The Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars face off in the first game of this week’s Sunday slate, a 9:30 a.m EDT start that will have us up early — and off to the rest of our three-day weekend festivities (for some of us) earlier than we’d otherwise have been. This isn’t the first time Buffalo and Jacksonville have played a game in London, as the Jags narrowly defeated the EJ Manuel-led Bills 34-31 in October of 2015.
If the Bills are going to keep rolling in 2023, they’ll need to avoid the thing that kept those 2015 Bills from flying back across the Atlantic with a victory: turnovers. With that in mind, here are our five players to watch this week against Jacksonville.
QB Josh Allen
No matter which team you’re rooting for this week, you want a Josh Allen to have success. For us, we’re hoping the quarterback Josh Allen is able to best the pass-rusher Josh Allen, which is not what happened the last time these two teams met. When Buffalo’s Allen plays the way he has the last three games of this season — taking layups, reading his progressions, settling for checkdowns when appropriate, taking shots when the opportunity arises — he’s damn near unstoppable. And, really, he hasn’t been stopped at all over those last three games, as he’s rolled to a 76.6% completion rate, an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and 812 yards passing in his last three games. Allen’s four turnovers in Week 1 were really the only way the New York Jets were able to escape with a 22-16 overtime victory. The Jaguars have forced three turnovers in three of their four games this year, recovering five fumbles and intercepting four passes. If Allen protects the football and keeps rolling as he has, he can definitely exploit a pass defense that enters play ranked No. 22 in yards allowed.
RB James Cook
Where Jacksonville’s defense has been particularly stout is against the run game so far, as the Jaguars have allowed just 3.9 yards per attempt and two rushing touchdowns in their first four contests. Buffalo, on the other hand, has been incredibly efficient on the ground, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns. Buffalo’s top-ten rushing offense against Jacksonville’s top-ten rush defense is one of the key matchups in this one: if the Jaguars can put Buffalo in some situations where they fall behind the chains, it might make defending the pass a bit less stressful. Cook, for his part, is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, has a total of 296 yards rushing, and is on pace to be Buffalo’s first 1,000-yard back since LeSean McCoy in 2017. I almost think that the Bills should do the opposite of what most teams do and use the play-action passing game to open up the run. Allen has been deadly under center and in play-action this year, and Jacksonville’s linebackers may be less apt to react to the run fake than they are the pass fake if the Bills can hit some big plays early. That will leave some gaps for Cook to, well... cook.
WR Stefon Diggs
You know, after a few weeks of trying too hard not to be too obvious, I decided that it’s a good week to go back to basics. Last year, my main complaint with offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was that, at times, it felt like he allowed other teams to take Diggs out of the game plan. This was also a complaint that I had with former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Somehow, it seemed like every other team with an elite wideout could find creative ways to manufacture touches for their top weapons, but somehow, Buffalo allowed Diggs to go from a ridiculous first-half pace (128/1,821/15 through eight games) to a great, but definitely more expected one in the second half of 2022 (100/1,137/7). Currently, Diggs is on pace for 132 receptions, 1,696 yards, and 17 touchdowns. The Bills need to keep feeding him the ball, and keep finding creative ways to make sure he’s heavily involved in every game. A below-average Jacksonville pass defense should be a good target for No. 14.
DE Leonard Floyd
Buffalo’s defensive line suddenly finds itself a bit banged up, as Greg Rousseau popped up on the injury report with a foot injury. Sure, that’s the only name on the list, but it’s a big one, as Groot plays more snaps than any other defensive lineman. Currently, he’s appeared on right around 59% of the team’s snaps. Floyd, by contrast, has only appeared on 49% of the team’s snaps, but that’s still the second-highest number among Buffalo’s rotation-heavy defensive end group. If Rousseau is limited — or worse, is ruled out — there’s a good chance that Floyd becomes the focal point of Jacksonville’s game plan in terms of stopping Buffalo’s pass rush. He very well may be the top target, anyway, as Floyd leads the team with 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits. Von Miller may be back at practice, but it’s highly unlikely that he plays this weekend. Floyd will need to be disruptive in the backfield to make quarterback Trevor Lawrence uncomfortable.
CB Christian Benford
The de facto CB1 now that Tre’Davious White is done for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, Benford has been quite good during his brief career. With either Dane Jackson or Kaiir Elam across from him, Benford needs to remain sharp in his role. If the Bills choose to play man, Benford doesn’t really have the speed to stick with wideouts like Calvin Ridley on deep patterns. However, he does have the instincts and the ball skills to be disruptive, and if safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who missed last week thanks to a knee issue, are back, then he’ll have plenty of help over the top. This week will be a sound test for Benford and Buffalo’s secondary as a whole.