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 eighth edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 8 clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Buccaneers Pass Defense
The Bills are at an impasse with a change of direction much needed. Josh Allen continues to have one of the most efficient seasons of his career but at the expense of big plays. In 2023 Allen is averaging 2.57 passes of 20+ yards per game while he averaged 3.19 per game in 2022. With the offense feeling stale and stagnant as of late, it seems time to unleash the beast in Buffalo and live by the feast-or-famine play style that Allen has built a career on for half a decade. Will this remedy all the issues the Bills are plagued with at the midway point of the season? Absolutely not. Will it provide a better opportunity to stack wins moving forward? It’s worth a shot.
Whatever the Bills elect to do they will have to decide quickly as in a short week they are set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is a Buccaneers team with talent at all three levels of defense with the strongest of the three being their secondary. They have two solid, albeit unspectacular, players in box safety Ryan Neal and big bodied corner Jamel Dean. Both Neal and Dean are regarded as below-average pass defenders, given their positions, but more than willing tacklers capable of taking down most players in the open field. Joining them in the secondary is the small-in-stature but great-in-talent safety Antoine Winfield Jr. as well as mouthy and physical corner Carlton Davis. Winfield has been a special player since entering the league in 2020 and has slowly rounded out his game most recently focusing on forcing fumbles where he currently leads the league with three. Meanwhile, Davis has been a consistent NFL cornerback since 2019, giving up a Passer Rating no higher than 88.0 and no lower than 80.0 in every season since then. This Bucs secondary will give a Bills team in flux fits this week, especially as they try and navigate an inevitable switch from 12-personnel heavy to 11, post-Dawson Knox wrist surgery.
The Bills still have an advantage when it comes to skill players in this matchup but where they may have a disadvantage is up front with a suddenly struggling offensive line. Through the first three weeks of the season, Allen was pressured on just 13.7% of his dropbacks, but over the past four weeks has been pressured at a rate of 27.5%. There have been issues at all five positions on the offensive line but most notably in the interior where the pocket is consistently collapsing and forcing Allen to roll out to one edge. It won’t get much easier for the interior offensive line of the Bills this week as they are set to take on one of the greatest singular interior forces in Vita Vea. While Vea is more well-known for his run defense, his ability to eat up multiple blockers on every play while still possessing the ability to rush the passer will be a problem for the Bills this week. Focus on him should free up the Buccaneers’ ability to rush off the edge either organically with players like Joe Tyron-Shoyinka and Shaquil Barrett or through well-timed DB blitzes via Antoine Winfield or even nickel DB Christian Izien who has blitzed a whopping 27 times this season. Regardless, this week more than most, Allen’s head must be on a swivel.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Buccaneers Rush Defense
Another area where the Bills can make an adjustment that should reap benefits is by increasing the snap share of James Cook. To date Cook has been on the field for just 55% of the Bills’ snaps with his highest single-game percentage at 62%. Despite this, Cook ranks sixth amongst NFL running backs in scrimmage yards at 605. He’s on pace for nearly 1,500 yards this season and is a player who has shown the ability to pick up chunk yardage on the ground at will while also possessing the ability to run crisp routes and make plays on the ball in the air. At this point, Cook is Buffalo’s unquestioned RB1 and if they begin to treat him more like that only good things should follow.
Against the Buccaneers though picking up consistent yards on the ground will be a tough task. Tampa Bay is currently giving up just 3.8 yards per rush attempt (NFL-12) while ranking 11th in rush defense DVOA (-16.2%). Vea’s abilities as a run defender speak for themselves but one player behind him has been both ageless and impressive through the early parts of 2023. At 33 years old and in his twelfth season in the NFL, Lavonte David continues to be one of the more consistent middle linebackers. David is just one of six players who currently have 50+ tackles, 2.0+ sacks, and more than two passes defended as a player who is affecting the game at every level. He has slowed down slightly as he’s aged which does expose the Buccaneers to some runs to the edge however his instinct and football IQ tend to mitigate this vulnerability. He is joined by Devin White who was a second-team All-Pro in 2020 but has struggled slightly since then. The stats are fine and consistent, but teams have identified White as a player to attack week in and week out, and the Bills should be no different.
The most intriguing part about this particular matchup is if Allen will factor much into it. Throughout his career, Allen has been a notorious runner but through seven games this season is averaging just 4.1 carries and 21.1 rushing yards per game. There is significant concern that the shoulder he injured in Week 6 is hindering his ability and willingness to run but assuming it improves over the next few days could we see Allen attack the Buccaneers on the ground? This is a Buccaneers team that just gave up 38 yards on the ground to Desmond Ridder providing intrigued that Allen could at least approach that number and, in the process, pick up first downs. If that is how this game plays out Allen will need to keep an eye on the Buccaneers’ safeties with Winfield constantly looking to force a fumble and Neal to lay a big hit. Both of those could be game-changing plays on Thursday night, and the Bills can ill afford to allow game-changing plays in their current state.
ADVANTAGE: Buccaneers 👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Buccaneers Pass Offense
There are some major concerns for the Bills’ defense, and it starts with their ability to defend the intermediate pass. Losing Matt Milano to injury was a massive loss but after Tyrod Taylor and Mac Jones carved Buffalo up concerns are growing even further for a once-dominant Bills defense. With spray charts almost exclusively within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage Taylor and Jones went a combined 49/66 (74.2%) for 472 yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers. The Bills are in desperate search of a solution here as they have mixed and matched Dorian Williams and Tyrel Dodson in finding the player that best pairs with Terrel Bernard in the middle. So far neither have worked however this is an issue that the Bills must fix and must fix quickly.
This week that vulnerability could rear its ugly head in the form of one of the best WR duos in the NFL. There has been no more consistent pairing than Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the past five seasons and despite inconsistent play at quarterback they continue to dominate each week. On the season the Buccaneers’ two primary targets have combined for 63 receptions, 868 yards, and four touchdowns. Evans continues to consistently win as a skilled outside wide receiver while Chris Godwin is your uber-slot that does most of his damage in the intermediate center of the field. It’s for that reason that Godwin is the greater concern against a Bills team that is struggling precisely with stopping balls in that zone and is something that Sean McDermott is going to have to scheme up in short order. That scheme will be a test for the Buccaneers quarterback which will either be Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask. Baker has been playing his best, though still not spectacular, football in years while Trask’s youth is a dangerous proposition against Sean McDermott who tends to eat inexperienced quarterbacks alive. It’s worth monitoring the Buccaneers’ injury report as the week progresses with a heavy interest in both Mayfield and even Godwin’s health.
Where Buffalo must find an advantage is up front in a matchup which may be a stalemate between a good pass rush in Buffalo and good pass protection in Tampa Bay. The Bills struggled to pressure Mac Jones last week generating just one sack on the game as they missed their two starting defensive tackles in the center of the defensive line. This week Oliver still has a chance to return and assuming he does will test an impressive interior offensive line of Matt Feiler (LG), Robert Hainsey (C), and Cody Mauch (RG). His presence alone should provide some relief for the Bills edge rushers who should see more one-on-one matchups with Tristan Wirfs (LT) and Luke Goedeke (RT). In that regard the young Goedeke is the player the Bills should look to overload and hope for a big day from the likes of Greg Rousseau and/or AJ Epenesa. For the first time in a long time, it’s hard to treat the Bills like a dominant defense, with their level of advantage in this matchup being indicative of some very real concerns.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Buccaneers Rush Offense
Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, and Poona Ford are great interior defensive line depth pieces for any NFL team. Jordan Philips, Tim Settle, and Poona Ford are not great interior defensive line starters for most NFL teams. That was obvious on Sunday when the middle of the Bills defense line caused issues for Buffalo against both the run and the pass. The good news for Buffalo is that Ed Oliver is set to come back at some point, hopefully this week, with DaQuan Jones’ availability later in the season still a possibility for the Bills. This is another area of concern for Buffalo caused by injuries and another example of a problem the Bills need to solve sooner rather than later. The good news for Buffalo, the team they are playing on Thursday night may just be the worst rushing team in the NFL.
The Buccaneers rank #30 in rush offense DVOA, #31 in rushing yards per attempt, and #31 in rushing touchdowns this season with one. Plain and simple running the ball for the Buccaneers has been nearly impossible as they are struggling to find any roster running back capable of picking up yards on the ground. Rachaad White is the preferred option for Tampa Bay but through seven games he is just averaging 3.2 yards per attempt with a season-long of 13 yards. He’s a heavy downhill runner but a player whose speed and agility out of college were a concern, both of which have come to fruition in his pro career. Tampa has also attempted to make Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Sean Tucker, and even Chase Edmonds a thing this season but Vaughn and Tucker have averaged under two yards per attempt while Edmonds suffered an MCL sprain in Week 2, something he is still working back from. The Bills may be struggling to stop the run the past few weeks, but the Buccaneers have struggled to run the ball all season.
There are some other interesting aspects that the Buccaneers could lean on to move the sticks on the ground this week. If Mayfield does play, he’s an option to rush the ball doing so just under five times per game so far this season. If Trask instead plays, it’s less likely he will run, though at his size the occasional inside quarterback run would still be on the table. They also have fed wide receiver, Deven Thompkins, the ball out of the backfield three times so far with hopes that his 4.44 speed to the edge could break a big run, something the Bills have proven susceptible to. All these auxiliary pieces in the rushing game will put an extra emphasis on Bernard continuing to play high-level football for the Bills in the middle of the defense. In most weeks moving forward defending the run will be a clear disadvantage for the Bills, this is not one of those weeks.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Buccaneers Special Teams
Tyler Bass misses again…or was it blocked…it was still a miss. That’s three misses in the past two weeks after going 29/29 the five weeks prior. Trust should still be there with Bass but getting back to his consistent ways is something the Bills need moving forward. The Bills did get back to their rarely punting ways though trotting Sam Martin out just one time last week when he drilled a ball 55 yards but saw it returned 30 for a net of just 25. As for return, it continues to be uninspiring where Deonte Harty has yet to break any real big returns and Ty Johnson is now handling kick returns for the Bills.
In Tampa, ex-Bills player Chase McLaughlin is handling kicks where he has been dynamite to start the season. He’s 19/20 on the season with his only miss being a blocked 40-yard attempt. Punting for the Buccaneers is a second-year player, and one that may have taken a jump, Jake Camarda. He leads the league right now with a whopping 52.9 yards per punt while ranking 11th in net yards per punt at 43.2. He has a massive leg, something the Buccaneers may need to rely on in Buffalo Thursday night. Lastly for Tampa Bay is return man Deven Thompkins. He has eight punt returns for 5.8 yards per return and six kick returns for 21.3 yards for return this season. None of those numbers are exactly frightening but with his high-end speed, he is someone to pay attention to when he gets the chance to make a return.
Why Buffalo Will Lose
If it wasn’t clear before then it better be clear now, the Bills can lose to anyone. After nearly losing to the Giants and dropping a game in spectacular fashion to the Patriots, the Bills can no longer be treated like world-beaters. Against the Buccaneers more of what has plagued them the past few weeks could easily pop up. Assuming Godwin plays he should have a field day in the middle of the Bills defense and when Buffalo eventually pivots look for Evans to make the few plays he has done every week throughout his career. Add to that a running game, that while terrible thus far, going up against an incredibly banged-up Bills defense and you have the recipe for all-around success for the Buccaneers.
On the other side of the ball, the recipe is the same for every team, force turnovers. Allen is good for at least one a game and the Buccaneers have the players on defense to force more than that. Look for them to jump passes but more importantly, attack the ball in Allen’s hands regardless of if he is in the pocket or on the run. Further to this, the Bills are likely flipping back to 11-personnel, an in-season change that will be difficult to do. Pressure should ramp up on Allen and without one of his primary targets from the past few seasons, there will be major concerns on where Allen can and will throw the ball.
Why Buffalo Will Win
If it wasn’t clear before then just remember that the Bills can beat anyone. Allen has the ability to turn it on at any moment which was evident in the fourth quarter of the Giants game and second half of the Patriots game. If, and it will happen, Allen turns it on for an entire game the Bills offense that blows out any and all opponents could make a swift return. So why not this week? Dalton Kincaid had what may have been his breakout game, Stefon Diggs is still Stefon Diggs, and Khalil Shakir, Deonte Harty, and Trent Sherfield are all set to get more opportunities this week than any week in the past. Expect a different Bills offense this week, for better or for worse.
On the other side of the ball, the concerns are real, and they are spectacular, but the Bills still have real talent. Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Terrel Bernard, Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd, Ed Oliver, and Von Miller when healthy are all somewhere between above-average and elite players. There are some very serious holes for the Bills to fill but against a team like the Buccaneers that really can’t run the ball, the Bills may be able to focus on stopping players like Godwin and Evans. The coaches need this win, the players need this win, the fans need this win and on a rowdy Thursday in Orchard Park, the Bills should deliver this win.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Buccaneers 24
With the current state of the Bills, it’s hard to pick them to dominate any opponent, but it’s still not hard to pick them to win. The Bills are a better team than the Giants, they won that game. The Bills are a better team than the Patriots, they lost that game. The Bills are a better team than the Buccaneers, they…will win this game. This is as close to a must-win game as a game that isn’t a must-win can be and Buffalo is feeling it. Expect to see Allen come out slinging the Bills looking to force multiple big mistakes on defense. Don’t expect a three-score victory, but as long as the Bills have one more point than the Buccaneers at the final whistle they can go into their mini-bye with some tangible hope for the rest of this season.