able to overload the interior in a game-changing effort. Making matters worse, the Chargers right tackle, Trey Pipkins III, is questionable and at a maximum will be less than 100% against a set of edge rushers that includes Leonard Floyd, Greg Rousseau, and Von Miller.

ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏

Bills Rush Defense vs. Chargers Rush Offense

The Bills didn’t just dominate the Cowboys air attack, they demolished their rushing attack as well. Heading into Sunday the Cowboys had five consecutive games of 100+ rushing yards while Buffalo held them to just 89. Possibly the most astounding result of the season for the Bills as they did this without two of arguably their three best front seven defenders. Instead, McDermott has gotten the best out of Tyrel Dodson (LB) and found roles for players like Baylon Spector (LB) whenever able to rotate him in. Take the best linebacker off most teams in the NFL and they would collapse entirely, the Bills bid their time but are striving recently at that level of the field.

Against the Chargers the Bills will have to defend against one of the better running backs in the NFL, even if he hasn’t been playing well as of late. Ekeler enters this week with just 506 rushing yards and a 3.6 yard per attempt, each below expectations for a running back of Ekeler’s quality. At 28 he may be close to the precipice of the hill with no return for backs but in watching him play the speed and skill remain existent, it just hasn’t hit yet this season. Along with him, the Chargers are going to feed second-year bruiser Isaiah Spiller and speedy downhill runner Joshua Kelly in an effort to abuse the Bills injuries up front. This is the way the Chargers can beat the Bills, and if it hits early, this will quickly become a competitive game.

The Chargers do lack significant threats in auxiliary running though, which could hamstring them against a Bills team that can get got at the edge. They have just 13 handoffs to wide receivers thus far this season signifying it’s unlikely they test Buffalo in that aspect this week. As for Stick, he was a runner in college with 2,523 yards in four seasons at North Dakota State, but that was dating back to 2018. Stick has legs but they are unproven in the NFL meaning the Bills’ second level in Terrel Bernard and Taron Johnson should be able to key on the pass with enough agility to react to a run in a situation where the Bills should have a clean sweep in the first two phases of NFL games.

ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏

Bills Special Teams vs. Chargers Special Teams

Ok, Tyler Bass is beginning to earn back his reputation as one of the league’s elite kickers. He has hit each of his past 12 kicks and should still be considered a solid kicker especially this week when he is kicking in a pseudo-dome. As for punter, Sam Marting remains a liability with stats that are far too off-putting. For Bills fans, hope they don’t punt all that much which is good news considering they have the second-fewest punts (40) this season. Lastly is the return game for Buffalo where the kick return has been non-existent which is similar to the punt return game. To be fair, the latter has some spark and some optimism that Deonte Harty can break one at some point this season. Maybe this week?

For the Chargers, they undoubtedly have one of the league’s elite kickers in Cameron Dicker. On the season Dicker is 53 for 54 with his one miss being a 53-yarder in Week 3. At punter, JK Scott has been less spectacular than Dicker but solid, nonetheless. His 42 Net Yards per Punt along with his 25:4 Inside the 20:Touchback ratio makes him one of the more consistent NFL punters. Lastly, Derius Davis handles both punt and kick returns where he has posted a 16.4 and 21.8 yards per return respectively. The former of those two numbers is terrifying resulting in Bills fans rooting even more vigorously that Buffalo doesn’t punt much this week.

ADVANTAGE: Chargers👏👏👏👏

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Why Buffalo Will Lose

Any given Sunday right? Make no mistake that the Chargers are outclassed here, but that doesn’t mean they have no chance of winning. They have a path to moving the ball on the ground with Ekeler and could surprise the Bills through the air with Stick. Doing it with Stick will be more important but could, in theory, they find a way to put up 20+ points with him behind the helm? Of course. If Buffalo comes into this game thinking this is an easy victory Stick could stick it to them which would be a disastrous outcome.

On the other side of the ball, the Chargers have enough game wreckers to challenge the Bills’ ability to run away with this game. Mack has been a freak this season, James isn’t what he once was but can be dominant, Murray is a human missile, and Samuel can break a game. If any of those players make a game-changing play whilst the rest of their pieces play well, possibly due to the Dead Cat Bounce, the Chargers could stun the Bills and steal their season.

Why Buffalo Will Win

Ok, the Bills are the better team. In what world should Bills fans expect the Bills to lose this game? In the world that isn’t being a Bills fan, that’s the world. That being said, Allen isn’t letting them lose in LA with all that is in front of them. This is an elimination game for the Bills and Allen and the rest of the team isn’t going to drop a game to a team like this. It doesn’t matter if it’s Cook going for 200+ again or Allen shattering the 40+ TD record, Buffalo’s offense must put up over 24 points this week.

Other side of the ball, you thought McDermott ate Dak Prescott alive? Wait until you see what he does to Stick. I’ll bet you this, Rasul Douglas has an interception as he jumps a pass that scheme sets Stick up to throw. That’s all it may take for Buffalo to win this game as Oliver dominates up front, Bernard continues an All-Pro pace, and Jordan Poyer makes a big play in the likely final leg of his Buffalo career.

Prediction: Bills 37 – Chargers 14

I’m a Bills fan, I remember Willie Parker, I also know this isn’t the 2004 Bills. I can’t imagine a world where Allen allows this Bills team to lose a game like this and McDermott doesn’t absolutely devour the easy pickings that is Stick. Expect a blowout in a game where the Bills know what is in front of them is non-existent unless they take care of business in LA and hand Bills Mafia an early Christmas present.

Lifelong Bills fan who's obsession reached a new level in the past decade. Began writing about the Bills in 2019 and since then have produced more than 125 Articles. Lover of statistics and leverages Software Engineering skills to manipulate data and create 'applications' for Bills Mafia!

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