After beating a pair of divisional foes, the 2-0 Buffalo Bills will be taking on the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams Sunday at Bills Stadium. It should be a highly competitive game between the 1st-ranked aerial offense in the first two weeks against the 3rd-ranked rushing attack. Here’s my look at the key matchups in Sunday’s game:
Bills Defense vs. Rams Offense
Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay is well known as an offensive genius around the league. He will need to be at his best to scheme a successful strategy to beat the strong Bills defense this Sunday. Despite facing some injury problems, Buffalo is still the 5th-ranked defense in the NFL and should have some reinforcements back tomorrow.
After missing the last six quarters of play injured, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano practiced this week and are listed as questionable. Milano was a full participant on Friday, which makes me very confident in his chances of playing. Edmunds was limited, so it’s difficult to predict his availability for tomorrow. Anyway, a pair of Milano and Tyrel Dodson, who had a nice first career start a week ago, inspires more confidence than a pair of Dodson and A.J. Klein.
Buffalo’s linebackers will be very important in the game plan to slow down Los Angeles’ offense, a unit that relies on their running game and play-action passing. McVay utilizes a series of pre-snap motions to confuse opposing defenses, establish the run with a strong offensive line, led by veteran LT Andrew Withworth, and open up the passing game via play action. This strategy has helped QB Jared Goff to recapture a good level of play (completing 69% of his passes for 542 passing yards, three TDs and just one INT).
The Rams have been very successful with this strategy, avoiding third-and-long situations. This helps Goff by keeping play action viable virtually all game. The rushing attack will be without rookie RB Cam Akers, who is injured. Malcom Brown and Darrell Henderson will share the backfield, with the latter being the most dangerous threat. If they can continuously succeed on first and second downs, then it will be a long day for the Bills’ defense.
The WR group is talented, led by Cooper Kupp and former Buffalo Bill Robert Woods. Kupp excels running good routes, and as the outside guy, should draw Tre’Davious White’s attention. Woods is the slot receiver and has been dangerous on jet motions and screen passes. Taron Johnson is questionable, and if he doesn’t play, then his absence will be a huge problem for Buffalo. The other outside receiver is Josh Reynolds, but he has been losing touches to the productive rookie, Van Jefferson. Those guys are matchups that you expect Levi Wallace to be able to hold his own against.
Last but not least, the Rams have Tyler Higbee, a dangerous weapon inside at tight end. A week after Mike Gesicki killed the Bills’ defense inside, McVay must be keen to take advantage of this mismatch, especially if Milano and Edmunds aren’t ready to go. Higbee scored three touchdowns last week, and Buffalo can’t let a TE cause big problems for them in back to back weeks.
Overall, the Rams boast a well-coached offense that succeeds because of their smart head coach. Last year, people assumed they found a way to slow it down playing quarters coverage, something that Frazier and McDermott really like to use in the Bills’ defense. However, the success of the running game has made this strategy less effective. You can’t ignore the wrinkles created by McVay anymore, and it becomes a pick-your-poison situation. Buffalo will need to be fundamentally sound and very disciplined to slow down this offense.
Biggest advantage: Bills DBs disguising ability against Jared Goff
Reason for concern: successful running game keeping Rams offense in control of the game
Bills Offense vs. Rams Defense
Buffalo’s 9th-ranked offense will be facing their biggest challenge so far in 2020. The Rams have the 18th-ranked defense at this point, not terribly impressive. However, in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey they have a pair of elite players who can make a huge difference in their favor.
The Rams don’t have a particularly strong group of edge rushers. Former Chicago Bear Leonard Floyd and Samson Ebukam should be big threats to Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams outside. In fact, Buffalo should target them in the running game, giving Devin Singletary more opportunities on outside zone plays. Zack Moss won’t be available with a toe injury, which opens the door for more touches for Motor.
Despite lacking threats on the edge, the Rams’ pass rush can be very disruptive rushing just four players. That’s because Aaron Donald is a true beast. He’s arguably the best overall player in the league, and his presence inside is a huge cause for concern. Second-year guard Cody Ford hasn’t been able to play well enough to keep his job, and a rotation with Brian Winters and Quinton Spain is what we saw in last week’s matchup against the Dolphins. I can see this strategy being utilized again because nobody’s gonna stop Donald. Don’t sleep on Michael Brockers, either. They’re a great duo inside.
Closing the front seven, inside linebackers Micah Kiser and Kenny Young have been playing at a high level. With the Rams playing zone most of the time, they have done a good job covering the middle of the field.
In the secondary, Ramsey is the top dog. He has the ability to challenge Stefon Diggs in one-on-one situations all day long. Troy Hill and Darious Williams are solid, but I don’t see them being good enough to cover Brown or Beasley. To avoid his corners being exposed in man, Rams DC Brandon Staley will be calling several zone defenses.
With this group of receivers, Buffalo shouldn’t have many problems exposing soft spots in the Rams’ defense. Allen succeeded in his first two weeks throwing lasers to his receivers when they ran curl routes, comebacks and hooks, showing their numbers to the QB.
The biggest challenge for Allen will be Rams’ coverage disguises. The disguises could make Allen hold the ball for too long, and Donald won’t give you much time to think about where you are going with the ball.
The Bills’ receiver group has been awesome, and even if Ramsey finds a way to slow down Diggs, then Brown and Beasley should be able to produce. If Allen can avoid being fooled by Staley’s disguises, look out. The QB could be primed for another big game.
This matchup isn’t easy. The Rams’ defense rarely changes their pre-snap alignments, making things difficult for opposing QBs. They also rush just four consistently, playing a lot of players in coverage. Allen needs to be able to process these coverages quickly and find the open man. If he can do it, then the Rams will struggle a lot against the third-year pro.
Biggest Advantage: Josh Allen’s precision and velocity throwing darts against zone coverage
Reason for Concern: Aaron Donald should wreak havoc
It’s going to be a very close game. I like Buffalo’s shot at this matchup, with the entire defense ready to prove themselves as one of the top 3 units in the league. To do it, they can’t allow the Rams’ running attack to get going. I think this will be a well-fought matchup, but Buffalo will emerge victorious.
Prediction: Bills win, 27 – 24