The banged-up Buffalo Bills take their 3-1 record into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, looking to send the 1-3 Cincinnati Bengals into a deep hole at 1-4. In order for the Bills to emerge victorious in their second consecutive road game, they will need some solid performances all around. With starting wide receiver Jordan Matthews (thumb) and starting linebacker Ramon Humber (thumb) slated to miss the game, there will be opportunities for other players to shine. Here’s who we will be watching on Sunday.
QB Tyrod Taylor
A big part of last Sunday’s 23-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons was Taylor’s ability to keep the chains moving in a hostile environment. After struggling on third downs against the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, Buffalo converted 6-of-13 attempts (46%) on third down, which was just below their season-best percentage from their week one victory over the New York Jets (8-of-17; 47%). While neither number is particularly impressive, the fact that the Bills were able to convert on third down on the road, with four of those conversions coming either via the pass or a Taylor run, suggests that the offense is moving in the right direction. Another victory in another hostile environment would be a huge boost before the team takes a week off for the bye.
WR Zay Jones
Okay, rookie, it’s time to step up in a big situation. With Jordan Matthews expected to miss a month with an injured thumb, it will be Jones who needs to produce on the outside. Andre Holmes will take Matthews’s place in the starting lineup, but he doesn’t have the explosiveness or the pedigree that the rookie second-round pick from East Carolina has. In the early going, Jones and Taylor have not appeared to be on the same page often. On 17 targets, Jones only has 4 receptions, which is good for an atrocious catch percentage of 23.5%. With defenses most likely keying on Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy in the passing game, it is imperative that Jones steps up to fill the void.
LT Cordy Glenn
Is Buffalo’s blindside protector finally healthy? It certainly would be nice to add him back to the mix. Even though rookie Dion Dawkins has performed well in Glenn’s absence, veteran right tackle Jordan Mills has been awful. If Glenn were to return healthy, the coaching staff could at least begin to practice Dawkins on the right side. Veteran Seantrel Henderson also returns next week, so Glenn’s health could be the key to a few different players remaining on the roster or not.
DE Shaq Lawson
Buffalo’s defense kept rolling right along last week without the second-year defensive lineman; however, his addition to the rotation could only improve the depth and solid play of the unit as a whole. Lawson and fellow defensive end Jerry Hughes have combined for five sacks. Lawson also did an underrated job of setting the edge versus the run game during his three healthy weeks, and after Atlanta was able to exploit the edges with Tevin Coleman last week, it will be nice to see Lawson return.
LB Matt Milano
The rookie has a big assignment in front of him this week, as he steps in for the injured Ramon Humber. The nine-year veteran is the Bills’ leading tackler so far by a wide margin, so Milano has big shoes to fill. Milano’s speed and athleticism are definitely pluses, but he looked a little confused at times on which running lanes to defend on the aforementioned outside gains from Tevin Coleman. The Bengals don’t quite have a running back with Coleman’s speed and skills, but the combination of Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, and Jeremy Hill is a formidable three-headed monster regardless. As the receiving back, Bernard poses the most comparable threat to Coleman, but all three will need to be contained in order for Buffalo to maintain sole possession of the lead in the AFC East.