DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Eric Decker #87 of the Denver Broncos eludes the defense of Chris Crocker #42 of the Cincinnati Bengals and Nate Clements #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals for a 52 yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Bengals 24-22. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills have proven time and again that they're a team that can explosively take advantage of poor safety play from its opponents. In Week 1, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for four touchdowns against a Chiefs secondary missing Eric Berry. Two weeks later, he threw for 369 yards and two scores against a Patriots team missing Pat Chung.
Fitzpatrick did the same thing in Week 11 of the 2010 season, when the Cincinnati Bengals lost both of their starting safeties - Chris Crocker and Roy Williams - to injury. With two reserves (Reggie Nelson and Chinedum Ndukwe) in the game, Fitzpatrick shredded the Bengals after a rocky start, throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns as the Bills closed the game on a 42-3 run.
This year, Crocker is back in the lineup, and Nelson is now a starter. With Chan Gailey and the Bills utilizing four-receiver sets, it's imperative that a defense's safeties be adept in coverage. How do Crocker and Nelson stack up?
"By their nature, they’re more comfortable in run support, and Crocker will be called upon to blitz the quarterback," said Josh Kirkendall of CincyJungle.com. "He’s third on the team with 1.5 quarterback sacks. However, neither cover the tight end particularly well, and Crocker has this annoying tendency to try knocking receivers out while in cover-two, accidentally taking out his own player in the process.
"He did that against the Broncos, on a deep pass to Eric Decker," Kirkendall continued. "Nate Clements was about to secure the tackle when Crocker, out of nowhere, buried Clements because he either wasn’t paying attention, or couldn’t readjust. Either way, Decker stepped to the left and ran for the touchdown."
Nelson, for the record, has already recorded a sack this year, as well. Cincinnati's defense is constructed much like Oakland's was from Week 2: a strong defensive line and bring safeties on the blitz. Here's the catch, though: Cincinnati's defensive line is more athletic and they can blitz linebackers, too. They're a decidedly more complex defense, too, as Oakland still runs predominantly man coverage.
Still, you've got to believe - given what Kirkendall says about the abilities of Crocker and Nelson - that there will be plays to be made in the passing game on Sunday. Pass protection, once again, will be the key to success.