We’ve already seen how the Bills’ defense matchup against the Titans’ offense. Now it’s time to look at the other side of the ball. Buffalo’s 31st-ranked offense is struggling terribly in 2018 and comes from being shutout versus the Packers’ defense. Now they’ll take on a very good Tennesse unit that is ranked 6th in the league with 18.2 points allowed per game. Can the Josh Allen-led group rebound on Sunday? Let’s figure it out:
If the Bills can find any success versus this Titans defense, they’ll need to establish the running game. Tennessee ranks 25th in the league in this department, allowing 118 rushing yards per game. They have interesting names up front, at least on paper. It’s a base 3-4 defense with Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones and Bennie Logan as the defensive linemen. But watching film, it became clear the unit plays mostly in nickel. Logan is replaced by CB Logan Ryan, who’s doing a good job helping this group in the passing game. Tennessee’s new head coach, Mike Vrabel, clearly likes to be more protected against the pass than the run, and it shows on the field and in the rankings.
Last week, Buffalo’s OC, Brian Daboll, gave up on the running game too soon. He can’t repeat the same mistake versus Tennesse, as it may mean the difference between a win and a loss Sunday. LeSean McCoy should have an increase in touches and Chris Ivory also can be effective wearing the Titans’ defense down and even forcing them to come out of their preferred nickel formation. The biggest obstacle to this will be Casey, for sure. He moves all over the line to exploit good matchups and should have a huge mismatch against John Miller. Casey is playing the best football of his career right now and can single-handedly change the game. Against the very good Eagles OL, Pro Football Focus gave him an 82.2 overall grade. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bills gameplan to slow him down.
Tennessee’s rushing defense isn’t the best in the world but, until the Bills’ OL can consistently run block effectively, and until Daboll finds ways to use his best player, it’s tough to give the Bills an advantage here. Maybe if he can establish early Allen as a rushing threat, too, using read-option plays, for example, it could help Shady and the rushing attack. Right now, I give the advantage to Casey and the Titans.
Well, if the rushing game couldn’t have the advantage in the matchup, what to say about the aerial attack? Buffalo ranks dead last in the NFL in passing yards per game, with a 132.5 average. They’ll face a unit that has allowed just 242.8 passing yards per game through the first four weeks, good for 11th in the league.
Josh Allen struggled badly last week, failing to recognize blitzes and find open receivers. When he was able to, the passes weren’t accurate. The pass-happy play calling surely didn’t help, but he needs to show improvement this week. If the running game works, the play-action could become a nice option. Otherwise, it’s going to be another difficult game for this offense. Casey can dominate inside, and veteran pass rusher Brian Orakpo is playing very well this season. He doesn’t have a sack yet but brings consistent pressure off the edge and will be a tough matchup for LT Dion Dawkins. Against Jason Peters and the Eagles last week, Orakpo earned an 89.0 PFF overall grade. On the other side, rookie Harold Landry is showing why he was among the top pass rushers available in the last draft. He’s splitting reps with veteran Derrick Morgan and consistently improving each week.
The Titans’ secondary has very talented players in All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and CB Adoree Jackson. Former Saints first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro is enjoying a nice start with his new team and, as stated above, Logan Ryan is playing very well as the nickel CB. The surprise so far has been the struggles of the former Patriot, Malcolm Butler. Since the start of the season he has allowed 21 receptions on 27 targets for 397 yards and four TDs. It could be a great opportunity for Kelvin Benjamin to finally show something this year if Allen can deliver the ball on time and accurately.
Not sure what Malcolm Butler was looking at here pic.twitter.com/dCpcBKcwOR— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 30, 2018
Another key Titans defensive player who should be mentioned here is cover linebacker Jayon Brown. He’s growing in his role and is also dangerous with his speed on blitzes. With Wesley Woodyard injured, he should have an uptick in playing time, making Tennessee’s passing defense even stronger.
I don’t like this matchup for Buffalo. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees is sending pressure from all over the place with DB blitzes and using stunts to confuse opposing OLs. They had a lot of success against the Eagles’ superior group, so there’s no reason to believe the Bills’ OL can do any better. Add Allen’s inconsistency and the uninspiring play by the receivers, and we have a matchup that is a major reason for concern.
Buffalo will need Daboll to show why McCoy called him a “genius” a few weeks ago. His gameplan and play calling will need to be perfect and, even if it happens, it’s questionable whether his players will be able to execute properly. If so, the Bills can win the matchup, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Tennessee’s defense is favored in this one, and Casey is in line for a scary big day.