Well that wasn’t very much fun.
The air came out of the metaphorical balloon for a lot of Bills Mafia as the Buffalo Bills fell to the New England Patriots this past Sunday. Complicating our feelings further, starting QB and shorts-wearing QB Josh Allen was knocked out of the game and at the time of this writing (Wednesday evening) is still in concussion protocol with his status for this upcoming game uncertain.
This game is important. All the games in the NFL are important for certain; it’s part of what makes the NFL such a compelling product. This game, however, has playoff implications down the line in the AFC, serving as both a tiebreaker for a Wild Card spot and a way to keep the Tennessee Titans, who have gone 9-7 three years in a row, another game back from Buffalo.
How do we see to it that Tennessee stays at arm’s length like your younger brother swinging wildly with a less-than-optimal wingspan? I have some thoughts...
Whatever it takes, pressure Marcus Mariota
Insert Avengers: Endgame .gif here. Maybe some dramatic music playing in the background? Marcus Mariota (and ironically enough, his backup Ryan Tannehill as well) is a great example for Bills fans to observe when they work through whether or not Josh Allen is “the guy.” Mariota has had good games and bad games. He has had flashes of brilliance followed by hair-ripping displays of elementary quarterbacking failure. He has consistently shown that his Achilles heel is a failure to process pressure and discomfort and remain calm. Blitzing Tom Brady has proven over the years not to be a winning proposition. If the Bills can’t get home with their front four due to a suddenly stouter Tennessee offensive line with Taylor Lewan returning, they need to not shy away from bringing the blitzes.
Mariota played well against the Atlanta Falcons. He threw the ball with anticipation and got both of his outside receivers involved. Both A.J. Brown and Corey Davis can play and in order to disrupt their involvement in the Titans’ passing game, the Bills need to manufacture pressure on Mariota regardless of the cost BUT...
Don’t forget to spy
Blitzing a QB who is a plus athlete is always a dicey proposition. If contains fails, there are yards to be had in chunks for the offense. However, it can be done as long as gap integrity is maintained up front for the Bills’ down linemen. The Patriots showed us all how an athletic QB can be blitzed while keeping gaps filled. The tackle/end stunts should never been combined with outside blitzes, for example, lest there be a potential for large gaps in the middle of the defensive line.
Thankfully the Bills have two very athletic linebackers in Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds who the team should feel comfortable allow them to spy Mariota when called upon.
The exact same game plan they used against Tom Brady won’t get it done, but the Bills have the personnel to minimize a mobile QB.
Play more zone than they did against the Patriots
The Bills likely surprised the Patriots with how much man coverage they ran this past Sunday. Buffalo believed they had the horses necessary to run with New England’s receivers and they were right.
That doesn’t mean they should go man-heavy against the Titans.
For one, the Titans’ A.J. Brown/Corey Davis WR combo is very athletic and although Levi Wallace and Tre’Davious White have been playing well, this won’t be an easy task. Secondly, having zone on the back end is likely to cause Mariota to hold the ball longer than he would otherwise be inclined to do—both because he’s waiting to dissect zone location and also because when you have seven sets of eyes staring at you, you find yourself less likely to take off running. Teams want Mariota to hold the ball longer because it helps the pressure get home (hence the first bullet point in this piece).
Singletary and Knox need to be involved
It’s hard to write this piece when you don’t know who the quarterback will be. Regardless of who will be communicating platitudes at high volumes in pre-game huddles or identifying Mike linebackers before the snap, plays will need to be made.
Obviously plays always need to be made. This game is slightly different. The Titans’ secondary is the strength of their team and Tennessee will bring blitzes to get pressure after seeing what the Patriots were able to do this past Sunday. Having Singletary available in the passing game will be helpful, and making sure Knox is out in a route for a panic-button throw will be a boon as well.
If Allen plays, he’ll need to show that he can take the easier stuff, like shorter throws to Knox and Singletary. If Barkley plays, he’ll need Singletary and Knox to help him take the shorter throws and turn them into plays. Either way, I would hope they are a focal point of the game plan this week.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan for Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and look for new episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” dropping every week on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network!