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Five Things to Watch: Bills at Bengals

The Bills’ secondary and the Bengals’ run defense are among the most interesting storylines of the day.

While the obvious thing to watch for tomorrow when the Buffalo Bills take on the Cincinnati Bengals will be a Buffalo victory, there are quite a few subplots worth following, as well. Below are a few that we’ll be watching when the Bills look to even their record at 5-5.

The Secondary

There has been plenty of talk about Buffalo’s secondary as a whole this week, and some new bodies have been added to the mix (see below for more on that). Whether it’s a player who’s struggled or one who’s been fine (and truthfully, I can’t think of one secondary player who’s been above “adequate” over the last few weeks), the play of the unit as a whole will be a huge story to watch. With AJ Green and Tyler Eifert representing the opposition’s best, Buffalo’s secondary crew will have its hands full all day. Cincinnati’s passing offense is at least league average in virtually every category, ranking:

Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Corey Graham and company will need to be at their best.

Marcell Dareus

Marcell Dareus has played just 41 snaps all season, an unfortunate development that has started to morph the former No. 3 overall pick from a fan favorite to a player with whom fans are most frustrated. In his limited action, he has accumulated one sack and four tackles, all against the New England Patriots in Week 8. His presence and good health should only add to a defensive unit ranked first overall in sacks (30), and should help to elevate the play of his other line mates, especially the always-reliable Kyle Williams. With Cincinnati’s questionable offensive line play this season (the unit has allowed 28 sacks and 49 QB hits), the “Big Man,” as Rex Ryan called him, could help to ruin Andy Dalton’s day.

Tyrod Taylor

In the continuing evolution of the Bills’ quarterback of the here and now, and hopefully of the future, Sunday is a big day. Following up a fantastic performance in arguably the most difficult road stadium in the NFL with another solid performance on the road could keep the Bills afloat in the playoff picture for at least one more week. Taylor’s evolution could be considered especially impressive given the fact that Sammy Watkins has not been around to take part in it. That could change as soon as next week, as Watkins is eligible to return to play against Jacksonville. Another stellar performance from Taylor could be a great segue into the rest of the regular season, and potentially beyond, for the Bills.

Bigger roles for new players?

Speaking of Sammy Watkins, the Bills’ receiving corps has obviously been decimated by injury. Percy Harvin was signed out of retirement prior to the game at Seattle, and although he played 21 snaps on offense, he was not targeted at all. This week, however, should be different. Harvin is in line for a tremendous uptick in snaps, and one would assume that Anthony Lynn has a few plays designed to get him involved early and often. On the defensive side, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo are primed to step in at safety next to Corey Graham. With Robert Blanton and Duke Williams struggling to replace Aaron Williams, the Bills noted that a change had to be made. They released Duke Williams and brought in two veterans to compete with Blanton, who has struggled mightily with increased playing time. Kevon Seymour will see the majority of the reps as the nickel corner Sunday, replacing the recently benched Nickell Robey-Coleman; also, a carousel could commence at right tackle, where Jordan Mills, Seantrel Henderson, and Cyrus Kouandjio are all expected to see time.

Buffalo’s ground game

The third-ranked Bills rushing offense takes on the twenty-fourth-ranked Bengals rush defense. LeSean McCoy should expect the ball early and often, and with a little bit of Mike Gillislee sprinkled in, the Bills should be able to run the football. One major place to watch will be in the middle of the offensive line, with Ryan Groy replacing Eric Wood at the center position. Groy will have the formidable task of blocking Geno Atkins, who is a truly elite defensive player. With some double-teams, misdirection runs, and zone runs mixed in, the Bills should be able to give Groy all the help he needs. If the Bills struggle on the ground, noting Groy’s performance, as well as that of his new counterparts at right tackle, will be fodder for Monday morning quarterbacks all over Bills’ Nation.

That’s what we’ll be watching for tomorrow—how about you?