The Buffalo Bills need a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sure, their playoff hopes don’t necessarily hinge on it, as there are plenty of scenarios where Buffalo could not only qualify for the postseason with a loss this week, but also win the AFC East. However, after a demoralizing 14-10 loss to the New England Patriots, a bounce-back would certainly help move the squad in the right direction.
There are two groups that we’re going to be watching in full that I’ve omitted from this report, and that’s both the offensive and the defensive lines. Rather than plugging in my “insert lineman here” card, I’m just throwing it out there up front: Buffalo will perform as well as their lines perform on Sunday. If they can’t generate pressure on Tom Brady or stop the combination of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II from running, it doesn’t matter what our players to watch do. The same thing goes for the offensive line. If Josh Allen is either running for his life or trying to throw with a guard and a defensive tackle in his lap, the Bills are done.
Now that the depressing stuff is out of the way, here are our players to watch this week.
QB Josh Allen
Allen has been great for much of this season, and while he hasn’t been nearly as consistent as he was last year, that level of perfection is hard to replicate. Continuing a trend that has been consistent throughout his career, Allen has been better away from Highmark Stadium this season. In six home games, he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,479 yards, 12 touchdowns, and three interceptions. In road games, Allen has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,737 yards, 14 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Even with throwing four more interceptions on 22 fewer road attempts, Allen’s quarterback rating is also better on the road (101.7) than it is at home (93.7) this year. Against a Bucs secondary that has struggled with both injuries and performance this year, he’ll need to play at his highest level in order to give the Bills a shot at winning the game. If offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is allowed to give Allen the freedom to sling it at will, or if Daboll remembers that he has an elite-level talent at quarterback, then Allen should have the means to produce a phenomenal game.
WR Cole Beasley
Part of making sure that Allen establishes a solid early rhythm should involve Buffalo’s top option in the slot. In Buffalo wins this year, Beasley has 35 catches for 326 yards. In Buffalo losses, Beasley has 28 catches for only 215 yards and his lone touchdown. I expected to find that Beasley is targeted less in losses than in wins, but the perception is worse than the reality: Beasley has 82 targets this year, and he has an even split of 41 targets in victories and 41 targets in losses. Nevertheless, the Bills need to use their quick passing game as an extension of their running game, which is pretty dreadful outside of designed runs for Allen. Some short, quick passes early will make Allen comfortable, and it could also soften up an already vulnerable secondary against longer strikes.
WR Stefon Diggs
Speaking of longer strikes, here’s another guy the Bills need to involve in the passing attack early and often. In Buffalo victories, Diggs has been targeted 63 times, hauling in 39 grabs for 581 yards and four touchdowns. In Buffalo’s five losses, Diggs has seen just 45 targets, catching 32 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Win or lose, the Bills need to ensure that their best players touch the football. From the “Thanks, Captain Obvious” files, allowing your best players to impact the game gives your team a greater chance at success. Diggs is one of the NFL’s top talents, and there is no reason that he shouldn’t finish with 100 receiving yards on Sunday. Buffalo needs to involve him in multiple ways—deep crossers, screens, slants, back-shoulder passes, everything—to pressure Tampa’s secondary.
CB Levi Wallace
Speaking of a secondary that will be under pressure, Sunday will be Levi Wallace’s true introduction to life as CB1 after the New England Patriots beat Buffalo with a game plan straight out of the 1950s (or out of the fifth century B.C.). Wallace has shown flashes of brilliance, but he struggles with bigger, stronger players. I imagine that the Bucs will try to match him up with Mike Evans to exploit that, though the guy lined up across from Wallace doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents yet, either. With a Hall of Fame quarterback on the other side, this is going to be a tough matchup for Buffalo’s secondary.
CB Dane Jackson
See above. See last week. The Bills are going to need to show everyone that they can still be an elite pass defense without Tre’Davious White, and Jackson is going to be attacked until he can prove that attacking him is unwise. Though he is a smaller corner at 5’11” and 180 lbs, he is a tough you-know-what, so I think he’ll be able to hold his own. Either Micah Hyde or Jordan Poyer is going to need to be on alert, though, for a double-move, as Jackson has shown himself to be susceptible to that in limited work throughout his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich, and Tom Brady have a hard play-action double-move drawn up for the game’s first offensive play.