Back from the bye, the Buffalo Bills return home for the first time since their Week Three victory over the Denver Broncos, and when they come back, they’ll be hoping to keep their home record in 2017 perfect. This time around, the Bills are up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a chic team ahead of the season that has underperformed to start 2017.
With some rest and reflection, do the Bills have what it takes to take down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Five things to watch for in the upcoming Week Seven contest:
1) This is the week McCoy gets right
- Since the Bills win over the New York Jets, LeSean McCoy has been muted by opposing defenses over the last four games. It really isn’t his fault, as a combination of poor blocking up front and tough opponents have led to a dreadful stretch of games that has yielded little production to one of the most talented runners in the league. However, there is a silver lining here: in the Bengals game, the Bills had some success running up the middle of the offensive line — even if it wasn’t for overwhelming gains. The big chunk plays didn’t exist against Cincinnati, but at the very least we saw a much better push up front from the combination of linemen that were used. The better news: this Tampa Bay defense is ripe for the picking by the Bills rushing attack. Outside of Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, the front seven leaves a lot to be desired and can be exploited. I would target defensive tackle Chris Baker in particular, who is a big and slow starter that plays a bit too upright and has the tendency of getting pushed around. The defensive ends aren’t particularly overwhelming, nor is rookie starting linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Considering the success the Bills had running up the middle, and those potential mismatches, this has all the makings of a game that LeSean McCoy can dominate. I’d even look for the Bills to try and dominate the line of scrimmage by going with some plays that feature six offensive linemen to get an extra push up front — especially without the presence of tight end Charles Clay. Look for him to be just as involved in the passing game, too. I think this is a heavy workload game for McCoy, with plenty of potential to bust loose for big yardage.
2) How effective will Jameis Winston be?
- On Friday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it official: Jameis Winston would be able to play through his should injury and make the start in Buffalo on Sunday. The question is, how much will his injury impact his ability to consistently hit his targets? There’s no doubt that the Bills are facing a challenge in trying to account for the contested catch monster that is wide receiver Mike Evans, and then the speedy DeSean Jackson on the opposite side. It’s a true balance of contrasting styles that makes for a tough day for the secondary. Where Winston’s injury could play into the Bills’ favor is in his decision making. Winston is quite intelligent in the football department, but he also tries to force passes a bit more than he should. If the shoulder effects his usual accuracy in any capacity, even a few inches off on a pass could be the difference between a reception, an incompletion, or even a game-changing play for the ball-hawking secondary that the Bills have proven to be over the first five games.
3) Bills OL shuffle
- Really since the start of the season, the Bills have been trying to find the right blend of five starters to help a consistent problem this season: the lack of success from the offensive line as a group. Last week, the Bills made one big switch by starting Vladimir Ducasse over John Miller at right guard. While it was an unpopular decision at first — and even I had my hesitation there as well — it wasn’t all that unexpected considering just how poorly Miller had played in his first four games. Ducasse, surprisingly enough, actually showed better than expected — specifically in run blocking attempts. There were times that he certainly was beaten, but the positives outweighed how Miller performed in the four prior games — enough to warrant a second start. After taking all the right guard reps with the first-team that the media was allowed to see, the educated guess is that he’ll make his second straight start. It doesn’t appear that Jordan Mills is in jeopardy of losing his job at right tackle this week (even if he has struggled), so the only other job in question is at left tackle. Cordy Glenn seems to be nearing full health to the point in which the Bills might actually start him. There is no doubting his ability, considering how consistent he’s been as a starter. The true question is whether or not his current injuries will limit his effectiveness, and if they’d rather continue the progress of rookie offensive tackle Dion Dawkins instead. However, at practice this week, the only left tackle I saw taking reps with the first-team offense was Glenn, which could result in his first start since Week Two. To add even more proof to that theory, I even saw Dawkins take a pair of reps at right tackle with the second-team unit — which is something we saw from Glenn in warmups ahead of the Cincinnati game before he sat the entire game. If the Bills can find some rushing success on Sunday, this group of Glenn, Incognito, Wood, Ducasse, and Mills might just be the starting five for the short-term outlook, too.
4) Hughes has a plus matchup
- Considering how well he’s played all season, defensive end Jerry Hughes getting a matchup to exploit is a lot more common these days… but Sunday is no exception to the established rule. Hughes has been a monster this year and will be up against left tackle Donovan Smith — a player with the prototypical size but has shown to struggle with players with speed off the edge. He’s so big that players that can bend around the edge will have success, and that’s something that Hughes has shown an innate ability to do throughout the past several seasons. If you combine that matchup with Jameis Winston’s penchant for holding onto the ball a hair too long, we could be in for another one of those days — like the Cincinnati game — that Hughes just has a huge impact on, even if he doesn’t get a sack. He’s been tremendous in 2017, and if Winston holds onto the ball too long as he has done throughout his career, Hughes could have a sack or two by the time the final seconds tick off the clock on Sunday.
5) Zay Jones’ chance to break out
- In the most recent episode of the Bills Beat podcast, I mentioned several times how I believed this game was a “get right” game for what has ailed the Bills on offense — and that extends right to a player that the Bills desperately need to get going in 2017: rookie wide receiver Zay Jones. The ability is there… he just needs to both be given the opportunities and capitalize on the chances — two things that haven’t meshed well so far this season. This matchup is one for the Bills to finally get Jones a bit more involved in the offense — specifically when he’s lined up against starting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. I’m not expecting a huge stat line by any means, but I think Jones could reasonably rope in four or five receptions against this secondary. Perhaps that one-handed catch he made in the end zone in Cincinnati — that was ruled incomplete — is something to build on to instill more confidence in him. Quite honestly, if you’re going to risk re-injury with Jordan Matthews, this isn’t the most daunting of secondaries to go up against. It might make more sense to rest him for another week and to give Jones that many more opportunities to get on track. If the Bills want to be a consistent offense, they need production from both of their starting wide receivers — especially with tight end Charles Clay being unavailable to them for the foreseeable future.
OUT: TE Charles Clay, LB Ramon Humber
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jordan Matthews, CB EJ Gaines, CB Leonard Johnson
OUT: S Josh Robinson, DE Ryan Russell
QUESTIONABLE: LB Kwon Alexander, DE Robert Ayers, LB Lavonte David, LB Adarius Glanton, DE Noah Spence, S Keith Tandy, S T.J. Ward, QB Jameis Winston
Prediction: Bills over Buccaneers
- For what it’s worth, I like Jameis Winston as an up-and-coming quarterback in the league but I think this matchup just doesn’t line up well for them to try and take down the able and healthy defense of the Buffalo Bills. Winston will allow Mike Evans to make a few plays down the field and that’s going to keep the Buccaneers in this game, but the defense is playing at such a high level against the run that I think they’ll need to rely on Winston and his injured shoulder to throw them into a victory. Considering the injury, that could yield more chances for turnovers, and more chances for shortened fields for the struggling Bills offense. Tampa Bay’s struggles on defense are well-documented, which paves the way for LeSean McCoy to have his biggest game since the Week One win over the New York Jets. I think McCoy will be right around the 100-yard rushing mark — if not going over and contributes mightily in the passing game as well. With all of this going for the Bills and being at home, I’ll take them to come out of the bye with a win -- thereby setting up a showdown between them and the Oakland Raiders the following week.
Can the offense get back on track, and how do the Bills matchup specifically with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? 7ABC's Joe Buscaglia and Matthew Fairburn of NYUpstate.com discuss at length in the newest episode of the Bills Beat podcast. Listen below, or subscribe on iTunes here!