When the Bills and Tennessee Titans get together at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, a season once thought to be in peril can get a huge momentum boost.
What are some areas of the game that deserve some extra attention? Let's take a look at five things to watch for when the two teams square off.
1) Getting Fitzpatrick Back on Track
- If ever there were a week to get Ryan Fitzpatrick and the passing attack back on track, this would be the one. The Titans use a lot of Cover-2 and have gotten beat a lot through the air. Since Cortland Finnegan left via free agency, the Titans have struggled to get consistent play from the cornerback position. While Jason McCourty is capable enough, Alterraun Verner has struggled for Tennessee. The Titans, as shown by the Steelers in Week Six, are susceptible to the vertical passing game. Might this be the week Fitzpatrick and the Bills finally connect on a fly pattern? The quarterback will of course have to make to throw, but on paper the opportunity is there.
2) Containing the Edge vs. CJ2K
- In their matchup last season, the "struggling" Chris Johnson popped off for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Now, a couple of things are different from the result in December 2011. First, and most notably, the Bills now play in a four-man front after their 3-4 experiment failed just two seasons in. That means there will no longer be a defensive tackle playing outside linebacker (Spencer Johnson) against a running back that once ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.3 seconds. Secondly, the personnel for the Bills has improved. While he hasn't gotten off to the incredible start that some were hoping for, Mario Williams is still solid in setting the edge and stuffing the run. Also, they have Kelvin Sheppard in a more natural position and a rookie linebacker (Nigel Bradham) that flies around everywhere to get to the ball. Will it be a recipe for success? We'll have to find out. The one area the Bills will have to improve from last week though is the role of the right end to set the edge. Whether it be Chris Kelsay or Kyle Moore, they cannot allow themselves to get sucked in to the inside shoulder of the left tackle, giving the running back a hearty cutback option. That accounted for a majority of the yards gained by William Powell for Arizona. It's even more of a challenge this week for Buffalo against a better running back and left tackle (Michael Roos).
3) Dareus, Kyle Williams vs. Weak Interior OL
- The weakest part of the Titans offense undoubtedly is the play of their interior offensive line. While Steve Hutchinson is a former Pro Bowl player and still does some nice things, he is no longer the player he once was. At center and right guard, Tennessee uses Fernando Velasco and Leroy Harris respectively. Both players have not been good in the past two weeks against Minnesota and Pittsburgh, and present a very big opportunity for Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to continue on their impressive play from last week. If they can make an impact early on, it could cause Matt Hasselbeck to throw off his back foot (more on that coming later) and get Chris Johnson inside his own head because he's not able to get started early on.
4) Tough Assignments for Bills OTs
- The sack numbers are not good so far for Tennessee. In six games, the Titans have only managed to bring down the quarterback eight times. However, it's not for a lack of pressure from the defensive ends. The type of pass-rushers the Titans have could present some problems to both left tackle Chris Hairston and right tackle Erik Pears. Left defensive end Derrick Morgan and right defensive end Kamerion Wimbley are both quick-twitch athletes that like a speed rush to get around the corner. If you had to pick a weakness of the Bills' starting offensive tackles, it would be that they struggle against speed rushers due to their bigger frames. Morgan against Pears is especially concerning for the Bills, considering Pears has struggled for much of the season.
5) Ballhawking Opportunities
- If he hadn't already, Buffalo free safety Jairus Byrd put the Titans on alert about his prowess to make a big play in the secondary. A combination of Byrd's abilities and the tendencies of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck could lead to some big plays made by the defensive backfield of the Buffalo Bills. Under duress, Hasselbeck will throw off his back foot at times which gives the defender an extra step to get to the destination of the attempt. This could be the week one of the young cornerbacks could find themselves with their first interception of the season. Not to mention Byrd will be lurking back there all game long based on what Hasselbeck has shown in the previous two games.
OUT: OT Cordy Glenn, G Kraig Urbik, DE Mark Anderson
QUESTIONABLE: DT Spencer Johnson, DT Kyle Williams, CB Terrence McGee, S Da'Norris Searcy
PROBABLE: DE Mario Williams, WR Brad Smith
OUT: CB Tommie Campbell, QB Jake Locker, HB Javon Ringer
QUESTIONABLE: DT Jurrell Casey, LB Colin McCarthy, OT Mike Otto
PROBABLE: DT Patrick Bailey
Prediction: Bills over Titans
Home game aside, the Bills grade out very favorably against the Titans. Their offense just isn't quite as explosive with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, and their weaknesses on that side of the ball play right in to the perceived strengths of the Buffalo Bills defense. This game will ultimately be decided by how the defensive tackles perform against a weaker interior offensive line in combination with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller being able to establish themselves like they did against Arizona. It could be the week for Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a solid game at least. However, if he isn't going early it should be the Jackson and Spiller show from that point forward.