Three things on my mind as the Bills get ready for a reunion with TB12 in sunny Tampa…
Challenging The Master
As great as the Bills defense has been in a lot of games this year, they could be in a world of hurt this weekend.
Tampa’s offensive line is one of the best at protecting the quarterback. Their 15 sacks are the least in the NFL. The Bills front four has been virtually non-existent since the win in Kansas City. Everything points to Tom Brady having all day to throw. The Bucs also have three receivers in Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski who can win one on one against anyone. A problem that is exacerbated for Buffalo without Tre’Davious White. At this point, we are all well aware of Buffalo’s issues stopping the run especially without Star Lotulelei.
Where the Bills defense might have to chase success is winning the mind game with Brady. I know this feels akin to the stormtrooper trying to Jedi mind trick Obi-Wan Kenobi, but the Sean McDermott Bills have confounded Brady plenty. In his last six games against Buffalo, Brady has only four touchdowns against five interceptions. On more than one occasion, it seemed on film as if Brady was unable to dissect what the Bills were doing defensively. They don’t even have to win on every play or even most of the plays. If Brady throws 30 passes and the Bills can confuse him on four with two that end up as interceptions, Buffalo will have a great chance to hang in.
Football is still a game. Just because Brady seems to always have all the chips, that doesn’t mean the Bills can’t win a hand or two.
I Need A Hero
Brady and the offensive pieces will turn the heads, but the Buccaneer defense might be the more complete side of the ball for Bruce Arians. Tampa sports a top 10 run defense. Last week against Atlanta, the Falcons ran all over the Bucs in the first half. In the second half, it was as if Tampa decided, “Nope. We’re done with that” and totally shut the Falcons down. The Buccaneers are also the NFL’s number one blitzing team and do a great job of landing those blitzes (they’re tied for 4th in the league with 32 sacks). On top of that, this Tampa D is top five in turnovers forced and interceptions. They can make plays.
The one Achilles heel the Bucs have on defense is that, if the other team can get a pass off, it will be successful more often than not. Tampa is 26th in the NFL in completion percentage and touchdown passes allowed.
This to me sounds like a prescription for superhero Josh. There’s always a fine line with Allen between making a crazy good play just making a crazy play. In this game, I am totally fine with him trying whatever he wants whenever he wants. If there’s anything that can be an equalizer to all the perceived disadvantages the Bills might have X and O wise in this game, it is absolutely their quarterback.
The Little Things
Arians has never been afraid to be a loosey-goosey, player-friendly coach. It’s probably one of the big reasons why Brady and Gronk wanted to be in Tampa. That may be part of the reason why there are areas where it appears the Bucs aren’t a hundred percent buttoned-up.
Tampa is 19th and 23rd with their return teams. Their kick coverage team is the second-worst in the NFL. They have the second most missed tackles. Their third-down defense is 24th. They’ve missed seven kicks (4 FGs, 3 PATs).
Outside the missed tackles, Buffalo is top 10 in all the above categories. It’s evidence of the tighter ship McDermott appears to run in Orchard Park. The hidden yardage from the small areas might be a big opportunity where Buffalo can make up some ground Sunday.
I’m not sure Tampa Bay gives much of a bleep about this regular season. They won’t blink at throwing from inside their ten in the last 30 seconds of a half with a ten point lead on the road even if if turns into a pick six. That’s exactly what happened last week against Atlanta. Tampa still has Brady and, last week, that almost absurdly aggressive first-half coaching decision didn’t cost the Bucs a thing in a comfortable 30-17 win. Even if they lose a game this week, they’re still four games up in the division and will inevitably clinch sometime soon. Even if they don’t get home field advantage in the playoffs, they won three road games to make the Super Bowl last year and there’s no reason they can’t do it again. Even if they don’t win a championship, they’ve already got one ring in the bank. Tampa right now is a walking, talking embodiment of “house money”.
On the other hand, the Bills spent the week listening to how they got embarrassed by the genius game plan of Bill Belichick. Bills fans spent a lot of Twitter time this week vehemently refuting the idea that Belichick did anything unique or creative, even if it carried a distinct whiff of “thou doth protest too much”.
The question is whether the Bills players feel or believe in that embarrassment at all. This is still the team that will play the underdog card at every turn. There is a reasonable chance that they are coming to this game super hungry.
They should be, at least, super desperate. Allen was right to say after Monday night that everything is still in front of them. However, losing this game will knock them two games back of New England in the division and would officially require help for Buffalo to even have a chance at the AFC East title. It all adds up to Buffalo being, by far, the more desperate team in this game and the more desperate team in the NFL wins lots of games no matter what the X’s and O’s might say.
The Bills are also due for some luck in a closer game. Buffalo is 0-4 in games decided by one score or less and the analytics guys would tell you that that has to turn at some point. I do think Buffalo can keep this game close, but my concern is who will make a play to win that close game. Allen was dropping dimes and working his tail off all the way to the end against Tennessee and New England. Beyond that, there’s been the standard high level from Stefon Diggs and a really good defensive game against lowly Jacksonville, for whatever that’s worth.
It’s gonna take a whole lot more to win this game. There’s no doubt the Bills still have a pretty large group of guys who could make a big play in a big spot. The problem is it hasn’t happened so far and I’m not about to predict it’s going to happen now. I’m done getting behind Buffalo against a good team until they prove otherwise. Give me Tampa Tom and one more afternoon causing Bills fans a headache. I’ll take Tampa Bay 38-30.