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Joe B: 5 things to watch for in Bills-Jaguars (11/26/16)

Joe B: 5 things to watch for in Bills-Jaguars (11/26/16)
Posted at 7:25 PM, Nov 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-26 19:25:00-05

The Buffalo Bills took a big step forward last weekend in Cincinnati, getting themselves back to a .500 record, and within two games of the final playoff spot in the AFC. The Bills are next up against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a struggling team that has massively under-performed in 2016.

The Bills, if they want to sneak into the playoffs, likely need to win five of their final six games which makes the Jaguars contest one that they really need to have. How do they stack up to Jacksonville?

Five things to watch against the Jaguars:

1) Watkins back is great, but McCoy is the key
- The Buffalo Bills made the move to activate wide receiver Sammy Watkins on Saturday, and while he’ll provide somewhat of a lift, the Bills’ offensive success will likely ride on the rushing attack. LeSean McCoy is back this week after missing the second half of last week’s game against Cincinnati with a thumb injury. Following surgery, McCoy was sporting a big wrap on his left thumb, but otherwise went through the week pretty well. The Bills don’t seem to think McCoy will have any limitations — nor can they afford any. His main backup, Mike Gillislee, injured his hamstring on Wednesday during practice and couldn’t participate the rest of the week, which led to his being ruled out for the Jaguars contest. If anything were to happen to McCoy, there would be a steep drop-off to the combination of Reggie Bush and rookie Jonathan Williams. Why is McCoy so important? The Jaguars have struggled all season long in trying to stop the run, and are ranked by FootballOutsiders.com as the 10th-worst run defense in the league. McCoy can have a huge game — and they’ll need him to.

2) A muted Sammy Watkins
- The Bills will in fact have Watkins back on the field, but the expectation is that Watkins will not be like his normal, starting self. He’ll likely be a ceremonial starter for the Bills and get somewhere around 50-percent of the snaps, but it is a tad discouraging for them hearing from his offensive coordinator that he was on a pitch count, his conditioning was lacking, and that he was only going about three-quarters speed. However, the Bills will use Watkins and hope that he can provide a spark to what was a dormant passing attack last week. The Jaguars do have a fairly good pass defense though, meaning it might not be a huge output for Watkins or the rest of the receivers. Still, it’s great for the Bills to have one of their most talented players on the field — no matter how much he plays.

3) Shaq’s chance to shine? Lorenzo Alexander, too
- As the week started up, Bills head coach Rex Ryan declared that they’ve been using Lorenzo Alexander far too much, and that they also want to get first-round pick Shaq Lawson more involved in the defensive game plans. Through his first four games on the active roster, Lawson has averaged just over 21 snaps per game — which really isn’t the type of output we expected when they first drafted him and declared him to be an immediate starter. Of course, that was before the shoulder surgery and Alexander coming on as strongly as he did, but the point remains the same… Lawson really hasn’t been used a ton by the team. Whether it’s Alexander or Lawson on the field, both will have a meaty matchup in the form of Jaguars left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Alexander played like his hair was on fire against Cincinnati, and showed his hamstring injury was behind him. Lawson has shown flashes here and there, which makes him ready to pop for a big week one of these games. This could be just the matchup to do it, along with Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams being a part of the equation as well.

4) Ihedigbo/Meeks combo on the way
- To make room for Sammy Watkins, the Buffalo Bills placed Robert Blanton on injured reserve — effectively ending his season prematurely. Blanton had been starting and taking the majority of the defensive snaps alongside Corey Graham, but now the Bills will have to trust someone else with the responsibility. The safest bet on what to expect is a lot of veteran safety James Ihedigbo at strong safety, with Graham shifting over to free safety. Ihedigbo is a big, strong, and physical safety that is solid against the run, while struggling in coverage. However, Jonathan Meeks will get his chances too. It just seems like that at this point of the season, the Bills and Rex Ryan are opting for a more practiced hand at such a critical juncture, which is likely why we’ll see a good deal of Ihedigbo back there. Either way, both options struggle in coverage which is why Graham will likely have to be the main coverage safety for the Bills against a Jaguars team that takes a lot of chances through the air.

5) Dareus/Williams combo will make life hard on the Jags OL
- Man, was it a thing of beauty watching Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus dominate the line of scrimmage against Cincinnati. The Bengals basically ceased to exist in the second half, and that duo was a big reason why. The Bills have been waiting basically the entire season for Dareus to get healthy enough to form that combination, but if they play the way that they did against Cincinnati for the rest of the season, that could be one of the things that makes this quite a fruitful final six games. Jacksonville boasts a solid left guard in Patrick Omameh, and a good center in Brandon Linder, but right guard A.J. Cann has struggled once again this season. However, those two are so good that a one-on-one against anyone can yield a positive result for the Bills — and that’s what they’ll be banking on to force the Jaguars to throw it around more and for Blake Bortles to make some mistakes.

Injuries

Buffalo
OUT: WR Robert Woods (knee), RB Mike Gillislee (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: DL Corbin Bryant (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Percy Harvin (illness), T Seantrel Henderson (Non-Football Related), T Cordy Glenn (back), OLB Lorenzo Alexander (ankle), TE Charles Clay (knee), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), RB LeSean McCoy (thumb)

Jacksonville
OUT: DE Jared Odrick (shoulder), OLB Dan Skuta (back), DE Chris Smith (eye), TE Julius Thomas (back)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Arrelious Benn (concussion), CB Aaron Colvin (concussion), DT Abry Jones (ankle), RB T.J. Yeldon (ankle)

Prediction: Bills over Jaguars
- This is a game, like last year against Jacksonville, that the Bills should win. They are the better team on paper, they’re playing better football than the Jaguars are at the moment, and Jacksonville is an opponent that is not a good match against the Bills formula of running the ball and forcing turnovers on defense. The Jaguars are bad in both of those areas, which leads me to believe that the Bills should have no problems with this game. Then again, the Bills do tend to struggle in games like these — historically making them much closer than they need to be. Plus, they’ve lost five games in a row and still do have some good pieces on the offensive side of the ball to work with. However, as long as the cornerbacks play soundly against the Jaguars, the defensive line wins the point of attack, and the Bills get their rushing game going, they should be fine. It might get uncomfortable at times, but I think the Bills ultimately get this one done and move their record up to 6-5.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia