Coming off a hard fought, mistake-filled overtime win against the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills travel down south to take on the Carolina Panthers this weekend. It'll be a battle of two-win teams with solid rushing offenses, poor passing offenses and downright awful run defenses. It could be an ugly game, or a boring game, and more than likely a quick game. Just like last week, it's a very winnable road game for the Bills, assuming they don't self-destruct. What do they need to do to pull out another victory? Let's find out.
Slow the Panthers' ground game: Notice I didn't say shut down the Panthers' run game. I don't think this defense is capable of that. Instead, if they can slow DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart down, avoiding the 8-10+ yard chunks, they will have a chance to better control the game. After last week's disaster trying to shut down the Jets' running game, the pressure will be on going against a team that rushed for 267 yards itself a week ago. Don't expect a a ton of success for our rush defense, but a solid performance will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this game.
Force Delhomme to make plays: To add on to the first key, if the Bills can force the Panthers to struggle on the ground, they will have multiple opportunities to make plays against Jake Delhomme. A week after intercepting six passes, they could be in line for more turnovers this week. Of course, that's easier said than done. The best way to put the ball in Delhomme's hands is to force the Panthers into 2nd and 3rd and longs. First down plays are going to be huge this week. Keeping the Panthers out of short yardage situations will be crucial. I'd much rather let Delhomme try to win the game. Good things tend to happen to the defense when that happens.
Continue to frustrate Steve Smith: If Steve Smith is frustrated, I'm sure Delhomme will know it. Each week that goes by with Smith being less and less involved in the offense means that Delhomme could start forcing him passes soon to keep him interested/happy. If that happens this week, the Bills need to be ready to jump all over these passes. Keep doubling Smith like every other team has so far and hope Delhomme's mistakes continue.
Control the ball/clock on offense: The Bills have the worst rush defense in the league, but the Panthers also have a terrible one themselves, ranking 29th overall. Besides shutting down the Panthers ground game, the best way to keep them at bay is to keep them off the field. Avoiding poor field position by churning out yards, and hopefully finally scoring some points again, will be a big part of any Bills' victory this week. Running the ball well will also...
Keep the ball out of Fitzpatrick's hands: If you didn't know, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is quite the terrible quarterback. If the Bills are relying on him to make big plays and lead them to victory, they're in big trouble this week. Fitzpatrick is mistake prone and inaccurate, not exactly traits a team should be relying on. A strong running game will take the pressure off him, and will also open up the play action passing game, which might suit Fitzpatrick's strengths best. He's done a solid job of making quick decisions and moves outside the pocket quite well. When they do put it in his hands, the Bills would be wise keeping him in situations where he can make the easy play and avoid the crushing mistake.
Commit fewer mistakes: As in, commit fewer mistakes than last week AND commit fewer mistakes than the Panthers make. The Bills had eight penalties and two turnovers against the Jets last week, but the Jets had a killer 14 penalties and six turnovers. It's unlikely the Bills can win another game by committing as many mistakes as they did last week, so that area needs to continue improving.
Continue the OL improvement: Last week, the Bills young offensive line played much better than they had in prior weeks. The Jets had just one sack, while the Bills were able to rush for a solid 142 yards on the ground. That uptick in production needs to continue this week and going forward. Jamon Meredith gets another start at right tackle, while the other three first year starters (Demetrius Bell, Andy Levitre, Eric Wood) all continue to get more comfortable in their roles. Going against a poor rushing defense in Carolina, this young unit has a chance to continue to steady improvement this week. It'll definitely be needed.
This is a simpler game to figure what the Bills need to do to get a victory. The strengths of the Bills offense (running the ball) match-up against the weakness of the Panthers' defense, while the Bills defense knows exactly what it needs to do to shut down the Panthers' offense (slow the run game). This game will likely come down to turnovers and whoever commits the fewest mistakes. It's not a game we've seen too often, so it makes for an interesting match-up. The Bills can win this game, though it won't be all that easy. Enjoy the game and Go Bills!