Matching Up: Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans

10/13/2020
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After one reschedule and understandable skepticism about this game even happening because of a COVID-19 breakout among the Tennessee Titans players and staff members, it seems the Buffalo Bills finally will take on the Titans today, in a duel between two unbeaten teams.

It isn’t an easy task to analyze this game’s matchups because of all uncertainty surrounding both teams. The Titans still have several players on the COVID List, and Buffalo has a big list of players with all sorts of injury issues. Regardless, here’s my take on tonight’s game:

Bills Offense vs. Titans Defense

All the uncertainties aside, this should be the toughest game yet for this Bills team, starting with the offensive side of the ball. The Bills have had a very productive offensive year so far, but the Titans offer a different type of challenge.

Tennessee’s front seven is a talented one. Their trio of pass rushers, formed by Jadeveon Clowney, Harold Landry, and Vic Beasley, threaten Daryl Williams and Dion Dawkins in a way that no edge rushers have so far in 2020. They’re usually complemented by Jeffery Simmons inside, but he is on the COVID list and shouldn’t be able to play. The Titans do have NT DaQuan Jones back, however, and ready to contribute to their run defense.

Closing out the front seven, Tennessee has a nice pair of interior linebackers in Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans. The former has the speed and mobility to cover from sideline to sideline, and the later is more in an old-fashioned thumper mold, able to take on blockers in the running game and punish ball carriers.

The Titans’ secondary should also miss some pieces. Their top corner, Adoree Jackson, is on IR and, as this article is written, Kristian Fulton is on the COVID list. Even without those two, it’s a deep and experienced group that, paired with a strong pass rush, can give Josh Allen some trouble.

The starting CBs, Malcom Butler and Johnathan Joseph, are rock solid veterans who rarely commit mental or technical mistakes. Kenny Vaccaro has been playing well since his arrival in Nashville, and Kevin Byard is an All-Pro safety with game-changing talent.

The Titans certainly have the right players to cause problems for any offense in the league, and Mike Vrabel knows a thing or two about defenses. Buffalo will need to take advantage of Simmons’ absence on the interior and try to pound the rock there with Devin Singletary and — possibly — with Zack Moss coming back from injury. That’s a defense that has the pieces to rush the passer effectively in third-and-long situations, so Buffalo needs to avoid them at all costs.

I believe it’s a game where Bills OC Brian Daboll will utilize Josh Allen running the football more than what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. Running the football is really important against this defense, which possesses a playmaking secondary ready to force some mistakes.

Bills wide receiver John Brown, struggling with a calf issue, likely won’t play, making things even more difficult for Buffalo. Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis certainly are capable of getting open against the Titans’ veterans in man coverage, but a mix of zone coverages paired with the strong pass rush can be really dangerous to Buffalo. It’s going to be a nice test for Allen.

Biggest advantage: Allen to Diggs connection vs. Titans’ slower CBs

Reason for concern: Titans’ pass rush and Kevin Byard’s ball hawking skills

Bills Defense vs. Titans Offense

Just like their defense, the Titans’ offense has the personnel and schemes capable of giving Buffalo a tough time. It’s a team that found its identity last year after Ryan Tannehill took over as the starting QB.

Running back Derrick Henry continues to be the focal point of the offense, running hard behind a good OL, but Tannehill has taken advantage of this running game and has become a top-notch game manager, minimizing mistakes and consistently giving his weapons a chance to produce.

Two of those weapons, WRs Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, should be out (COVID list). However, second-year standout A.J. Brown, who only had played one game this year, is back. He’s a nightmare to defend, being really explosive and a threat to catch a five-yard slant and take it to the house. He’s the perfect type of receiver for Tannehill, who won’t be beating you if he’s put consistently in clear passing situations.

Another dangerous weapon is tight end Jonnu Smith. He’s an athletic pass catcher, and Buffalo won’t have LB Matt Milano available for this game, out with a pectoral injury. Tyrel Dodson should start in his place, and he’ll be in the mix to slow Smith down. He lacks Milano’s prowess in coverage, though. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde should see snaps matched up on Smith, too.

Outside of those two really good players, the Titans won’t have much to work with in the passing game. However, Bills All-Pro CB Tre’Davious White didn’t practice all week long and is listed as questionable with a back issue. If he doesn’t play, then the CB depth will be really tested. Levi Wallace is also out after landing on IR (ankle), and Josh Norman, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, and Cam Lewis are the CBs available to play. That’s a group that certainly will be tested by Tannehill, especially targeting A.J. Brown.

With rookie Darrynton Evans back to complement Henry, we can expect a heavy dose of running game, with Tannehill trying to take advantage of it with play action passes on third-and-short situations. It’s not very different from what we’ve seen the last couple of weeks against the Rams and the Raiders, but despite playing really well for a year now, I don’t have Tannehill playing at quite same level as Jared Goff or Derek Carr this year. If Buffalo can contain Henry like they did Josh Jacobs a week ago, then there’s a good chance that they can force Tannehill to commit mistakes.

Biggest advantage: Bills’ pass rush vs. Titans’ OL

Reason for concern: Henry and the running game / No answer for A.J. Brown (if White doesn’t play)

Overall

It’ll be a tough game; these teams are unbeaten for a reason. Uncertainties about who’s going to play or not make things even harsher to anticipate. The Titans’ struggles with all of the positive COVID-19 cases, needing to close the facilities and not being able to practice normally, should have an impact in this game.

On the other side, Buffalo has been hit by a series of injuries. They’re mostly minor, but the absence of Matt Milano, and possibly Tre’Davious White and John Brown, may become too much to overcome, especially against a really good team.

Buffalo will need more of MVP Josh Allen if they want to leave Nashville with a win, especially if White doesn’t play. The defense will be severely weakened without him and Milano, opening a great opportunity for Tennessee. If White plays, then I’m far more confident in the Bills’ defense’s ability to slow down Tennessee’s offense and make Allen and the offense’s lives easier.

Prediction: Bills win, 27-20.

 

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