BUFFALO GAME PLAN
The Bills have the NFL’s third-ranked offense and so far, there’s been very few teams that have been able to achieve great balance between the run and the pass. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown for 9 TDs in three games, and the Bills have used plenty of three and four wide receiver sets to spread out opposing defenses. That’s led to Buffalo scoring 37.7 points per game. The Bills have scored at least 34 points in all three games. Steve Johnson has stepped seamlessly into the No.1 receiver role, while David Nelson is a matchup problem out of the slot. If the Bills get down in the red zone, expect Fitzpatrick to look Scott Chandler’s way. The tight end has a receiving TD in each of the Bills’ three games and aside from Johnson, he’s quickly becoming a favorite target for Fitzpatrick and a red zone problem for defenses. The Bills have converted 41 percent of third downs which is a dramatic improvement from last year.
Speaking about problems for defenses. That brings us to Fred Jackson. When the Bills have needed a big play to get them back in the game, the go-to-guy has been Jackson. He’s been one of the key figures behind Buffalo’s two large comeback victories, he’s pass blocked well and he’s been a threat out of the backfield as a receiver. Buffalo has had two sluggish starts the past two weeks that’s resulted in early double digit holes of 18 and 21 points. If the Bills want to sleepwalking through another first half, they might want to get Jackson going early in the game and use the run to establish the pass.
Defensively, the Bills’ run defense has improved as they managed to contain the likes of Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden and BenJarvis Green-Ellis. They’ll face another stiff test against Cedric Benson, who went for over 100 yards and a touchdown last year. With a rookie quarterback, expect the Bengals to lean on Benson to help take the load off of Andy Dalton. The Bills will focus their attention WR A.J. Green, who’s becoming Dalton’s favorite receiving target. Buffalo was able to force four interceptions last week and though they’ve been rather basic and vanilla with their schemes and fronts, now might be the time for Buffalo to dial up the pressure and send plenty of blitzes in Dalton’s direction.
CINCINNATI GAME PLAN
With rookie QB Andy Dalton, Cincinnati’s offense ranks 25th overall. The Bengals are averaging just under 100 yards per game (96) but their pass offense ranks 24th in the league at 204 yards per game and 24th in points with 19 per game. To Dalton’s benefit, he can hand the ball off to Cedric Benson who remains the team’s top back. It’s likely he’ll have a heavy load today with a possible three-game suspension looming after this week, along with the fact the Bengals probably aren’t going to put it all on Dalton’s shoulders and expect him to win the game. Cincinnati is the worst team in the NFL on third downs, so if the Bengals find themselves in a third down situation, they’re going to have to start keeping drives alive beginning today.
Cincinnati’s defense has kept them in all three games, as all of three of Cincy’s games have been decided by 10 points or less. The Bengals will present a stiff test as they boast the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass defense, but the bigger task will be getting to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s been sacked just once in three games. Cincinnati has posted nine sacks in three games. If they can’t slow down Fitzpatrick or knock him off his game, it’ll make it difficult for Nate Clements and Leon Hall to contain Steve Johnson, Donald Jones and David Nelson.
Prediction: Bills 23, Bengals 20. The Bills are favored on the road for the first time in a year and a half and dare I say, people are describing this as a “trap” game. It’s a mad, mad world in the NFL. I don’t agree with the notion of a “trap” game simply because I don’t think the Bills are quite at that level yet where they’re the hunted rather than the hunter. So for arguments sake let’s call this “The Maturity Game”. It’s easy to get ramped up to face New England with the home crowd behind you. It’s another element to come down from an emotional high from last week, travel to Cincinnati and get revved back up to play against a team that everyone’s telling you, you should beat.
The Bills have been the comeback kids the past two weeks overcoming deficits of 21-3 against Oakland and 21-0 against New England. I don’t know if the Bills plan on making it a habit of falling behind early, but despite their 3-0 record their window for error here is paper thin. I think Buffalo needs this game way more than people realize. Despite returning home to face Philadelphia next week, Buffalo can ill afford to look past Cincinnati. The Bills need to find a way to pull out a win against the Bengals. Their next five games coming up? The Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Jets and Cowboys. Cincinnait hasn’t played bad, they just haven’t played well enough over 60 minutes in two of their three games.
I think the Bengals will keep it close, but I think the Bills find a way late to get the job done and pull out a victory.