The Buffalo Bills travel down south to make a rare appearance in the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons this week. Both teams are struggling with injuries and will be sitting home during the playoffs. The Falcons are coming off a surprising playoff run last year, but have fallen apart after a 4-1 start to this promising season. Matt Ryan returned to the lineup last week in a road victory over the Jets, while Michael Turner made a one-carry cameo before re-injuring his ankle. Turner is likely to miss the game this week. The Bills look to make one last (or is it first?) strong performance on the road before heading home to finish up against the Colts. Let's see what the Bills need to do to surprise the Falcons this week.Wrap up Snelling: I'm shocked that Jason Snelling is listed at 5'11", 229 lbs. From watching him run, he looks like he's at least 6'1", 240 lbs. I guess what I'm trying to say is Snelling runs hard and plays bigger than he is. He's the type of running back that won't beat anyone with his speed or agility, but can hurt you by keeping the pile moving. He's had a good season filling in whenever Michael Turner has gone down, so it'll be imperative the Bills take him down on initial contact. If he keeps the pile moving and is able to break tackles to pick up extra yardage, not only will the Bills defense get stuck on the field and in susceptible situations, but the undersized unit will also wear down much quicker. Shutting him down and forcing 2nd and 3rd and longs will be a big pick of whether the Bills can spring the upset.
Focus on Roddy White: I might catch flak for this, but I think White is a borderline top 5 WR in the NFL. Watching him the past few years, I have been impressed with his speed, ability to get open, how he attacks the ball and his big play ability. I'd love to have a player of this caliber on the Bills. With that said, the Bills really need to focus on shutting him down. With Terrence McGee and Jairus Byrd now on IR, the secondary will need to look to completely take him out of the game. I'd rather Matt Ryan try to win this game by hitting Michael Jenkins, Marty Booker, Eric Weems and even Tony Gonzalez than by torching the secondary with big plays to White.
Win 3rd Downs: On both sides of the ball, the Bills have to win 3rd downs. The Bills offense is dead last in the NFL in 3rd down conversion percentage at 25%, picking up a first down roughly one out of every four 3rd downs. That's pathetic. That's actually beyond pathetic. They've converted just 44 3rd downs all season, approximately 3 per game. No other team has converted fewer than 52. Luckily, the Falcons defense is also dead last in the league, allowing a whopping 47% 3rd down conversion rate. Something has to give, right? The Bills defense isn't much better, allowing 41% to be converted, so that will also be a big factor. Convert some 3rd downs and stop some defensively, and who knows what might happen....
Utilize the Dome conditions: The fast track really plays to Lee Evans and Terrell Owens' strengths. Offensively, it's be nice if the team attempted a few deep balls again this week. Even with Brian Brohm likely to play, there's no reason not to throw some deep passes in an attempt to get these guys involved. It odesn't hurt to try anyone.
Give Brohm a chance: I don't mean give him the opportunity to play, I mean put him in position to have some success. It's very obvious that Brohm is going to struggle, but there's no reason he can't be given some passes to get comfortable and build confidence. I hate bubble screens, but this might be a week to use them just to try to give Brohm some confidence. Screens to Jackson, deep balls in single coverage and quick passes are what we need to see Brohm doing. If Keith Null can throw a couple of touchdowns this year, then Brian Brohm can get some things done too. In my opinion, the game plan should look very similar to the opener against New England. Lots of runs with Jackson couple with screens and quick passes.
Blitz successfully, or don't blitz at all: Despite having a pretty poor sophomore season, Matt Ryan has been quite good when facing the blitz. For the season, he is completing 61% of his passes, with 9 touchdowns and a 95.4 quarterback rating when blitzed. When facing a normal rush, Ryan is a 57% passer with 8 touchdowns, a horrendous 5.79 yards per attempt and a rating of 71.3 in roughly twice as many attempts. If the Bills can stay with White and Tony Gonzalez and force Ryan to check off to other receivers, good things should happen. It's too bad Byrd is done for the year, Ryan has been throwing some passes lately that would be right in his wheelhouse.
Cut the mental mistakes: It's Week 16, there's no reason any team should be well over 100 yards in penalties at this point in the season. I know there are a lot of young and new players in the lineup. There's still no excuse for some of the errors we've been seeing. Cut the penalties down, hang on to the ball, play tough football and maybe something good will happen....
Only two more games of this miserable season. It's been such an awful year with very little to root for. It's nice to see the team still fighting and playing hard, but it's depressing at the same time. This week looks like another longshot, but we can all remain hopeful. Enjoy the game and go Bills!