The Buffalo Bills will set out to do something they haven’t done since 2008: win four games in a row during the regular season. Going up against the team that they are in Week Six, the 3-2 Bills have a clear opportunity to accomplish that feat.
This time around, they’ll be going up against the 1-4 San Francisco 49ers, a team that has lost four straight games, and made a quarterback switch this week. Can the Bills prevent the letdown game from tarnishing a terrific three-game stretch?
Five things to watch for in Bills-49ers:
1) Will Kaepernick change the complexion of the game?
- This will be the lone part of the game that could potentially flip things on the Bills. It’s quite clear that the Bills have an incredibly talented roster, and a combination of both poor roster building and injuries have brought the 49ers to be one of the least talented rosters in the league. However, a new quarterback and the art of surprise can potentially flip two known quantities on their head for one week. Colin Kaepernick, who has taken over for Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback, is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league. He’s an accomplished runner of a quarterback, though the throwing part of it has seemingly evaded him from an accuracy perspective. However, Kaepernick is working with head coach Chip Kelly — the same Chip Kelly that had loads of success at Oregon, and when he first entered the league with his game plans for then starter Michael Vick for the first few weeks. I’d expect a fair bit of read-option from the 49ers and Kaepernick early on, which makes the roles of Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes vital to contain the edge, and certainly on Zach Brown as the man that’s running free the majority of his time on the field. If that trio can help keep Kaepernick in check for the most part, and force him to throw the ball more than they’d like, they can quickly regain control of the game. Expect to see a few big yardage plays from him, but then it’s on Rex Ryan to give them a counter-punch. If they successfully thwart that, the 49ers don’t have many other surprises to offer.
2) McCoy, offensive line should dominate
- With the exception of a couple of players, the 49ers have a defensive front seven that can be taken advantage of which has led to an obvious statistic against their defense. San Francisco is the second-worst team at stopping the run in the National Football League, allowing an average of 146.8 yards per game to their opponents. Along their defense, they’re using players like defensive end Arik Armstead, nose tackle Mike Purcell, outside linebackers Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks, and inside linebackers Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore — all of whom have gotten off to a poor start to the 2016 season. This matchup could end up being LeSean McCoy’s highest output of 2016 for running yards in one game. The Bills offensive line is healthy and playing extremely well, and should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage like they did last week. Keep an eye out for one player on the 49ers: defensive end Quinton Dial, who has had some success to start the season. Without much else, though, McCoy should be able to build off his impressive performance against the Rams in a big way.
3) WR Jeremy Kerley vs. CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
- Against the Los Angeles Rams, Nickell Robey-Coleman had one of the most memorable games of his career. He read Case Keenum perfectly to step in front of a pass and returned an interception for a touchdown, he had an interception at the end of the game, and very nearly added a third earlier in the contest. It seems as though he’s re-establishing himself as one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the league in the confines of Rex Ryan’s defense. Even though San Francisco doesn’t present much of a matchup problem in the passing attack, Robey-Coleman will be tested by slot receiver Jeremy Kerley. Always a solid player with the Jets — although sometimes buried on their depth chart — Kerley has been the recipient of the most targets on the 49ers by far. On the season, Kerley has been targeted 46 times in five games and is likely to remain the focal point of the passing offense. Robey-Coleman will likely have to fight through some legal pick attempts to keep close to Kerley. If the first five weeks have shown us anything, he’s likely to be targeted quite a bit.
4) Hyde defying the odds
- The 49ers, like the Rams, mostly have a group of struggling players that make up their offensive line. The fact that the 49ers are dealing with that is what’s making how well running back Carlos Hyde has played that much more impressive. Hyde is averaging four yards per carry, and is dangerously close to setting career high totals in rushing attempts and yards for one season, after already having accomplished that with rushing touchdowns and receptions out of the backfield. Hyde has four touchdowns over his last three games and has played well against three pretty good defenses in a row in Seattle, Dallas, and Arizona. The Bills have shown an outstanding run defense to this point, allowing only 3.5 yards per carry. They’ll need to have a good push up front against a poor 49ers offensive line to help keep Hyde in check, because most of his damage will be done between the tackles. The Bills, with how well they’ve been playing the run, should be able to keep him from enjoying the successes that he has had in recent weeks.
5) Another week, another one Hughes can dominate
- While Mario Williams is being called out in Miami for needing to play “better” and “faster,” the Bills have been enjoying a career-year (by performance standards, not statistical ones) from Jerry Hughes — the man they now have go against an opposing team’s right tackle each week. In most cases around the NFL, the right tackle is a bit of a slower player, and likely the worse player of the two starting offensive tackles on a team. For the fifth week in a row now, Hughes will see that and have an opportunity to exploit it. This week against the 49ers, Hughes will be going up against right tackle Trenton Brown. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 76 offensive tackles that have taken enough snaps to qualify, Brown is ranked 58th. Hughes, although he should be able to have an impact as a pass rusher, needs to be cognizant of the 49ers penchant for running the read option. He’s been known to overrun a play every now and again, and it’s cleared out space for the opponents to get a big gain. Whether it’s against the pass or the run, Hughes will have a great chance to make a big impact, and to continue being the best Bills player on the field this season.
DOUBTFUL: DL Marcell Dareus (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: T Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle), TE Charles Clay (knee), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), ILB Zach Brown (foot), CB Corey White (shoulder), DL Corbin Bryant (ankle), P Colton Schmidt (right quad), F/C Patrick Lewis (knee), S Aaron Williams (questionable)
OUT: Jimmie Ward (quad)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Ahmad Brooks (groin), DL DeForest Buckner (questionable), Glenn Dorsey (knee), S Jaquiski Tartt (quad)
Bills Inactive List Educated Guess: QB Cardale Jones, HB Reggie Bush, T Cyrus Kouandjio, G/C Gabe Ikard, G/C Patrick Lewis, DL Marcell Dareus, CB Corey White
Prediction: Bills over 49ers
- Although the switch to Colin Kaepernick at quarterback should bring some pause, and will likely result in some big gains early in the game, this should be a game that playoff teams win. The Bills are doing the interesting switch from being the team that was the letdown game for their last three opponents, to now being the overwhelming favorite in a game that would be considered a letdown for them. The Bills have the defense to handle what the 49ers do on offense, they have the offense — namely, LeSean McCoy — to exploit the 49ers defensively, which means the Bills should be able to win this game. As long as they continue to be sound on not turning the ball over like they have been, the Bills should be able to take care of business at home against this opponent. I know, it’s a somewhat scary proposition, because sometimes with these games that the Bills should win that will set them forward in the season… they haven’t in recent memory. Jacksonville in 2015, Oakland in 2014, Tennessee in 2012… all games they should have won that they didn’t. The only way for the Bills to prove they’re a different team than those ones is simple: beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. It starts this weekend with the 49ers, and I think they should be able to pull off the victory.
|Live video, the latest news and no surveys - download the WKBW app|
|News, forecast and Bills newsletters delivered to your e-mail inbox|