For the Buffalo Bills, if they have hopes of salvaging the 2017 season, there’s really no time like the present. The Bills head into their upcoming contest with the Kansas City Chiefs hoping not just for a win, but even if the game doesn’t go their way, they’ll want to be a lot more competitive in this game than they have been through the last three weeks.
The Bills have lost their last three games in blowout fashion, surrendering a whopping total of 45 points per game over that span. They’ve been run over, the middle of the pass defense let them down, and the offense has had no counterpunch to keep it competitive.
The Bills are up against a Chiefs team that has lost four of their last five but also started the season with a 5-0 record. Plus, it’s the same Chiefs team that has served up soul-crushing losses to the Bills the last several times they’ve met.
Can the Bills reverse their fortunes and sneak out a win? Will they look better in this game? Five things to watch for in Bills - Chiefs:
1) Will Tyrod channel his inner Alex Smith?
- This isn’t nearly what you think it is, knowing the overall reputation of Alex Smith in his time as a starting quarterback. Tyrod Taylor and Alex Smith, in their most common form, are actually fairly similar players. They don’t take a lot of chances, they’re mobile quarterbacks that can pick up a tough first yard on a play that looks dead, they don’t turn the ball over, they have the ability to hit the deep ball when they actually throw it, and they need a good enough team around them to get to the playoffs. Now, what do I mean by channeling his inner Alex Smith? It’s about those first five games in the 2017 season for the Chiefs, a stretch of games that saw Smith play a dramatically different brand of football. Smith, likely feeling the heat from rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes, started to uncharacteristically take chances down the field and the Chiefs had as dynamic an offense as you could find through the first stretch of the season. I wonder if that same phenomenon from Smith is something we’ll see in Taylor this week against Kansas City. The Bills desperately want him to take more chances down the field and to throw the ball into tight windows — much like Nathan Peterman was willing to do — albeit unsuccessfully — which was a main reason for the switch in the first place. This was the biggest threat to Taylor hanging on to a starting job since he’s come to Buffalo, so sometimes when something as jarring as that happens, it causes a person to try and switch things up and do things to hang on to what he holds dear. Based on what we’ve seen from Taylor, there really isn’t a reason to count on this happening with him, but, just based on human nature in protecting what is theirs, perhaps we see Taylor operate a little differently this week. They’ll certainly want to see it in action, especially with the potential of a glorious shot at making the playoffs potentially passing them by. We’ll see how Taylor responds to being benched in his first start back, especially with a start next week not exactly being guaranteed to the veteran quarterback.
2) The X-Factor: Travis Kelce
- Against the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints, we saw the Buffalo Bills get run over on the ground, with that pair of teams just really doing whatever it is they wanted with the rushing attack. The majority of their success went right up to the middle of the defense, forcing a lot of missed tackles along the way. The Bills did a better job against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers rushing offense, but while they were selling out for the run, their old problem from earlier in the season came back to haunt them: covering receivers and tight ends over the middle of the field. The combination of Ramon Humber, Lorenzo Alexander, Preston Brown, Leonard Johnson, and even EJ Gaines brought a lot of opportunities for Keenan Allen to rip up the Bills on almost every drive. The Chiefs certainly have a receiver to do so, but the real player that must be heavily accounted for is tight end Travis Kelce. He’s one of those players that is so athletic for his size that he’s an outright mismatch for most players — especially the ones that the Bills trot out on the field for defense week in and week out. He has a knack for finding soft spots in zone coverage and busting through with a lot of yards after the catch, and he can also expose the turn-and-run ability of linebackers on deep passes if the Chiefs push the ball downfield. However, with Alex Smith recently resuming much of what he’s done for his career in mostly keeping throws to the short and intermediate areas, that puts Kelce in the limelight for this game. Kelce has the potential to blow this game up against the Bills.
3) Tyreek Hill needs to be shadowed
- While the majority of the Chiefs receivers aren’t much to be feared, a specific plan must be in place for speed threat Tyreek Hill. He lines up everywhere on the field for Kansas City — on both sides outside the numbers, and even in the slot. If the Bills continue along with the brand of coverage they’ve been utilizing, there will be times that he’ll be going one-on-one against EJ Gaines (who struggled against Los Angeles), or worse yet, Leonard Johnson. Hill is a matchup nightmare for Johnson especially, which is why the shadow technique is the smartest course of action here. Rookie Tre’Davious White has certainly been beaten this year by good receivers, but he’s also their best player at the position by quite a large margin. Without another big threat at receiver besides Hill, it makes all the sense in the world to have White shadow Hill to try and limit his effectiveness. It still might not work, but it’s better to put your best player by a large margin against the opponent’s best player by a large margin and let the duo go toe-to-toe to see who wins. If the Bills don’t and allow Hill to line up against Gaines or Johnson, that will bring up a lot of questions as to why they won’t adjust their game plan to their strengths.
4) Attack the left side of the offensive line
- We’ve talked a bit about the Chiefs’ strengths, but I think there is a spot that the defense can attack and thwart both the run and get to Alex Smith on passing attempts: the left side of their offensive line. Left tackle Eric Fisher has just been okay this season, and the usually strong Jerry Hughes has a big advantage there. The same goes for really whichever player lines up against left guard Zachary Fulton. He was beaten so many times against a sub-par New York Giants team last week that it needs to be an area that the Bills attack in this game. I could see Kyle Williams, who had a major bounce-back game against the Chargers, giving Fulton a lot of problems from one play to the next. Heck, I’d even give Deandre Coleman more of an opportunity this week against Fulton too, based on how Coleman played against the L.A. Chargers. If the Bills want to generate some disruption in the pocket for both Smith and the suddenly struggling running back Kareem Hunt, Fulton and Fisher are a pair to attack. If they don’t have success, Hunt could be looking at a “get right” game of his very own this week.
5) The ghosts of the past offseason
- For all the trades that Bills GM Brandon Beane has pulled off in the offseason, the first time we’re going to see one of those players that have passed on to new locations in a prominent role in this weekend in Kansas City. The Bills gave up on former second-round pick Reggie Ragland — and there really isn’t any way around saying that. Ragland was just into his second season — with his first being stopped before it even began last year with a torn ACL in training camp. It seemed like the Bills were headed for a competition for the starting middle linebacker role between Ragland and Preston Brown — but they never gave him the chance. Ragland not only didn’t take a single first-team rep in the summer, he was even demoted by this coaching staff behind a player that they eventually cut in Gerald Hodges. When asked if he could play one of the outside positions, the Bills were unflinching and said they felt it was best he stayed in the middle. It was abundantly clear that their mind was made up on him — and that he didn’t fit the defense — a long time before he was traded. Given the Bills’ weakness that is the linebackers, this is lining up as one of the more peculiar trades they made in the offseason. Ragland has been playing well as his role has grown in Kansas City — and is a natural fit for their 3-4 defense as a thumping inside backer. He does one thing that none of the current Bills’ starters have shown the ability to do consistently: to get off blocks and make tackles near the line of scrimmage. Ragland will be especially motivated this week. Combine his presence, with the potential that Patrick Mahomes might somehow find his way on the field at quarterback for the Chiefs. A worst-case scenario would be if the Chiefs are stagnant in the first half, they go to Mahomes for a spark, and he lights the Bills defense up from that point forward. The Bills had the chance to take Mahomes and decided to give the Chiefs the ability to take the potential franchise quarterback in the first round. It’s only one game and it can’t be the only evidence used to establish a winner and a loser years after the trade was made, but those two individuals have the ability to make the Bills seem a bit foolish by a pair of seemingly up-and-coming players, which would further add frustration to a fan base that has seen the team erode over the last three weeks.
OUT: LT Cordy Glenn, G John Miller, RB Mike Tolbert, WR Kelvin Benjamin
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jordan Matthews, TE Charles Clay, WR Deonte Thompson
OUT: OLB Dee Ford, LB Terrance Smith
QUESTIONABLE: DE Allen Bailey, LB Tamba Hali, WR Albert Wilson
Prediction: Chiefs over Bills
- While the Kansas City Chiefs have in fact lost four of their last five games… I think the Bills are walking into a game against a team that’s a lot better than the way that they’ve been playing and the results that have followed. Kansas City has the playmakers on offense, they have a solid front seven to stop what the Bills do best well enough — rushing the ball with LeSean McCoy. The one true advantage the Bills might have over the Chiefs is through the air because of how poorly Kansas City has played on the back end, but the Bills just haven’t shown enough in the passing game over the first 10 games of the season to show any relative dependence on the fact that they’ll be able to exploit that weakness of their opponents. Underscoring the deficiencies on the Bills roster is the fact that Sean McDermott’s team has played quite poorly on the road all but once this season. The offense didn’t show up in Carolina to the tune of scoring three points, they came out flat against the Cincinnati Bengals and struggled to move the ball in that game as well, they were blown out by the New York Jets, and then again out west in Los Angeles just last weekend. With the only win being a close one in Atlanta, at 1-4 on the road, the Bills just haven’t shown up well enough away from New Era Field. With all of that in mind, and all the advantages the Chiefs have, I think the Bills’ losing streak will hit four in a row and the Chiefs will get back on the winning track after an embarrassing loss last week to the New York Giants, and they could even run away with it in impressive fashion. After three straight blowout losses, we’ll truly get to see what this Bills team is all about against a superior opponent.