Bills LB Mitchell must key on Garrard (buffalobills.com)
All week, we - along with every other fan of the Buffalo Bills across the country - have talked about what it would mean if the Bills emerged victoriously from this weekend''s game in Jacksonville, where they'll take on a very good Jaguars team in just over a day's time. For a young Bills team that's on the upswing yet hasn't made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, a win in Jacksonville would be the biggest win for the franchise in recent memory.
Yet a victory is anything but a given. The Jaguars are coming off of an opening day loss to the Tennessee Titans, and despite the fact that they're banged up along the offensive line, this is the team's home opener, and the physical brand of football they prefer makes them a tough win for any opponent they face. This is a playoff team that the Bills are about to take on, with a solid head coach, tremendous athleticism, and an excellent quarterback in David Garrard as their leader. To expect victory would be foolish. But this is a winnable football game. If the Bills can exploit the following three matchups - along with taking care of business in five key areas - the Bills will dramatically increase their chances of pulling off a huge win tomorrow.
BUF LB Kawika Mitchell vs. JAX QB David Garrard
If I'm defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (and for the record, I'm glad I'm not - I'd be screwing up his good thing), my focus is on containing Garrard. Allowing the quarterback to make plays on the move would erase even a stellar performance otherwise by my defense. In order to contain Garrard, I'm not laying off on my blitz packages, I'm using a spy - and the guy I'm using is Kawika Mitchell. No Bills defender is better coming downhill than the free agent addition, and he has the athleticism to take care of Garrard in space. Donte Whitner is an option in spying Garrard as well.
BUF WR Lee Evans vs. JAX CB Drayton Florence
Last week, Buffalo's offense - while wildly inconsistent - was able to be effective enough for a dominant victory by exploiting favorable matchups. The biggest one that Buffalo hit on was when Seahawks CB Kelly Jennings lined up across the line of scrimmage from the team's top wideout, Lee Evans - Evans hauled in four passes for a whopping 102 yards, picking up yardage in large enough chunks to make up for a faulty ground game. The Jaguars will try to match up their top corner - Rashean Mathis - on Evans as often as possible, but when the Bills' top receiver draws Florence, he needs to make him pay.
BUF OGs Derrick Dockery/Brad Butler vs. JAX LB Mike Peterson
No, Buffalo's offensive line (more on them momentarily) won't be able to fully contain Jags DT John Henderson, because it's rarely done. Henderson is a key factor for the Jaguars, but the Bills should instead work on getting their mobile guards to the second level on run plays in the hopes of erasing MLB Mike Peterson. The 32-year-old linebacker was a bit of a liability in the team's loss to the Titans (though he played well overall), and if the Bills can get their hat on the veteran a few times in this game, it could lean to some long gainers by Marshawn Lynch. Picking up yardage in large chunks is crucial to success early on for Buffalo's young offense.
A few notes to pass your way this fine Saturday morning on what we're hearing about tomorrow's game. Important to note: we cannot actually confirm any of these developments. We trust that these things will come to fruition, but for the purposes of this post, let's refer to these notes as "informed speculation":
- Peters to play, start: We're hearing that Dick Jauron will announce later this afternoon that OT Jason Peters will play and start in this matchup - not a huge surprise. We're also hearing, however, that the team plans on shaking things up on the line for a series or two to keep Peters fresh (he's still not at 100% football shape), so expect to see Langston Walker on the left side and Kirk Chambers on the right occasionally as well. We have not heard, however, who the Bills will be releasing to make room for Peters on the active roster - I'm personally guessing it will be Demetrius Bell.
- Bills worried about heat: Buffalo will be taking precautions on what is expected to be a humid 94-degree day in Jacksonville. For starters, DT John McCargo is expected to be active as the Bills look to supplement their defensive line rotation (we believe that Xavier Omon will be inactive for this one, as the team won't sacrifice a specialist - risky, however, for Lynch and Fred Jackson).
Also, in an effort to preserve Terrence McGee's energies for his cornerback duties, don't be shocked to see Leodis McKelvin handle some kickoffs in select situations. Receiver James Hardy is also expected to play more as well as the Bills look to become more efficient attacking the middle of the field via the pass.
More as we hear it. Get ready for tomorrow's Open Game Thread, folks - it opens a half-hour before kickoff, 1ET. We're looking forward to chatting with you during tomorrow's big game.