The Buffalo Bills head down to Tennessee to face the Titans in a Week 10 matchup of teams trying to stay in the periphery of the playoff race. The Bills are coming off their bye week, while the Titans are coming off a nice road victory in San Francisco.
These two teams have some similarities, mainly poor defenses and quarterback deficiencies, though the Titans are showing signs of life that the Bills have yet to show this season. Tennessee features the NFL's leading rusher in second year RB Chris Johnson, and possesses many of the same pieces of a team that racked up 13 wins last year. The Bills, meanwhile, continue to struggle on both sides of the ball, but will see the return of quarterback Trent Edwards this weekend. It may not be a big factor in this game, but Edwards' return could provide a momentary jolt of energy in the lifeless Bills' offense.
As always, it won't be easy for the Bills, but this is a very winnable game if they can key on a few important aspects against the Titans.
Protect Edwards: The last thing the Bills offense wants or needs is to let Edwards get beat up, again. The offensive line will be as healthy as its been since Week 3, and are coming off a much needed bye week. With some fine tuning, we might actually see some improvement from this unit. Where it matters most is keeping Edwards upright and giving him time to succeed. Most of us believe Edwards will be playing out the string as the Bills starting quarterback over the final half of the season, but a strong finish could prove to the new regime that he is worth keeping around. I'd like to see him at least get the chance to put it together over the final 8 games instead of constantly running for his life. Let's at least see some excitement out of the passing game, or maybe just the chance that that could happen. Edwards also needs to let it rip and play a completely different brand of football from what he's used to. Maybe some protection will give him the confidence to do that. We can hope, can't we?
Get the ground game going: The Titans run defense has really struggled lately, allowing 162.5 yards per game, 9.0 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns in their past two games. Again, the offensive line could be in for a slight improvement in this area, which could open up things for Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson more than usual. The Bills need to keep Chris Johnson off the field. The best way to do that is by controlling the ball and moving the chains. We saw an improvement in the Bills rushing offense over the second half of the season, last year, so let's hope for a nice repeat.
Utilize the RB's in the passing game again: In the three games that Trent Edwards was out (I'm including the Jets game), Lynch and Jackson combined for just six catches, all by Lynch. Prior to that, they combined for 31 receptions in five games, even with Lynch missing three games. Since it's been a struggle to run the ball, getting these guys the ball on the outside with more room to run could help the team move the chains much better than they have been. Jackson, in particular, needs to be integrated into the offensive gameplan more than he has recently.
Slow the speedy Johnson: That's what she said. It's going to be a chore for the Bills to even keep Chris Johnson under 150 yards this week. Buffalo's run defense is dead last in the league, allowing 173.6 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Johnson is averaging 120 yards per game, and a stunning 6.7 yards per carry. This matchup looks as lopsided as they get. The Bills aren't going to shut Johnson down, but they can slow him and limit the big plays. If they can avoid allowing the 50+ yarders that Johnson is known for, and keep him relatively in check, they'll have a good chance in this game. But if Johnson has another monster game (think 200+ yards and 2+ TD's), I'm not sure the Bills can win this game.
Force Vince Young to make plays: I mean with his arm. Young has completed 27 of 37 passes for 297 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. That's a pretty solid game. Oh, that's over two games. It's obvious that the Titans have taken the pressure off of Young by running the ball so well with Johnson. Young hasn't needed to make many tough throws or pressure packed passes since he rejoined the starting lineup. That needs to change this week. Over the years, Young has proven to be a well below average passer, as evident by his career 69.5 QB rating. Forcing him to beat the Bills through the air is much easier said than done, but would go a long way towards picking up a road W this week.
Keep Young in the pocket: In addition to forcing Young to make plays, it'll be imperative to keep him in the pocket. His best attribute might be his ability to improvise and makes things happen with his legs. Young has hurt the Bills with his legs in the past, so this will definitely be one are the defense is keying on. He has completed just 57% of his passes during his career. Keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to throw instead of run favors the Bills, heavily. Plus, this will give Jairus Byrd more opportunities to extend his streak of multiple interception games!
Get the young player more playing time: Steve Johnson, James Hardy, Shawn Nelson, Nic Harris and even Chris Ellis and Ellis Lankster would all benefit greatly from increased playing time as the season continues. With the team hanging on for dear life in the playoff race, the time is pretty much there to start preparing for next year, even if this staff won't be here. Let's hope they understand the importance of playing these guys instead of wasting them on the sidelines.
Improve, improve, improve: Coming off the bye week, there is no reason this team shouldn't come out prepared and better than the last time we saw them. They're healthier, they were able to get much needed practice reps and they were able to gameplan for two weeks for this game. This has to be the game where the offense shows some signs of life, right? If not, I doubt we see much more from that unit this year....
The Bills face the tough task of shutting down Chris Johnson while getting their own offense going this week. It's another winnable game that the Bills must find ways to make plays. An entire team effort will be required in this one. Let's go Buffalo, and enjoy all the games this weekend!