Buffalo Bills (1-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)
Sunday, 1:00 PM ET (CBS)
The Buffalo Bills, in just under two days' time, will play their most highly-anticipated regular season game in recent memory when they travel to Jacksonville to take on a tough Jaguars team. There's no need to bring up just how big a win in Jacksonville would be to this franchise; I believe that every Bills fan out there has subconsciously felt that importance ever since the team's 34-10 opening day win over Seattle. A win would be huge, to be certain, but it's also important to realize that a loss isn't the end of the world - and this game will almost assuredly be a battle.
This is a very winnable game for the Bills. The Jags are reeling a bit after dropping a 17-10 decision to the Tennessee Titans on opening day, and their injury woes on the offensive line are well-documented. But this is the NFL. The Jags may be weakened, but they'll be ready. The Bills will be ready too. Here's what Buffalo needs to do to emerge from Jacksonville with an unblemished record...
Third downs will be key: Buffalo got lucky in this area against Seattle. Poor weather and great defense - on both sides of the ball - led to both the Bills and Seahawks' poor third down conversion rates; the Seahawks converted just 3 of 16 third downs into firsts, while the Bills weren't much better at 4 of 16. The Bills' defense will be looking for a repeat performance in this category in Jacksonville, but if the offense can't improve on that number, they'll be in serious trouble. It's going to be a hot one, and the team with the most rested defense will have a huge advantage. Sustaining drives is an absolute must.
Run. The. Ball.: I don't care how it gets done. They can pass to set up the run, they can run to set up the pass; the only thing that matters is that the Bills have a consistent rushing attack in this game. They didn't have that against Seattle - they had a few big runs by Marshawn Lynch and a mediocre attack beyond those carries. O-Line coach Sean Kugler needs to start making a concerted effort in getting his massive offensive line (average weight: 332) blocking well in the running game. They weren't particularly effective against Seattle, and they've got some big bodies to move around in Jacksonville. They'll need to be on their game - Jason Peters or no Jason Peters.
Utilize the screen pass offensively: If we know anything about Jags defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, it's that he likes to employ an aggressive defense. He'll blitz, he'll stunt, he'll mix it up - he'll do anything it takes to keep the Bills off-balance. The only way that the Bills can re-gain that balance is to keep the Jags on their toes, and that's achieved by the screen pass. The Bills were dangerously close to having some considerably large gains on screens against Seattle, but the passes couldn't be completed. That play, while not completely imperative to beating the Jaguars, would go a long way toward making Williams re-think his aggressive ways.
Eliminate explosive Jags runs: To be honest, I'm not overly concerned about Jacksonville's dynamic rushing duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. I have a lot of confidence in this Bills defense, particularly against Jacksonville's weakened offensive front. I don't think the Jags will be able to run the ball consistently no matter how they try it. With backs as talented as Taylor and MoJo, however, one run is all you need to have a big day. The Bills can't allow either of these backs to explode in this game for a long play, especially a scoring play - it would render all of their run stuffs pretty worthless.
Contain QB David Garrard: It's no secret that Garrard is a threat when running - just take a look at his game-clinching jaunt in Jacksonville's playoff win over Pittsburgh last season. It's also no secret that Jacksonville's wide receivers - boosted by the return to health of Jerry Porter - have a very large size advantage over Buffalo's competitive but diminutive corners. Pass rush Garrard all you want, but don't let him escape the pocket, whatever you do, Buffalo. Garrard is dangerous on the move, and coverages generally break down when quarterbacks run - which will emphasize that size advantage in the receiving corps. Keeping Garrard contained is absolutely essential when the Jags are throwing - and the team's two best defenders last Sunday, Marcus Stroud and Kawika Mitchell, need to be the erasers.
Much more on this game tomorrow and on game day, when we'll cover the event live with our usual Open Game Thread. We're hearing some things about personnel and game situations that we'll pass your way tomorrow as well (though, at this time, none of it is confirmed). Stay tuned!