Tonight, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first game of Week 8 under the primetime lights for Thursday Night Football. Both teams will look to get themselves back in the win column as the Buccaneers (3-3) are riding a two-game losing streak, and the Bills (4-3) have dropped two out of their last three games. Here’s what to look for in this cross-conference showdown Thursday night.
Both teams are dealing with a short turnaround this week with only three days of rest, compared to the normal six days of rest. The positive side is they get a mini-bye with their extra rest ahead of next week's game. Tonight’s game doesn’t give much time for players to heal up bumps and bruises from Week 7.
The Bills have already ruled OUT tight ends Dawson Knox and Quintin Morris, along with linebacker Baylon Spector. This week, edge rusher Von Miller, plus defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver have turned in limited practices. Oliver’s status is listed as questionable — and his return would be a welcome addition to the Bills' thin DT room after missing last weekend’s game.
For the Buccaneers, guard Matt Feller and safety Kaevon Merriweather have both been ruled OUT for tonight. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Chris Godwin and defensive tackle Vita Vea are all listed as questionable.
Expect more 11 personnel
The Bills will be down two tight ends (Knox and Morris) in this game. This might mean that practice squad tight end Joel Wilson gets a call-up for the game. If Wilson doesn’t get called up, fullback Reggie Gilliam will likely be used as the second TE as we’ve seen in other games this season. With all of these injuries to the TE position, I would expect the offense to focus on using 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and featuring rookie Dalton Kincaid as the lone TE. Kincaid had his best game as a pro last week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he builds on that with another solid performance this week. I’m excited to see what Kincaid can do with being the featured TE.
Will the Bills find a grove early?
It’s no secret that Buffalo’s offense has struggled over the past three games, especially in the first half. Besides some late-game “must-have” touchdowns, the Bills have looked out of sync on offense since their 48-point outburst in Week 4. I took a deep dive into Buffalo’s late-game offensive success to see if learning from the good can help figure out the bad. This offense usually goes how quarterback Josh Allen goes, I think giving him the opportunity to get into a rhythm early and often would go a long way to finding offensive success this week.
Bills’ run defense versus Buccaneers’ run offense
The Bills were without starting DTs Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones last week, and the Patriots took advantage of that. The Bills hope to get Oliver back this week, with him now listed as questionable. Luckily for the Bills, this should be a “get-right” game for their run defense. The Buccaneers are a bottom-of-the-barrel running team in the NFL. Even though they struggle running the football, the Bucs still opt to run fairly often (41.8%). Tampa Bay averages 3.1 yards per carry (31st), 77.8 rushing yards per game (29th), and ranks 28th in rushing touchdowns with one. If the Bills can handle the Bucs’ running game without putting an extra man in the box, they can put more emphasis on slowing down Tampa Bay’s talented WR group.
How to watch
This Thursday Night Football game will be streamed on Prime Video. In the Buffalo market, the game will be on WIVB, Channel 4. Legendary announcer Al Michaels will be joined in the booth by Kirk Herbstreit and on the sideline by Kaylee Hartung.
Keys to Victory
- Make it “undeniable.” The offense has sputtered for three weeks and are tired of the questions about “what’s wrong.” What better way to silence the questions than with another explosion on offense. It’s only a matter of time until we see it again.
- Finish drives — score touchdowns, not field goals. This task won’t be easy as the Buccaneers rank first in the NFL in allowing touchdowns in the red zone, they only allow touchdowns 22.2% of the time when opponents are in the red zone. The Bills are actually ranked second in the NFL at scoring touchdowns in the red zone at 71.4% — they just need to sustain drives long enough to get there.
- Start firing early. Forget trying to have a balanced attack for a series or two, and let Josh Allen sling the football and get his mojo back.
- Incorporate hurry-up offense during early offensive series. This doesn’t mean being in a hurry-up mode for the entire game, or even an entire series, just mix it in a few plays in a row to take advantage of a matchup they might like when the Buccaneers have certain personnel in the game.
- Stop the run without stacking the box. I discussed this earlier in the article.
- Make someone else besides Mike Evans and Chris Godwin beat you.
- Get back to getting QB pressures. The Bills entered Week 7 with the most sacks in the NFL but only generated one sack versus the Patriots, and that was by safety Jordan Poyer. Flustering Baker Mayfield with constant pressure will go a long way in preventing Evans and Godwin from making plays down the field.