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Bills vs Rams: Biggest mismatch could come at cornerback, where Buffalo is green

It’s not Allen vs Donald, but another matchup that could be the difference.

I’m not here to get into the x’s and o’s of Buffalo’s matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, but I am here to discuss a situation that concerns me. It’s not the Bills’ offensive line against Aaron Donald because, yes—it very well could take a majority of the line to neutralize Donald if at all possible. But Josh Allen does Josh Allen things, and we’ve seen the pair face off before. So, it’s fair to think Allen has studied a fair bit of their last meeting.

I AM concerned about Buffalo’s defense, specifically the boundary cornerbacks. Tre’Davious White is set to miss at least the first month of the season, perhaps returning for a home date with the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 9 but more likely coming back later. So until White returns, the team will field some combination of Dane Jackson/Kaiir Elam/Christian Benford on most downs. I’m not worried about WHO will play. I’m worried about HOW whoever lines up plays. Rookie cornerbacks against veteran wide receivers doesn’t often perform well defensively, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL.

Dane Jackson has acquitted himself decently well in the past, but the pair of Elam and Benford are as green as it gets. Both are rookies—and their first game action might possibly be one of the biggest lion’s dens any untested corner can face in Los Angeles. Rams head coach Sean McVay is widely accepted as a football genius, and his roster is full of elite talent, including wide receiver. Of course that’s Cooper Kupp, but sleeping on Allen Robinson II and Van Jefferson is unwise. Taron Johnson will spend a lot of time shadowing Cooper Kupp out of the slot, but he can’t be expected to do so on an island. That means the Bills will likely have to trust Dane Jackson and Elam/Benford to lock up their man on the outside a fair bit of the game.

Preseason action showed promise for both Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford. Surprisingly, Benford seems primed to transition very well from Villanova to the NFL, while Elam seems unable to distance himself from Benford.

Perhaps defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier intends to utilize the hot hand method with Elam and Benford. There’s reason enough to believe we could see something similar to what the team did using a rotation system with Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson a few years back.

Still, I think a fair amount of Bills Mafia will have their eyes on Levi Wallace the first month of the season, especially considering the situation the Bills are in after letting him walk for what seems to be reasonable money. It’s true Wallace struggled against the Kansas City Chiefs, and that alone may have been reason enough to let him leave in free agency. But all Wallace ever did was hold off his competition for CB2. He played above his measurables and he turned his rookie contract into a semi-lucrative free-agent deal with the Steelers. He’s a known commodity no longer part of a roster lacking enough of just that to start a season with Super Bowl aspirations at an all-time high.

But we know the wagons are easily circled by the Buffalo Bills. So, the hope is that the Bills’ stellar safety duo in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde will do enough to assist Jackson/Elam/Benford during the interim and the pass rush can provide some cover. That includes slowing down Allen Robinson II and Van Jefferson enough on the back end, thus preventing easy over-the-top touchdowns. While the rookies are untested—there isn’t much tape on their professional play. That should help if for no other reason than failing to expose weaknesses or tells—especially one that lead to easy penalties.

Make no mistake—I’m excited to see Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford’s development this season — but I’d feel better if Buffalo had another solid veteran to pair with Dane Jackson throughout September.