The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 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 2022’s 1st iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ upcoming game at the Rams. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Rams Pass Defense
Josh Allen will begin his season standing on the sideline watching the Rams drop their Super Bowl banner. The last time we saw Allen on a sideline, he had compiled arguably the best back-to-back postseason performances in NFL history, but it would be for naught. Entering 2022 Allen is the odds-on favorite to win NFL MVP (+600) and seems poised to put together the best season of his career. Doing so will require a regular season where he improves on his single-season bests of 5006 Net Yards, 46 Touchdowns, and 13 Turnovers. If all this were to happen, Allen almost assuredly will be awarded the MVP, but more importantly the Bills would acquire the No.1 seed in the AFC. The path to this begins Week #1, in LA, on Thursday night football.
The first obstacle in this journey will pit Buffalo’s revamped offense against the stout defense of the Rams. There will be high intrigue on the talent-heavy matchup of WR Stefon Diggs and CB Jalen Ramsey but it’s the other matchups in this facet that will play a large part in determining the outcome of the game. Troy Hill returns to the Rams as CB2 after a disappointing year in Cleveland where he has a Passer Rating Against of 129.7. His primary responsibility on Thursday night will be fantasy darling Gabe Davis. Davis shocked the NFL World with his record-breaking 4 Touchdown performance against the Chiefs in the playoffs.
Now following a hype-filled offseason, he will look to cement himself as a high-end WR2. Protecting the slot will be Nickel CB David Long who quietly produced an NFL-best 43.0 Passer Rating Against in said role in 2021. He will have his hands full in Week 1 defending some combination of Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and Khalil Shakir, each of whom brings a unique skill set to the slot position. This matchup rounds out with a consortium at Safety for the Rams of Taylor Rapp, Nick Scott, and Jordan Fuller as well as auxiliary pieces for the Bills in TE Dawson Knox and RB James Cook. All of these players make for a fairly even matchup through the air in what should be a hotly contested game to begin the season.
Where this matchup has the ability to shift one direction or another is in the trenches.
The Rams will look to push the Pressure Rate of Josh Allen north of 25%. All-World DT Aaron Donald provides the clearest path to accomplishing this as a player who produces a higher Pass Rush Win Rate than any NFL defender regardless of the number of blockers on top of him. A more muddied path for the Rams lay on the edge where Leonard Floyd and Justin Hollins/Terrell Lewis will look to affect Josh Allen. Floyd is a proven commodity off the edge with 24.0 Sacks in his past two seasons with the Rams but Hollins and Lewis are more questionable. The heir(s) apparent to Von Miller the two combined for 24 Games Played last season and just 5.0 Sacks.
From Buffalo’s perspective, the hope is that LT Dion Dawkins and RT Spencer Brown/David Quessenberry can handle the edge rushers while some combination of Rodger Saffold (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and Ryan Bates (RG) can at least contain Aaron Donald thereby providing Allen time to find open receivers.
Bills Rush Offense vs. Rams Rush Defense
The Bills enter 2022 with what they hope will be a three-headed monster at RB led by fourth-year RB Devin Singletary. He should spend the season somewhere between a bell-cow back and featured back as Buffalo’s currently unquestioned RB1. In 2021, among RBs with 800+ rushing yards, Singletary ranked #5 in Y/A (4.63). Spelling him will be one, or both of, rookie James Cook and third-year RB Zack Moss. Cook looks to be the future at RB for the Bills, but early on will likely be deployed primarily as a pass catcher either out of the backfield or slot.
The more intriguing commodity on the ground remains Zack Moss, who is now fully healed from a foot injury that plagued him in 2021 and will look to have a big season. If Moss can live up to the expectations which lead the Bills to select him 86th overall in 2020 Buffalo may have something potent brewing in a traditional ground attack this season.
#NFL RBs with 950+ Scrimmage Yards & 25+ Receptions in 2019, 2020, AND 2021.
◾️Ezekiel Elliott (#Cowboys)
◾️Dalvin Cook (#Vikings)
◾️Aaron Jones (#Packers)
◾️Alvin Kamara (#Saints)
◾️DEVIN SINGLETARY (#Bills)*
*This is a Devin Singletary is RB1 Tweet
— Hänsel (@UberHansen) August 9, 2022
Week 1 will prove no easy task for the Bills RBs to get off to a quick start as the Rams possess talented run-stoppers at all three levels. The front lines are manned by Aaron Donald (DT), A’Shawn Robinson (DE), and Greg Gaines (NT) each of whom is proficient at rushing the passer but talented at reducing running lanes.
Behind them, the duo of Ernest Jones (ILB) and Bobby Wagner (ILB) make for the best LB unit the Rams have had since London Fletcher and Mark Fields in the early 2000s. While Jones will have a lot to prove in his sophomore season, there is little left for Wagner to prove. In 2021 he earned All-Pro Second Team honors which added to his total of eight All-Pro selections in the past decade. He may be 32 years old but as of yet, hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Behind them is a solid set of safeties with the most proficient against the run being Jordan Fuller. Fuller finished 2021 7th among all DBs with 113 Tackles while possessing a Missed Tackle Rate of just 7.4%.
The Bills will look to counter the Rams’ run-stopping talent in two ways. The first is a revamped and more physical offensive line schemed up by new OL coach Aaron Kromer. Rodger Saffold was brought from Tennessee specifically to provide the physicality that Kromer expects and the Bills desire. At 6’5″ 325lb Buffalo will look to combine Saffold’s brutish style of play with Center Mitch Morse’s finesse style to unplug Aaron Donald from the interior of the line. In theory, this would allow newly minted RG, Ryan Bates, to fold down onto the adjacent DT providing for multiple running lanes for Singletary/Cook/Moss.
But theory is only theoretical and containing Donald is at best conjecture. This leads to the second way the Bills will counter the Rams’ run-stopping talent, Josh Allen. If containing Donald is at best conjecture then slowing down Allen on the ground is at best speculative. Look for Allen to leverage his speed and agility early and often on both designed and ad-hoc runs in an effort to expand the box by exposing the slowness of the Rams’ back 7.
Bills Pass Defense vs. Rams Pass Offense
Losing All-Pro CB Tre White for at least the first four weeks of the season could prove problematic for the Buffalo Bills. Containing the Los Angeles passing attack would prove daunting with White and without, the chances seem even more suspect. In Week #1 the Bills will replace 2021 starters Tre White and Levi Wallace with a rotation of 2020 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson, raw 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam, and sixth-round pick Christian Benford. Each of these CBs has the potential for successful NFL careers and in the Bills system protected by All-Pro safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, they are in an environment to thrive. Early on though, they will be vulnerable against wily veteran Quarterbacks, and what do the Rams have? A wily veteran Quarterback named Matthew Stafford.
Stafford should be able to manipulate the aforementioned CBs to his liking and will do so with one of the better one-two punches at WR in the NFL. Cooper Kupp is the haymaker of those punches and is coming off a 2021 Receiving Triple Crown earning him the Offensive Player of the Year award. Kupp, who saw 87.2% of his targets out of the Slot will primarily be covered by Bills Nickel CB Taron Johnson. Of all the matchups on the field Thursday night, this is likely to be the most important one to watch.
The cross of the one, two punch for the Rams is Allen Robinson. Robinson made a name for himself on the Jaguars with Blake Bortles and continued a level of success with the Bears and Mitch Trubisky. Now at 29 with the Rams, Robinson is playing with the best Passing Quarterback of his career and will be in the conversation with Gabe Davis for best WR2 this season. The Bills will have the ability to pick which outside CB is covering him each play as the Rams lack of depth at WR, assuming WR3 Van Jefferson does not play, provides for little alternative for Stafford to target.
The Bills’ DBs will likely face some growing pains early in the season but are still an above average all-around unit in the NFL. Providing them more margin for error is a reinvigorated pass rush led by future Hall of Famer, Von Miller. Miller helped lead the Rams to a Superbowl title last season and is expected to be the missing ingredient for a Buffalo defense that was great at pressuring QBs but poor at bringing them down last season.
Add him to second-year player Greg Rousseau as well as an interior rush of Ed Oliver and Tim Settle/Jordan Phillips and the Bills have all the makings of a dominant pass rush in 2022. This should be on full display Week #1 as the Rams are replacing two 2021 OL starters, Andrew Whitworth (LT) with Joe Noteboom (LT) and Austin Corbett (RG) with Coleman Shelton (RG). Each of these two changes is a rather large downgrade and should leave the Rams susceptible to the Bills upgraded DL.
Bills Rush Defense vs. Rams Rush Offense
The Bills’ Achilles heel the past few seasons has been their inability to consistently slow down the run. A major reason for that has been the lack of a block-soaking 1T-Defensive Tackle. Star Lotulelei was thought to be just that but a lack of availability, as well as inconsistent play on the field, led the Bills to eating $7.7m in dead cap this offseason in hopes of greener pastures. Enter DaQuan Jones, the central New York native. Jones is going into his 9th season in the NFL, 7 with the Titans and 1 with the Panthers, as the Bills latest option at 1T-DT. He is by no means a stat compiler but at 6’4″ 320lb his job is simply to eat blockers. If Jones proves capable of doing that in Buffalo there will be a waterfall effect of improvements for this defense.
The Bills’ first chance to demonstrate improved abilities against the run will come against a duo of Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. 2021 saw Akers have a miraculous recovery from an Achilles tear in training camp when he returned for the final game of the season and became a workhorse in the playoffs. During the Rams Superbowl run Akers would play all 4 games and have 75 touches. Now fully healthy Akers will look to regain his 2020 form which saw him post a 4.3 Y/A with 748 scrimmage yards. He will be platooned by Henderson who has produced a 4.5 Y/A through his first 3 seasons. Henderson is a burst-reliant back that looks for a hole and uses his speed and acceleration to get through it. That style of play is symbiotic with Sean McVay’s zone running scheme but with changes on the OL there are some questions on how well that scheme will work early in the season.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) January 10, 2019
McVay’s running scheme is heavily dependent on the play of its Guards. Austin Corbett excelled in zone and in 2021 was often able to press his blocks to the second level where he was able to impede LBs. With Corbett gone and now replaced by Coleman Shelton, it is reasonable to ask if opposing LBs will receive as much attention this season. This goes back to Buffalo’s addition of DaQuan Jones who will be tasked with preventing Shelton from getting to the Linebackers, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. The former of those two has received heavy criticism from the Bills fan base over a perceived inability to consistently make game-changing plays. In a contract year and with the improvements in front of him he does seem poised to take a step forward this season. Los Angeles’ new OL provides an environment for Edmunds to take a step Week 1. If he does so the Bills defense could quickly force the Rams into a 1-dimensional game plan.
Bills Special Teams vs. Rams Special Teams
Heading into the season the Bills have one of the more solid kicking duos in the NFL. Tyler Bass has proven to be a top-tier kicker through his first two seasons consistently scoring among his elite colleges. In dome(-like) stadiums Bass is at his best with a 100% FG rate which is a marked improvement over his outdoor rate of 82.4%. The new punter for Buffalo is Sam Martin, who has graded out as one of the leagues better punters the past few seasons. He has an impressive career gross average of 46.1 and net average of 42.6. Where there are some concerns on the Bills Special Teams is in return. Isaiah McKenzie looks to be the Bills KR, a position he is electric at playing however, ball security remains top of mind. Meanwhile PR is shaping up to be handled by rookie Khalil Shakir where again, ball security matters more than anything else.
The Rams also have an impressive duo of kickers headlined by Matt Gay. Gay missed just 3 (46FG, 56FG, XP) of his 83 kicks in 2021 on route to a Pro Bowl nod. If there was an All-Pro watch heading into NFL seasons Gay would be a lock for that list as far as Kickers go. handling punts for the Rams is ex-Giants Punter Riley Dixon. Dixon has comparable numbers to Martin with a gross average of 45.3 and a net average of 41.8. Last is return specialist Brandon Powell who handled both KR and PR for the Rams. In just 6 games with LA in 2021, Powell averaged 26.0 Y/KR and 22.2 Y/PR, with one 61-yard PR. A dangerous return man for the Rams, Powell will be a concern as a player capable of making a game-changing play.
Why Buffalo Will Lose
In a game against one of the best Quarterbacks in the league and arguably the best WR losing Tre White is a massive blow. Young CBs make a lot of mistakes and in Week 1 against the Rams’ well-oiled passing attack, there are concerns that those mistakes could cost Buffalo the game. Add to that Allen Robinson and a sneaky good TE in Tyler Higbee and the Rams should be able to move the ball through the air. Doing that consistently will unclutter the box allowing lanes for Akers and Henderson to expose, creating an avalanche effect of offensive dominance for the Rams.
Defensively the Rams match up well with Buffalo. They have one of the better DLs in the NFL which will test an overhauled OL for Buffalo. Behind them is one of the best LBs in the league and an experienced player capable of testing any level of talent he plays against. As for the secondary, Jalen Ramsey is one of the best in the business and if he is able to singlehandedly shut-down Stefon Diggs the Bills may struggle to get their other unproven weapons consistently open. If this happens don’t be surprised if Josh Allen gets a little sugar high with Superbowl banners falling in front of every NFL fan itching for the season to begin.
Why Buffalo Will Win
Josh Allen plays at his best when he is just a little angry with something to prove. Watching Super Bowl banners fall before kickoff with the way last season ended for the Bills creates an environment that facilitates both of those feelings. Outside of Ramsey and David Long, the Rams’ secondary is suspect and if Gabe Davis and Dawson Knox are who Bills fans think they are this could quickly turn into a game Allen dominates through the air. Add to that a revamped run game lead by an improved OL, Aaron Kromer’S scheme, and more belief in Devin Singletary, and the Bills’ offense could be firing on all cylinders. Oh yeah, and if a cylinder goes down Allen’s legs have the ability to pick it right back up.
Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. If there was ever a descriptive phrase for the Bills’ defense it’s this. Youth in the secondary is a concern but the Bills’ zone scheme allows for mistakes to be made without catastrophic results. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are both still in Buffalo and should provide relief for the young CBs in front of them. This isn’t to say the Rams won’t make plays through the air, because they will, but that big plays should be far and few between. Meanwhile, up front, there are concerns for the Rams as their OL is worse this season than last while the Bills’ DL is better this season than last. Buffalo’s defense is not as good without Tre White but on Thursday night they may surprise some people at how good they could be.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Rams 24
The Rams joined the Kings (Hockey), Dodgers (Baseball), Lakers (Basketball), and Sparks (Basketball) as LA teams with a championship this millennium. Meanwhile Buffalo has been chasing a major championship for the past two millennia. On Thursday night football in front of almost every NFL fan, the Bills will look to begin a journey towards that elusive title in a game that could see any result. You want to tell me the Rams pull out a close one? Fine. Want to tell me the Rams blow the Bills out of the water? Ok. You want to tell me the Bills dominate? Sure. I’ve got the Bills winning by 4 in a game where they don’t settle for a FG and the Rams do, in what very well may be a preview of the second matchup on February 12, 2023.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khrsmMyPGMc