After two hard fought wins against divisional opponents, the Buffalo Bills had a mid-season break out game against Seattle. Against the bottom dwelling Jets and the post dynasty Patriots the Bills managed just 42 points. Last week, Josh Allen and the offense exploded for 44 beating Seattle by taking full advantage of their weak pass defense. Maybe more importantly, the Bills defense, although allowing 34 points, showed glimpses of the dominant play they’ve had under the direction of coach McDermott. They had their best game this year with five sacks and four takeaways. That win put the Bills record at 7-2 for the season. Next up is a matchup against another potent offense led by standout quarterback Kyler Murray. Here’s what to look for.
IMPROVING DEFENSE VS ANOTHER TOP OFFENSE
After giving up 42 points in a blowout loss to the Titans, some Bills defensive players and coach McDermott talked about the defense still finding its identity. They may have found it last week against the Seahawks. Even though the Bills gave up Seattle’s NFL leading average of 34 points, takeaways were the difference. The Cardinals come into Sunday ranked 6th in the league in scoring, averaging over 29 points per game. The Bills front four must not only continue to get pressure in the backfield, but contain the elusive Kyler Murray. He already has over 500 yards rushing on 76 attempts for a ridiculous 7.1 yards per rush and eight touchdowns. Murray is the dictionary definition of a dual threat quarterback and his running has to be limited for a Buffalo victory. He’s also thrown 16 touchdown passes while accumulating over two thousand yards and a has completion rate of over 68 percent. Favorite target superstar DeAndre Hopkins has over 700 yards receiving on 60 catches in his first year away from Houston. Murray does have seven interceptions and can have some off target throws especially when flushed and on the run. The Bills will again not only have to cause turnovers but capitalize by scoring from them.
THE OLD NEW JOSH ALLEN
Josh Allen had his second outing last week in which he passed for over 400 yards. He added three more touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. There was a lull in his play after his incredible start to the year. In the second quarter of the season he threw just as many interceptions as touchdowns with four apiece. Last week he was nearly unstoppable, completing over 81 percent of his passes, misfiring only seven times in 38 attempts. Some of that high-level production was aided due to the fact that Seattle is dead last in passing defense. Arizona’s passing defense is ranked at a mediocre 19th but still averages more than a hundred yards fewer passing yards to opponents than Seattle. Buffalo’s receiving corps continues to prove it’s one of the best in the NFL. Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley are on pace to shatter their best years in receiving yards and a healthy John Brown makes a huge difference in what the offense can do. The running game sometimes feels like an afterthought and there’s no indication that’s going to change anytime soon.
GETTING HEALTHY AT THE RIGHT TIME
The Bills have been plagued with injuries this year and key players on both offense and defense have missed time. The cornerback trio of Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace and Josh Norman will all play this Sunday barring any setbacks for only the second time all year. Mitch Morse is out of concussion protocol and fully practicing, giving the offensive line their true center back. If he plays, this may be the first time all season the Bills starting offensive line plays together. The practice injury report list is still a long one but also with less players not practicing at all. If the Bills can get through the Arizona game unscathed, they’ll get some players a much-needed extra week of recovery time with the upcoming bye week. They’ll need all hands-on deck for the final six game playoff push and expected playoff run.
Human nature can have a say in how teams prepare for and play the game before their bye week. Thoughts can drift to how the extra time away from work will be spent. However, I imagine that extra time off feels a little more relaxing after a win rather than a loss. Getting to 8-2 with consecutive wins over two very good NFC teams would be big for the team’s confidence. It would also put them in great position to battle for a top four seed and home playoff game for the first time since 1996.
My spotlight player prediction – Wide receiver John Brown has been battling a nagging knee injury for most of the year. Last week he had his best game of the season statistically in both receptions and yards. That’s a great sign that his knee is close to fully healed. Expect an even better game from Brown punctuated by finding the end zone for the first time since week two.
My final score prediction – Head coach Sean McDermott has shown faith in this year’s defense and they may just be starting to prove he was right to do so. With a renewed confidence to make plays, the defense has another strong outing while Josh Allen and his air raid recipients continue to prove they can hang with the NFL’s best offenses.