The Buffalo Bills have a crucial contest coming up, if for no other reason, is for cosmetic reasoning. At 4-4, the Bills are up against the Seattle Seahawks for Monday Night Football, and have their bye weekend immediately following the upcoming tilt.
If the Bills were to win, they’d have a winning record going into the bye weekend, and that makes the playoffs look that much more attainable. A loss, and the Bills would likely need to win six of their last seven games to secure a playoff spot — which has the perception of an incredibly daunting task.
The Seahawks have won their last ten games in Monday Night Football, and have won 15 out of 19 attempts with Pete Carroll as their head coach. Can the Bills do the unthinkable and break the streak at CenturyLink Field?
Five things to watch when the Bills take on the Seahawks:
1) Hughes, pass rush needs to be huge for Bills
- For a while there during the season, it seemed like every week yielded a great matchup for Jerry Hughes to potentially exploit — and he did his part to help the defense into a great performance. Considering the perception surrounding how good Seattle is from a year-to-year basis, it’s probably a bit shocking for some that the offensive line play for the Seahawks has bordered on the line of horrid. Considering how effective of a player he is, and how good of a season he’s had, it makes his matchup against right tackle Garry Gilliam the biggest advantage on the field for the Bills. Gilliam has the tendency of lowering his head when he gets into trouble athletically, which is the signal for a pass rusher to use their finishing move and get to the quarterback. With a bevy of moves, Hughes should be able to consistently win his one-on-one matchup when given the chance to. And really, he isn’t alone in that. No matter if Lorenzo Alexander or Shaq Lawson is out there against the left tackle, the matchup favors the Bills on that side as well. Normal starter Bradley Sowell is questionable to play — who has struggled mightily this year — and if he can’t play then the Seahawks will be forced to go with George Fant once again. If the Bills want to try and force the issue and cause a turnover or two from the usually turnover-averse Seahawks, it will be on the pass rushing duo to set the tone.
2) A weakness in great Seattle run defense?
- When the Bills declared on Saturday that they believed LeSean McCoy was ready to play on Monday night against Seattle, the first thought is that the Bills want their top runner on the field against one of the best run defenses in the league. While that much is true, it might also be due to the fact that McCoy — when at full health — is the type of runner that can do a bit of damage against the Seattle front. In this case, ‘damage’ is a relative term because the yards per carry average is bound to be lower than what you’d normally expect from McCoy, again, if fully healthy. I believe McCoy could have some success due to the players the Seahawks use in the middle of their defense. Bills fans will remember this name quite well: rookie defensive lineman Jarran Reed, who has surprisingly been sub-par and able to be controlled when opponents run at them. Ahtyba Rubin also hasn’t performed well, so whenever one of those two are in the game, the interior line should be able to find a way through those players more often than not. Teams in the past couple of weeks have also had some success when the get the Seahawks moving side-to-side and jutting back with cutback opportunities — a skill that McCoy is incredibly proficient at. There is an opportunity for solid gains, which against this defense, would be somewhere between five and eight yards. Not a lot of home runs are hit against this defense — they’re extremely well-coached and talented. However, there is also the obvious question mark hanging over the head of the Bills’ lead runner: How much will he able to do on his injured hamstring? My best guess — since they declared that he is ready to go in this game — is that they’ll use him the same way they did against Miami, and if he begins to feel the hamstring even a little, they’ll shut him down once again. With the bye week on the way, it makes little sense to push the envelope in this instance.
3) Seattle’s quick passing attack
- To try and thwart the overall lack of a competent offensive line, the Seahawks have been going with a lot of quick-hit passing plays to minimize the pass rush. Not only that, but it also prevents a hobbled Russell Wilson from having to either take hits, or to try and use his legs to get out of trouble. Due to his high ankle sprain, a bruised MCL, and an injury to his pectoral muscle, Wilson is a shadow of himself at the present moment. He has played through the pain, and as a result, is mostly pocket-based in 2016. By getting the ball out quickly it limits the hits teams can put on him, but it also limits the type of routes that are run by the receivers, as well as the potential gains on individual passing plays. The Bills secondary has certainly seen it’s share of struggles, so they need to be on point against this Seattle passing offense that will attempt to nickel and dime them all the way down the field. Physicality and aggressiveness from the cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage are entirely necessary based on how the opponent stacks up this week.
4) Don’t sleep on C-Mike
- The Bills will be without Marcell Dareus for the eighth time in nine weeks, but they’ll also be missing backup nose tackle Corbin Bryant against Seattle as well. That likely forces Kyle Williams inside to nose tackle, and gives Leger Douzable, Adolphus Washington, and Jerel Worthy bigger roles in the contest. As for the linebackers, it is right to point out how much of a surprise Zach Brown has been in the 2016 season. He has weeks that made him look like an absolute star of the defense. However, that has not been the case the last two weeks. Brown has played blatantly average, and has been getting covered up by blockers much more often than he had been through the first six weeks of the season. There has also been a bit of regression from his running mate, Preston Brown as well. Against Miami, Preston was one of the worst defenders on the field, and he didn’t get back to the form he showed from the first six weeks against the Patriots, either. Now, the counterpoint to that is the Seattle offensive line, which really is their biggest weakness. But that’s where the talent of the running back also comes into play, and Christine Michael has been a solid player, that could be a spectacular one if he had some better players blocking in front of him. He’s a dangerous athlete that you don’t want getting into open space, so the Bills need to be careful with him — he can bust a big one.
5) Clay the passing game X-factor?
- I know, I know. We say it every week, and every week the Bills criminally underutilize their starting tight end. Charles Clay is a good athlete, and potential mismatch against the Seattle defense. While they are extremely proficient in limiting what teams can do both on the ground and from their receivers, the Seahawks are actually one of the worst ranked teams against opposing tight ends according to FootballOutsiders.com. Clay is running open each and every week, and Tyrod Taylor fails to take advantage of his middle-of-the-field target enough. If the Bills want to move the ball, Taylor will need to use Clay and depend on him to keep churning out intermediate gains and first downs. It’s going to be tough sledding for both offenses, and two touchdowns with a field goal might end up being all the victorious team needs.
OUT: DL Corbin Bryant (shoulder), DL Marcell Dareus (groin), WR Brandon Tate (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: Lorenzo Alexander (hamstring), RB Reggie Bush (groin), TE Charles Clay (knee), LT Cordy Glenn (ankle), OLB Jerry Hughes (hand), RB LeSean McCoy (hamstring), OLB Lerentee McCray (knee), WR Robert Woods (foot)
OUT: DE Michael Bennett (knee), S Kam Chancellor (groin), CB DeAndre Elliott (hamstring), RB Thomas Rawls (fibula), TE Luke Wilson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: T Bradley Sowell (knee)
Prediction: Seahawks over Bills
- Even though there are a few different places I could see the Bills being able to take advantage of the Seahawks — seeing as how this team is not the same Seattle one that we’re used to — I just don’t know that the Bills have enough to overcome all the things they do well. This two teams are actually built pretty similarly on offense, with both teams showing the ability to limit turnovers (Seattle’s 6 to Buffalo’s 4). However, despite the ability to limit turnovers, both have their difficulties in putting up a bunch of yards. Because of that, each team has to rely on their defense to bring them forward, and while the Bills have been maddeningly inconsistent on that side of the ball, the Seahawks have been mainly dominant. That defense, against an average quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and a running game led by a potentially not 100-percent LeSean McCoy, leads me to believe that the Bills will have a tough time scoring enough points to pull the upset. You have to factor in the crowd as well, because that will end up being the loudest stadium the Bills will face in 2016. All in all, I think it’s a doable task for the Bills and a game that I will not count them out of — and one I could even see them pulling the upset — but the Seahawks are just too good defensively to pick against them at home on Monday night.
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