The Buffalo Bills are coming off consecutive losses, dropping games to the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, over a six-day period. The New York Jets, who host the Bills this week, have lost all six of their games this season.
While Buffalo was, to put it lightly, not sharp over the last two games, the Jets have been abysmal all throughout the season. A loss this week to the AFC’s (and perhaps the NFL’s) worst team would register a seismic issue with a Buffalo team thought to be a legitimate competitor.
How can the Bills right the ship? They’ll need solid performances from certain key players. Here are a few we’ll be watching this week.
QB Josh Allen
Through four games, Allen averaged a 70% completion rate, 332 passing yards per game, two passing touchdowns, and an interception every third game. He added three rushing touchdowns and 83 rushing yards over that time on his way to Offensive Player of the Month honors for September. Since then, the Bills have played two high-quality opponents, and Allen has been far less effective. Over the last two games, Allen’s average line is much worse than it was over the first month: a 59% completion rate, an average of 193 yards per game, two touchdowns, and nearly two interceptions per game haven’t helped the Bills much. A matchup against the Jets, who sport the No. 23 pass defense in the league, should be just what the doctor ordered. One possible complication is that John Brown, who has not practiced this week as he deals with a lingering knee injury, may sit this one, meaning that Buffalo will start rookie Gabriel Davis in Brown’s place. Davis and Brown are totally different players, and Allen’s struggles have coincided with Brown dealing with calf and knee injuries, limiting his ability to take the top off of defenses by stretching them vertically via his elite speed. Allen will need to trust his receiving corps and play poised football on Sunday, taking what the Jets give him and not trying to be a hero on every play.
OL Daryl Williams
I’m interested in watching Williams for a few reasons. With Cody Ford injured and likely to miss this week’s game, we expected the Bills to start veteran Quinton Spain. Instead, they released him. 2019 starting right guard Jon Feliciano, on injured reserve after tearing a pectoral muscle this summer, could be activated to start; however, if he isn’t ready, I’m not sure the Bills will want to have Ike Boettger starting. Could they shift Williams inside and play veteran Ty Nsekhe at right tackle? Might they play Nsekhe at left guard? There are a few positions in flux right now for the Bills thanks to injury, ineffectiveness, or both, and this is one that should clarify itself in the coming days.
DT Justin Zimmer
I’ve had a few moments this year where I’ve actually found myself wondering aloud if Zimmer, the former undrafted free agent whom the Bills signed to their practice squad this offseason, is actually Buffalo’s best defensive lineman right now. That’s insane, I know, but his production has been incredible in short bursts. In Buffalo’s Week 1 victory over the Jets, Zimmer had four tackles on 16 snaps. On Monday against the Chiefs, Zimmer had six tackles, one for a loss, and a quarterback hit on 32 defensive snaps. The trouble with Zimmer is that he’s really a 3-tech player, which is where Ed Oliver, Quinton Jefferson, and Vernon Butler should be in an ideal world. Given that starting 1-tech Star Lotulelei opted out, this is not an ideal world. The Bills are struggling to find the right combination of players, given that regardless of their combination, someone is probably going to be playing out of position along the interior line. Zimmer has earned more reps, though, throwing a monkey wrench in the defensive line rotation.
LB A.J. Klein
Will Matt Milano play? I hope so. If he does, then Klein will probably be limited to early-down work only, and that’s a good thing. With Tyrel Dodson missing two practices thanks to a hamstring injury, he’s likely to sit this week. So, if both Milano and Dodson are out, Klein will probably be tasked with nickel linebacker duties, which is not an ideal scenario. The veteran has not performed well this year, looking lost in coverage and providing little in the way of run support for much of the season. When both Dodson and Milano are healthy, it will be interesting to see if Klein becomes a special teams player only in spite of his $18 million contract.
CB Taron Johnson
Buffalo’s top slot corner has been brutal this year. Johnson has allowed 27 completions on 35 targets. Opposing receivers have gained 280 yards on Johnson this year. That’s...not good, Bob. If Cam Lewis hadn’t injured his wrist, the Bills appeared to be ready to move on, but now that Lewis is sporting a large cast on his left wrist, it’s possible that Johnson retains many of his snaps. Siran Neal could be used to fill in, as well—and, truthfully, he could be used to replace both Johnson and Klein in certain situations and it would probably be an upgrade—but that situation hasn’t materialized yet. Jets slot receiver Jamison Crowder had a field day against the Bills the last few times out, and if he’s matched up with Johnson this week, I’d expect that to happen again.