The Buffalo Bills host the Tennessee Titans in the first of two games on Monday night in Week 2. The Bills and Titans kick off at 7:15 PM Eastern, while the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings kick off at 8:30 PM Eastern. For the Bills, they’ll try to push their record to 2-0 on the season. Tennessee, on the other hand, is looking to win after losing a heartbreaker to the New York Giants last week.
This is the fifth straight year that the Bills and Titans have met in the regular season. Buffalo won 13-12 in Josh Allen’s rookie season, 2018, which is also the last time these teams played each other in Orchard Park. The Bills won 14-7 at Tennessee in 2019, but the Titans have won each of the last two meetings, beating Buffalo 42-16 and 34-31 in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
If Buffalo is going to break the skid against Tennessee, they’ll need to control some of the Titans’ better players. Here are the five we’re watching this week.
QB Ryan Tannehill
The former Miami Dolphins signal caller has been reinvigorated in Tennessee, and after opening his career by struggling badly against Buffalo, he’s been pretty solid against the Bills over his time with the Titans. In the last two meetings with Buffalo, Tannehill was able to exploit the middle of the defense after play-action, throwing to A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Jonnu Smith. All three of those players have something in common: they no longer play in Tennessee. Tannehill has some new targets (more on one familiar face below), but the offense still runs through their running back. If Buffalo can have the same kind of success bringing four rushers as they did last week against the Los Angeles Rams, then Tannehill will be in trouble. If they have to blitz and they flush him to his left, they’ll also be just fine. If Tennessee can jump-start their running game, which will allow Tannehill to work off of play-action passes, then it’ll be the Bills who are in trouble.
RB Derrick Henry
Shut down the running game, shut down the Titans’ offense. If the Bills can keep Henry from breaking big gains and eating up clock, they’ll be in great shape. There are two ways Buffalo can stop the running game. One is to play sound defense, hoping that new defensive tackles Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, and Jordan Phillips can complement Ed Oliver in keeping Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano clean. The other way to stop the running game is just to score so many points that the Titans have to abandon it. I prefer a combination of both strategies, but the Bills can’t afford even a slight lapse, as Henry showed last year. He ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the game last year. Most of his production came on one play, a 76-yard touchdown run, meaning that the Bills held Henry to 77 yards on his other 19 carries. There aren’t any mulligans in the NFL that I’m aware of, though, so the Bills need to tighten up and keep tight all game.
WR Robert Woods
Bobby Trees had an underwhelming debut with the Titans, making just one catch on two targets for a total of 13 yards. I can’t see him having a day worse than that in his return to Buffalo, as the Titans will probably try to scheme a few easy looks for their veteran free-agent signing to work him into the flow of the game early. If Woods works out of the slot, Taron Johnson will have to deal with him, but if he’s outside, he’ll line up against either a rookie (whether it’s Christian Benford or Kaiir Elam) or a second-year man if Dane Jackson is healthy enough to play. Woods is a dynamite receiver and a great blocker, too, so he’s going to be a huge part of the game plan regardless. Buffalo needs to make Tannehill throw to some other people this week.
DT Jeffery Simmons
The man who stopped Josh Allen on fourth down to end last year’s meeting is a menace in the middle. Just a week after having to deal with Aaron Donald, Buffalo’s interior offensive line has to handle another wrecking ball in Simmons, whose massive frame (6’4”, 305 lbs) and ridiculous skills make him a nightmare for people trying to block him. Last week, Simmons had six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble. He’s a monster. Mitch Morse is going to have to help either Ryan Bates or former Titan Rodger Saffold in order to keep Simmons off of Josh Allen.
CB Roger McCreary
The rookie corner was a popular mock draft target for the Bills this April, but after Buffalo went with Kaiir Elam in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, McCreary went No. 35 overall to Tennessee. He’s on the smaller side at 5’11” and 190 lbs, but he’s a physical player. Will Tennessee line him up against Stefon Diggs, who’s much shiftier and equally as physical? Or will they put him on Gabe Davis, who is bigger and stronger than the rookie? Either way, I think it’s a very good matchup for Buffalo, as Allen should be able to exploit the rookie in coverage so long as he has time to throw.