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 twelfth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 12 clash with the Philadelphia Eagles. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Eagles Pass Defense
The Joe Brady era began with a bang, leveraging a nearly identical playbook but an offense that felt significantly different. Against one of the league’s best defenses, the Bills offense would put up 29 points in two and a half quarters, ultimately finishing with 32. The recipe was simple for Brady – leverage pre-snap motion to identify coverages and lean into a healthy mix of passing and running. That motion allowed Josh Allen to be surgical in the pass game, feeding his, at times, wide-open receivers and rarely putting the ball in harm’s way. Simultaneously, not only did James Cook look efficient on the ground but so did Latavius Murray and even Ty Johnson for an offense that hummed for the first time since Week 4. The sample size is still extremely small but at least for now, it looks like the Bills may have re-established their offensive identity, something that is paramount if they want to steal a victory this weekend.
This weekend the Bills are set to take on a Philadelphia Eagles team whose defense may not be on the same level as the Jets but does possess plenty of talent to make them dangerous. Against the pass, they generally sit back in a two-high shell and rely on their pass rush to win them games. Deep in that shell is one of the league’s best open-field tacklers in Reed Blankenship (S) and a perennial All-Pro acquired prior to the trade deadline in Kevin Byard (S). As if that talent is insufficient on the outside the duo Darius Slay (CB) and James Bradberry (CB) remain Top-10 in the NFL despite both being on the wrong side of 30. These four players alone will test Allen’s ability to get the ball to the likes of Stefon Diggs (WR), Gabe Davis (WR), and Khalil Shakir (WR) meaning alternative areas of attack will be of interest to Buffalo. Expect Buffalo to lean into their rookie tight end, Dalton Kincaid, and their running backs this week as they attempt to target underneath against the Eagles. Those players will likely be matched up with Eagles linebackers Zach Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow as well as a nickel backer which tends to be either Bradley Robey (CB) or Sydney Brown (CB). Buffalo hopes this not only keeps the sticks moving but also mitigates one of the league’s most versatile pass-rushing attacks.
And versatile doesn’t even do this pass rush that can beat you from anywhere justice. On the outside, Bills tackles Dion Dawkins (LT) and Spencer Brown (RT) will have to contend with Haason Reddick (8.5 Sacks), Josh Sweat (6.5 Sacks), and Brandon Graham (2.0 Sacks) all of whom are proven capable of getting to opposing quarterbacks. On the inside Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and O’Cyrus Torrence (RG) job isn’t any easier as rookie Jalen Carter (4.0 Sacks), Jordan Davis (2.5 Sacks), and Fletcher Cox (1.5 Sacks) are not only capable of getting to the passer but also participating in exotic stunts that can generate advantageous mismatches for the Eagles. As if all of that isn’t enough, the Eagles will occasionally blitz a DB while possessing a player in Nicholas Morrow who can go off at any time, just like he did in Week 4 when he had 3.0 Sacks versus the Commanders. This game is going to be won or lost in the trenches and while the Bills offensive line has been rock-solid all season, they haven’t faced any unit as consistently strong as the one the Eagles will show them on Sunday afternoon.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Eagles Rush Defense
Joe Brady didn’t just get the Bills’ pass game going against the Jets, he had the Bills’ rushing attack pounding the ball as well. Possibly the most important aspect of this was the inclusion of designed quarterback runs both early and often which forced Jets defenders onto their heels when Allen dropped back to “pass”. This tape should pay dividends for Buffalo beginning this week as Philadelphia will have to account for the re-emergence of Allen as a runner while also contending with what may be a now three-headed monster of running backs. Cook continues to run with vigor since his benching against the Broncos, Murray is a slid change of pace thumper, and Johnson burst onto the scene in Week 11 as a stout running option that opposing defenses must account for. The Bills currently rank No. 11 in rushing yards per game (117.7) but seem to be onto something greater after last week’s performance.
It will be a tall task to re-create that last week’s production this week against the league’s fifth-ranked rush defense per DVOA (-18.5%). That ranking is achieved primarily in the trenches where the Eagles’ dominant defensive line not only soaks up blockers but also consistently brings down runners in the backfield. As a unit, the Eagles line has accounted for 29 of their team’s 47 Tackles for Loss led by Reddick who has nine off the edge and Jalen Carter who has five on the inside. As far as Reddick is concerned his career began slowly with three seasons below double-digit totals in Sacks and TFLs while over his past three seasons, he has gone over 10 in both Sacks and TFLs and is on pace to do the same in 2023. He’s your prototypical standup edge rusher whose speed makes him a threat not only against the pass but provides him the ability to contain and crash against the run. As for Carter, he was arguably the best player in the 2023 NFL Draft but fell to the Eagles at Pick No. 9 due to off-the-field issues. 6’3” 314lb humans are not supposed to possess the jump and speed that Carter possesses which makes him a danger to any opposing linemen. The Bills must account for him at all times on Sunday and against the run more often run away from him than towards him.
Behind that dominant front is a pair of linebackers that have been surprisingly good for the Eagles in 2023 despite a lack of explosive numbers. Zach Cunningham has been their only every-down backer since Week 1 largely due to his size in the middle of the defense but also his ability to corral runners close to the line of scrimmage. He is often joined by Nicholas Morrow who all but Wally Pipped Nakobe Dean earlier this season seizing an opportunity to become the full-time starter at the other linebacker position for the Eagles. He’s a thick instinctual backer who has good enough strength and speed to accelerate through opposing ball carriers. Against the Bills, he will be a key player in not just attacking running backs that leak out of the backfield but also as the primary container of Allen. As odd as this might sound, if this game turns into a shootout it very well may come down to the matchup of Allen versus Morrow as the determining factor in the outcome.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Eagles Pass Offense
There are teams that deal with injuries in their secondary, and then there are the Bills. Tre White (CB), is done for the year with a torn Achilles. Micah Hyde (S) and Cam Lewis (DB) are both limited with neck and shoulder injuries, respectively. Taron Johnson (CB) and Dane Jackson (CB) are each in concussion protocol joined by Taylor Rapp (S) with a neck injury as defensive backs not practicing. The result is a secondary that very well could feature Jordan Poyer (S), Damar Hamlin (S), Rasul Douglas (CB), Christian Benford (S), and Siran Neal (Nickel CB) heading into the last game before the bye. For Buffalo, a mantra this season has been survive until you can thrive with that being no clearer this week than any week prior.
Buffalo’s banged-up secondary will have to find a way to contain one of the league’s more dynamic passing attacks but one that relies heavily on three players: Jalen Hurts (QB), A.J. Brown (WR), and DeVonta Smith (WR). Hurts is the MVP front-runner for good reason as a quarterback who can beat you with his legs but can decimate you through the air. He’s the perfect player in Nick Sirianni’s offense as he extends plays just enough allowing the Eagles’ route trees to come to fruition before allowing him to deal to wide-open receivers. Leading those players is a behemoth in Brown who might be the best jump ball wide receiver in the NFL and is well on his way to being named an All-Pro for the second consecutive season. Pairing him with Smith is nearly unfair as his precise route running and soft hands make him a quarterback’s dream. After them though, there isn’t much for Philly who currently has no No. 3 option while dealing with Dallas Goedert’s (TE) fractured forearm. This is where Buffalo can flip this matchup, Sean McDermott will need to design a scheme to force the Eagles to beat them outside of Brown and Smith, something that is possible but far easier said than done.
The other way you can beat the Eagles is by pressuring Hurts early and often, but to accomplish that you will need to blow past one of the league’s best offensive lines. Jordan Mailata (LT) and Lane Johnson (RT) might be the league’s best tackle pair while the interior of Landon Dickerson (LG), Jason Kelce (C), and Cam Jurgens (RG) is well above average. Buffalo does have the horses to challenge Philly though, especially off the edge. The trio of Leonard Floyd (9.5), A.J. Epenesa (6.5), and Greg Rousseau (4.0) have combined for 20.0 Sacks this season through a rotation that keeps them fresh and allows them to tee off against opposing passers. Inside they have the ability to be just as good with Ed Oliver who is having an All-Pro season at defensive tackle while Buffalo also waits with bated breath for Von Miller (DE) to fully heal from a 2023 ACL tear and make a game-changing play. In the trenches the Eagles have often been the bully to their opponents for most of the year, the Bills have the players to punch back.
ADVANTAGE: Eagles 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Eagles Rush Offense
Per DVOA, the Bills have the 14th-ranked rush defense (-13.7%). Thank Terrel Bernard (LB) for this, a relatively unknown player league-wide but one who is having an All-Pro caliber season. A solid comp for him, he’s the DeVonta Smith of linebackers, a player who looks really slim for his role but whose talent, instinct, and drive just continue to produce results. Next to him, the Bills have also found something in rotating Tyrel Dodson (LB) and Dorian Williams (LB). Dodson has been a premier run-stopper since the Bills lost Matt Milano (LB) to a season-ending injury in Week 5 while Williams’ length allows him to be a sufficient coverage backer. Buffalo has taped up their defense for much of the season but at linebacker continues to get solid production with much of that credit owed to McDermott and linebacker coach Bobby Babich.
Those linebackers will play a massive role in the outcome of Sunday’s game as they look to slow down one of the league’s best rushing attacks. In a traditional sense that means containing D’Andre Swift (RB) and Kenneth Gainwell (RB). In his first season outside of Detroit, Swift has been a force for the Eagles averaging 4.7 yards per attempt while ranking third in the league in rushing yards at 690. His ability to utilize his blockers in front of him is unparalleled in the NFL allowing him to consistently identify open lanes and hit them with a low pad level to pick up chunk yards. Gainwell on the other hand is less of a power runner and will look to extend the run to the boundaries to find yardage, something which has allowed him to generate an acceptable 4.0 yards per attempt on his career. Buffalo’s defensive line and linebackers will need to be on their game to contend with these two players while knowing full well neither of them is Philadelphia’s biggest threat on the ground.
Their biggest threat is by far Jalen Hurts and the infamous Tush Push. Hurt’s legs are something that weighs on the minds of every defensive coordinator but let’s be real, the schematic advantage that the Tush Push provides is unbelievable. Outside of the red zone, the Tush Push allows the Eagles to effectively start every new down at first-and-nine as fourth-and-one is just about always a go, and easily get-it, situation. As for the endzone, if you allow Philly to get to the one-yard line the drive is over, they will score. In fact, since the beginning of 2022, 15 of Hurt’s 27 rushing touchdowns have been scored on Tush Pushes, that’s a whopping 55.6%. So how can Buffalo stop it? The answer is they can’t, really. Their hope is that officials simply become more critical of it, whether that means calling false starts, illegal formation, or even chop blocks on the interior linemen. What Buffalo will try to do though is get Linval Joseph onto the field in these situations and see if he can’t stack the interior as a 0-tech. If Joseph, a literal immovable object can’t stop this play, then there isn’t a human on Earth who can.
ADVANTAGE: Eagles 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Eagles Special Teams
There was some dissension amongst Bills fans this past week on whether Tyler Bass is becoming a vulnerability for the Bills. He isn’t. On the season Bass has four missed kicks, two field goals from 50+, one kick that was blocked, and now an extra point missed. Other than those four misses Bass has drilled 46 kicks as one of the league’s most consistent Kickers. Where Buffalo has become vulnerable is at punter where the last few games for Sam Martin have been horrendous. On his nine punts in the last three games, he has a 34.4 Net Yards per Punt with just one being downed inside the 20. Lastly, on return, the Bills must continue to avoid returning kicks while hoping that Deonte Harty is on the brink of breaking a big one on punt return.
Just like the Bills, the Eagles have an elite young kicker in Jake Elliott. Elliott has leg to burn and, on the season, has made 47 of his 50 attempts with a missed PAT as well as 55 and 37-yard missed field goals. Punting has also been solid for the Eagles when called upon, as Braden Mann has a respectable 48.0 yards per punt and 41.5 net yards per punt. Don’t expect to see much of Mann on Sunday but when he does take the field it should be difficult for the Bills to get any real returns off him. Lastly, on return, the Eagles are in the same spot as the Bills on KR, where they shouldn’t and rarely do return it, while Britain Covey is tracking towards an All-Pro nod at PR as he leads the league with 277 Punt Return Yards and an impressive 14.6 yards per punt return.
ADVANTAGE: Eagles 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
As far as the best all-around team goes, the Eagles are by far the best all-around team the Bills have faced. On offense, the Eagles have an MVP-caliber quarterback and two Pro Bowl-caliber wide receivers who should feast against the Bills’ banged up secondary. If Buffalo bails out to stop Philly from moving the ball through the air the Eagles have the ability to transition to a ground-and-pound attack which should beat up and exhaust the Bills’ front seven. Add to that arguably the league’s best offensive line and if the Bills hold Philadelphia under 28 points it should be considered a victory.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have ball hawks that should be able to force multiple turnovers against a Bills team that is prone to them. Upfront doesn’t get much better where, despite the Bills’ offensive line playing very well, the Eagles are going to pressure Allen on a fairly consistent basis. Buffalo can ill-afford to lose the turnover battle this week, let alone by multiple, making this a tall task for a Bills team that could really use this win.
Why Buffalo Will Win
The Bills will rely on three men to win this game for them: Josh Allen, Joe Brady, and Sean McDermott. On the offensive side of the ball, it will come down to Brady scheming up an offensive game plan that allows Allen to take a few shots downfield while preventing the errant throws that could result in costly turnovers. Buffalo must lean into their tight ends and running backs for that reason and if they do they have the speed and yard-after-catch ability that could stress the Eagles’ age in their secondary and lack of speed at linebacker.
On defense, McDermott may need to put together the best game plan of his career if he wants to keep this game close. The injuries for Buffalo are at an unheard-of level,l thus McDermott is going to have to rely on his defensive line to generate pressure with four, and occasionally five, while Bernard, Douglas, and Poyer make a few game-changing plays behind them. One thing working in Buffalo’s favor, the Eagles haven’t looked as special on the offensive side of the ball this season. Can Buffalo do on defense what the Chiefs did to the Eagles on Monday night? They might not have enough talent but there are some tricks up McDermott’s sleeve that could keep this game close.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Eagles 31
My heart tells me the Bills are going to win this game, but my brain tells me they just don’t have the talent to match up. Injuries have decimated the Bills on defense and despite being confident that McDermott will design something to keep the Eagles from running away with this game I’m not sure Buffalo has enough to pull this one out. What I am sure of is that Allen can singlehandedly beat anyone, and if he is truly back, then you could take this prediction and throw it in the trash. If Buffalo steals a win here it would be massive, if they drop this one the pressure will be on during their bye to win out and secure a lottery ticket to the playoffs.