We’ve nearly made it to game day, ladies and gentlemen, and that means it’s time to get some intel from behind enemy lines by talking with the SB Nation blog for this week’s Minnesota Vikings opponents.
This week, we’re sitting down with the folks from Buffalo Rumblings, SB Nation’s home for all things relating to the Buffalo Bills. I’ve exchanged these questions with Matthew Byham, the deputy editor at Buffalo Rumblings, and the questions he answered for me are below. Once the questions I answered for him are up over at BR, I’ll share them with everyone here.
With that, here’s this week’s Five Good Questions!
1. Obviously, the big story of the week for the Bills is the status of quarterback Josh Allen. If he is unable to play on Sunday with his elbow issue, just how much of a blow is that to the Bills and how much does it change their offense?
I think an apt description might be what it will be like on Earth when our little star has swollen up to such a size that the planet is consumed. Losing Allen is a huge deal, and a massive blow. I’ll be honest, I don’t think most people outside One Bills Drive have much of an idea about how the offense will look without Allen. Case Keenum, a guy who you might know about, has had next to no experience running the offense this season other than mop-up duty during a blowout win against the Tennessee Titans. Those numbers are ugly. Sure, he has a history with Stefon Diggs, another guy you likely know. But I’m not betting on lighting in a bottle between the duo this weekend. Without Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills’ season and future both look very different.
It’s hard to pin-point just how different the offense might look with another quarterback because no one else is Allen, and first-time offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey hasn’t had to draft up an offense for someone other than Allen in this capacity.
2. The Bills’ defense is a tough bunch, ranking highly in a lot of statistical categories. What is the key to their defense and how would you go about attacking them if you were Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips?
Shout out to Wade Phillips’ son, Wes! Glad he’s finding success in his own right as an NFL coach. The key to the Bills’ defense is its ability to apply heavy pressure using only the front four on most downs. It goes beyond the front four, especially as it relates to the incredible safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, but Hyde is out for the season following neck surgery, and Poyer has missed half their games with various injuries. Of great importance, is Buffalo’s roster depth and it’s been fully tested this season. I’ll pause to say this: Bills Mafia would give almost anything to see the team’s defense at full health. Cornerback Tre’Davious White hasn’t played a down of football since last Thanksgiving due to his ACL injury. Maybe he’s back this week, but we have no clear answer yet.
How to attack them? Based on the last two games, I’d run the ball heavily and often, and I’d throw screens in space to really challenge the defensive line towards exhaustion. Then I’d target the youth in the secondary to see if they’re capable of keeping up with wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Between injury and inexperience, Buffalo’s defense could be very susceptible to lapses against a motivated Minnesota passing attack.
3. The weather in Buffalo for this Sunday looks. . .well, kind of Buffalo-ish, with the potential for snow and some breezy winds. Do you think that plays to the Bills’ advantage?
I do not, not one bit—due to the uncertainty of who plays.
If Allen plays, then I think the weather is much ado about nothing. At the end of last week’s game, when Allen’s arm was already injured, he (seeming casually) tossed a pass 70 yards on the run to wide receiver Gabe Davis. It hit Davis in the numbers, and he dropped it. The longest pass the NFL has seen in six years and thrown by a guy who suffered an arm injury. Additionally, against the Baltimore Ravens in Maryland, Allen and the offense came to life and put on a show in some very poor weather. Allen is built different, and he can throw it a country mile against an avalanche of weather.
Buffalo struggles to run the ball well with anyone other than Allen. The team’s numbers look decent enough due to Allen’s stats but make no mistake—this is not a running team, and that’s by choice. In many ways, the offense is a lot like a Marshall Faulk-less Rams. They’ll destroy a team’s spirit quick and early on the scoreboard because of the dynamic passing attack. Their best effort running the ball this season came from running back Devin Singletary against the Kansas City Chiefs. His production and their use of the run game in the first half played key roles in Buffalo controlling the tempo and positioning themselves to win in Missouri.
4. Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball for the Bills that you think will play a big role on Sunday.
Other than the punter? (He’s a forgotten man with how seldom Buffalo punts.)
On offense, I suspect this could be the week we see the Bills give rookie running back James Cook a heavy workload. He’d been largely ignored the first quarter of the season, perhaps due to his struggles in pass protection. Recently, Dorsey has called Cook’s number with more frequency, and “28” played a large role in one of the Bills’ key touchdown drives against the Green Bay Packers. Add in the sibling rivalry factor, and we may see a lot of Cooks in the kitchen on Sunday.
On defense, I’d say that rookie cornerback Christian Benford plays a pivotal role in the outcome of Sunday’s game. Benford, a seventh-round selection out of Villanova, has been something of a revelation for the team. When the team is near full health, defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier has utilized a near even rotation between Benford and rookie first-round pick Kaiir Elam. Then Benford broke his hand and ceded time to Elam—who proceeded to cement his role on defense. But now Elam is trending in the wrong direction with an ankle injury, and it could be Benford who takes over as the starting corner. Incredibly, Benford received the start at outside CB2 in place of Elam in Week 1 against the Rams. Benford has played very well when called to duty. He’s an intelligent and highly physical corner who plays with a great deal of confidence, and he performs much bigger than his alma mater might suggest he’s capable of in the NFL.
5. According to our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook, the over/under for this one has dropped significantly, now sitting at 43 after starting at 48.5. Given the odds of Josh Allen not playing and a good chance of inclement weather, it would appear that the “under” is still the smart play. Would you agree?
The short answer? I agree. I’m going to be careful how I respond here because I’m superstitious when it comes to the Bills. Last week I said that despite the clear mismatch at play against the New York Jets, those games have often been close and difficult for Buffalo. Then went on to lose and I wonder if I jinxed them.
In all seriousness, I think the odds and over/under for this game are spot on. There’s still too much unknown about far too many key starters for the Bills to make me believe the spread should be further apart. If Allen doesn’t play (and it might be wise to think big picture here as it relates to the season and hold him out) then Buffalo could struggle to put points on the board. While I don’t believe Buffalo has room to lose this season, the most important games to win are those in the conference/division. I don’t think the weather will be as much of a factor as will be the personnel, and it could be that the Vikings are getting set to face a lot of “next man up” at some of the game’s most vital positions.
Once again, a huge thank you to Matthew for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions on this week’s game. We’ll have more coverage of this one over the next twenty-four hours as kickoff approaches.