After two weeks, the Buffalo Bills have experienced two opposite ends of the spectrum offensively.
Following the win over the New York Jets, the Bills were moving the ball down the field efficiently and showed off their ability to run the ball.
That momentum came crashing down after the second week of the season when the Carolina Panthers shut down the rushing attack, never let the passing game get going, and held the Bills to a measly three points. And now, the questions about the offense are as loud as ever.
What might Week Three hold in store for the Bills? They’re up against the 2-0 Denver Broncos, who boast a just as good, if not better defense considering their first two opponents.
How do the Bills matchup with the Broncos? Five things to watch for on Sunday in the game:
1) Receivers will likely have a tough time once again
- As Bills fans had to sit back and watch Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin all combine for 276 receiving yards in one Thursday night contest, they’re left wondering when their current group of wide receivers will be able to make an impact. It didn’t come against a weakened Jets defense and the only signs of life we saw in Carolina was when the Panthers started to give up everything underneath to prevent the Bills from scoring a touchdown to take the lead. To put it lightly, it’s a concern for fans seeing the Bills wide receivers combine for a total of 149 yards. However, is this the opponent for them to finally do well against? Denver boasts one of the best pairs of man coverage cornerbacks in the league in Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib. They’re fast, they’re aggressive, and they don’t allow a lot to their opponents. Last week, the Bills just weren’t connecting with Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes — and that was going up against a zone-based defense. This time around, separation and winning their routes will be everything against Harris and Talib. They’re going to need the running game to help open up the passing attack in this contest, and that will once again be a chore for LeSean McCoy and an offensive line that hasn’t played up to the standard that they set in 2015 and 2016. It could be another long day on offense for the Bills.
2) Help Jordan Mills on third downs
- There are a few separate matchup disparities in the game when Denver’s defense is on the field, but there isn’t more of a game-changing matchup out there than All-Pro linebacker and pass rusher Von Miller working against the ever-struggling right tackle Jordan Mills. Predictably, the start to the 2017 season has not been ideal for Mills — who likely should have been replaced in the starting lineup this year, but an injury to Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson’s suspension stood in the way of Mills being taken off the field. Now, the Bills have to hope Mills just doesn’t get completely thrown overboard throughout the game by Von Miller. He’s not going to be able to do it alone. The Bills should tie a tight end to the hip of Mills on third downs all game, and do whatever they can to impede Miller’s progress even slightly. The presence of both him and the upstart Shaquil Barrett will make for a tough time in the pocket for Tyrod Taylor, so the Bills might be best served to feature a quick-hitting passing game. But, again, that presents problems because of the receiver’s ability to separate against these really good cornerbacks, and because Tyrod Taylor just hasn’t looked comfortable in three-step drops in any stage of 2017. If they can at least neutralize Miller a little bit and not allow him to take the game over due to the Mills matchup, it will be considered a success.
3) No Dareus on Sunday
- Throughout the practice week, the Bills were without starting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on the field all three days due to the ankle injury he suffered against the Carolina Panthers. Dareus was seen sporting an ankle brace for the first two days, though he was too far away from the media viewing area on Friday to see if he was still wearing the brace for a third straight day. Later that day on Friday, Dareus was officially declared out by the team. Despite his limited snaps through the first two games of the season and an overall lack of a flashy impact on the Bills, his absence will be felt against the Broncos. They have been motoring right along with featuring running back C.J. Anderson, and Dareus’ big body not being in the lineup to take up some space and give some of his teammates a chance to bring down Anderson down near the line of scrimmage. In his place, the Bills will likely start Adolphus Washington, who is an obvious downgrade to Dareus’ ability.
4) A plus matchup for Hughes and Lawson
- The Denver Broncos are holding out hope that their rookie left tackle Garrett Bolles will be able to play on Sunday, because if he doesn’t… they know it can get pretty ugly for Trevor Siemian with the Bills defensive linemen. Even if Bolles does play, he’ll have some trouble against Jerry Hughes. Hughes is playing at the type of level that we came to expect from him during his back-to-back double-digit sack seasons — and it seems to be the switch back to a 4-3 defense has been the catalyst for that. On the opposite side, Shaq Lawson and Eddie Yarbrough will have a big matchup to exploit against the Broncos and starting right tackle Menelik Watson. The right tackle tends to be really unbalanced against his opponents — and sometimes it works. A lot of times, however, it does not work and he surrenders pressure into the backfield. To counteract this, the Broncos have mostly employed a quick strike passing attack to highlight the outstanding route running of their wide receivers. You’ll see a decisive Siemian trying to get the ball out quickly. If he can, all the great matchups for the pass rush won’t mean anything if the ball is already out of his hand. That makes it a big day for another group on the defense to help support the pass rush…
5) The biggest test of Tre’Davious White’s young career
- … And that means the cornerbacks on the Bills roster have to step forward and have a great day. So far, both rookie Tre’Davious White and EJ Gaines have been solid as the starting boundary cornerbacks in this zone-based defense. They’re playing with intelligence, and not surrendering anything big. That said, they were also going up against a pretty terrible Jets offense, and against a pair of receivers in Carolina that aren’t known for stretching the field vertically — nor for their separation from cornerbacks. However, this week is an entirely different animal for White and Gaines going up against Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Sanders is one of the best route runners in the league and can make cornerbacks look downright foolish if they aren’t in the right position and show the type of instincts that they need to. Thomas can win with his speed, his route running, and with going up to make a contested catch. The Broncos especially like to use both players on slant plays over the middle of the field, so be on the lookout for that. That’s where White and Gaines come in. I’m especially interested to see how White performs because he has been great so far for the Bills in the first two games. I would also not be surprised to see the Broncos have Siemian utilize his pump fake to try and get the aggressive Bills safeties to bite, and then to try and beat them over the top with Sanders or Thomas. Siemian isn’t the best quarterback in the league, but he has shown a great feel for the Broncos scheme with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
OUT: DT Marcell Dareus, DT Jerel Worthy, LT Cordy Glenn
OUT: QB Paxton Lynch, CB Brendan Lanley
QUESTIONABLE: LT Garrett Bolles, WR Bennie Fowler
Prediction: Broncos over Bills
- While I don’t believe that this will be a blowout by any means — mostly because the Bills defense can have some success against this Broncos offense. However, where the Bills lose me in their ability to pull out a victory is in going up against a fantastic, fast, and aggressive Broncos defense. They’ve had role players like Shaquil Barrett and Adam Gotsis step out of basically nowhere to play at a high level, and the complement the normal studs like Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and Derek Wolfe incredibly well. I look at the Broncos defense against the Bills offense — and the only advantage I see for the Bills is in LeSean McCoy. However, will he have the blocking in front of him to get him started and to have a big game, or will we see the same thing as we did last week? I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but I just can’t see the Bills offense sustaining nearly enough throughout the game to come away with the victory.
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