The Buffalo Bills come off their bye week to host the Los Angeles Chargers this week. While each team’s record indicates a season going in opposite directions, to assume that the game against a 3-7 Chargers team will be a walk in the park would be a foolish assumption.
Of the seven game Los Angeles has lost this year, every one of them has been by eight points or less. Every loss is a one-score game. Of those seven losses, three of them are by three points or less, and two of them came in overtime. That all signals some really poor luck involved, as well.
Los Angeles is a young team with great up-and-coming potential. It’s a game the Bills should win, but one that they can’t afford to take lightly and expect to walk away victorious. Which players top our list of those to watch this week? Here are the five we’ll be watching closely.
Note: Since it’s uncertain which running back will play this week, I’ve intentionally left Austin Ekeler off this list. If he does play, let’s call him our sixth player to watch.
QB Justin Herbert
The Chargers selected Herbert with the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and after sitting behind old friend Tyrod Taylor in the season opener, Herbert made his debut against Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. All Herbert did in that game was complete 67% of his passes for 311 yards, two total touchdowns (one passing and one rushing), and one interception in an overtime loss. The circumstances surrounding Herbert’s ascension to the starting gig were terrible, as it took a Chargers’ doctor accidentally puncturing Taylor’s lung with an injection for the team to insert him into the lineup. Since taking the lead, Herbert has looked every bit the part of a franchise quarterback. Currently, Herbert is on pace to complete 68% of his passes, throw for around 4,500 yards, and toss 36 touchdowns. That line would arguably place his 2020 season atop the list of best rookie seasons ever. Herbert is deadly accurate with a rocket arm and excellent mobility. The Bills will need to give him some different looks in hopes of confusing the stud rookie on Sunday.
WR Keenan Allen
Allen is having a ridiculous season thanks in large part to Herbert’s prowess. The versatile wideout is on pace to secure 130 receptions for 1,336 yards and ten touchdowns. At present, Allen has 81 catches on 112 targets for 835 yards and six touchdowns. In the first game of the year, Allen only caught four passes for 37 yards, so that will tell you how important Herbert has been for him (and how important he has been for Herbert). Allen moves all around the formation, and he’s just as deadly in the slot as he is at the boundary. He’ll probably see a healthy dose of Tre’Davious White, but he’ll also have some chances to work against defenders like Levi Wallace, Josh Norman, and Taron Johnson depending on the defensive call. How the Bills choose to guard Allen will be a huge part of the game. Do you put your best player on him? Or do you bracket him with other defenders while White takes out the next player on our list? We’ll see what head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier decide.
WR Mike Williams
Big Mike could pose a big problem for Buffalo. Larger, more physical wideouts have given the Bills problems since McDermott took over in 2017. At 6’4” and 220 lbs, Williams definitely fits that mold. He has battled injuries throughout his professional career, but Williams is a big target with great hands and the ability to go up and snare most any jump-ball thrown his way. He’s second on the Chargers’ roster to Allen in both receiving yards (503) and touchdowns (4), and he trails only Allen and tight end Hunter Henry in receptions with 29. If Williams is lined up across from Wallace, Buffalo’s CB2 is going to have to play more physically than he’s comfortable. Expect Herbert to look at Big Mike when Williams isn’t matched up with Tre’Davious White.
DE Joey Bosa
The Chargers boast a pair of elite pass rushers, and while each has dealt with injuries this year, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat on Sunday. We start with Bosa, the former No. 3 overall pick with 44.5 sacks in his four-plus years in the NFL. Bosa missed some time this year with a concussion, but he still has 4.5 sacks, eight tackles-for-loss, and 18 quarterback hits in his eight games this year. Whether Bosa is on the left side or the right side, Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams might need some help containing the All Pro. The Chargers move Bosa around the front quite a bit, so identifying his whereabouts will be one of the most important parts of setting the protections this week.
DE Melvin Ingram
True, Ingram has dealt with enough injuries where his production has fallen off a cliff this year. In just seven games, Ingram has ten tackles and four quarterback hits this year. He has yet to notch a sack, as he has dealt with a knee issue that forced him to injured reserve earlier in the season. Whether Ingram is at full health or not, the Bills still need to account for him, as elite pass rushers are always merely a play away from impacting the game. While he played on 92% of Los Angeles’ defensive snaps last week against the New York Jets, he is listed as questionable this week.