Coming off of an all-time worst 46-point loss to the undefeated New England Patriots on national television, this Sunday marks the game in which we'll begin to see the resolve and short memory of the 5-5 Buffalo Bills. Still in the middle of the AFC playoff chase, the Bills will need to rebound quickly - even with rookie RB Marshawn Lynch on the sideline - if they hope to truly stay alive in that race for another week.
Standing in their way are the Jacksonville Jaguars, winners of two straight and just a game and a half out of first place in the AFC South. The Jaguars feature a dominant ground attack, a safe passing game and an aggressive defense - and the approach has allowed them to win 7 of their first 10 games. The team is tough, but they're banged up defensively, and history is on the Bills' side. Buffalo has won 4 of 6 all-time meetings between these two clubs, including a 27-24 victory in Orchard Park last season.
Here's what you can expect to see, and what the Bills need to accomplish, in tomorrow's contest:
Offense: It's All About Tempo
The Jaguars are a team that play their best when the flow of the game is dictated by them - meaning that they're pounding the rock, running the clock and making big plays on defense. That's something that the Bills are going to have to counter - and the way to do that is, simply put, to hold on to the ball.
With Lynch sidelined for a second straight week, veteran Anthony Thomas will need to be far more effective picking up yardage and moving the chains this week. The real pressure, however, is on J.P. Losman (who called this contest the most important game of his career) - he'll need to get rid of the ball quickly against a solid Jaguars pass rush, and be accurate enough to move the chains early to keep Buffalo's defense fresh.
Players to Watch: QB J.P. Losman, RB Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Reed
Defense: It's All About 3rd Down
Just a week ago, Buffalo's defense allowed Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to convert 8 of 11 third down opportunities - a whopping 72% success rate. It's one thing to be that atrocious when the team you're facing is passing; that's not going to happen this week - the Jaguars, make no mistake, are a run-first offense. With Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew toting the rock, Buffalo will need to not only be stout against the run, but get off the field early to keep themselves fresh. Those extra downs after a third down conversion will really be taxing on this defense.
Turnovers, as they always are, will be important as well. Again, this is about tempo - Jacksonville will try, and likely succeed at points, in establishing the tempo of the game. Any turnovers that Buffalo's defense can create - something they haven't done since the Cincinnati game - will change that tempo, not to mention make the job easier for the offense. If Jacksonville controls the tempo throughout this contest, it could get out of hand quickly.
Players to Watch: DT John McCargo, LB John DiGiorgio, SS Donte Whitner
Special Teams: It's All About the Returns
Not only is Jones-Drew an excellent running back, but he's also one of the NFL's most explosive kick returners. That bodes poorly for the Bills, who have struggled to cover returns over the past three weeks. Containing Jones-Drew is ultra-important in this contest; the Jaguars don't need any more point-scoring help than they've already got.
Conversely, (the league's leading punt returner) Roscoe Parrish needs to have an impact on this game. If you recall, it was an 82-yard punt return by Parrish that was instrumental in the Bills' victory over Jacksonville last season; he will need to have a similar impact if the Bills want to contend in this one on the road. Note that this impact could also be made by Terrence McGee in the kick return department.
Players to Watch: PR Roscoe Parrish, KR Terrence McGee, S John Wendling