Three things on my mind as the Bills get ready to ring in the New Year against the Falcons…
LIving His Best QB Life
There is not a whole lot the Falcons do well, but getting after the quarterback might be the thing they do worst. Atlanta is second last in quarterback hurries, dead last in pressures and really dead last in sacks. They are nine(!) sacks behind the 31st place team. The 31st place team is nine sacks behind… 17th place.
The Bills offense is good enough in a lot of different ways to exploit what Atlanta doesn’t have on defense even without Josh Allen having all day to throw. Unless the weather becomes some sort of factor, there is little reason for the Bills to run the ball much. Just let Allen drop back, take his time getting to whatever read eventually becomes open and play pitch and catch for 60 minutes. If you’re in a fantasy championship, I hope you have Allen on your team this week.
Bench The Heroes?
I’m very curious to see how the Bills employ the down the roster stars from last weekend’s win in Foxboro.
I think Cole Beasley and, especially, Gabriel Davis will be needed as a part of this passing offense deep into the playoffs, but I would like to see Isaiah McKenzie continue to get regular reps. Although Beasley and McKenzie are both best from the slot, they don’t really play it the same way. I think there are opportunities for Brian Daboll to make his offense further flexible depending on which guy is at the slot. We already know McKenzie can have a useful role when the regular wideouts are available.
Jon Feliciano will be back this weekend, but Ryan Bates certainly played well enough at guard last week to merit consideration as a regular starter. I think Bates has a very intriguing future as an offensive regular.
That said, the Bills can play around more with receiver combinations on the fly than with the offensive line. This particular O-Line would probably benefit from slowing the merry-go-round that’s been spinning in that room all season. Based on that, I would return Feliciano to a starting spot at guard and let Bates resume his job as the super sub. Bates is used a lot as a sixth offensive lineman on some run-heavy looks. Making him a starter would remove him from that valuable role.
There are a lot of different ways the Bills can go with both situations and there may even be multiple right answers or things that’ll work. Regardless, the most fascinating part of a game might be less how many points the Bills have on the scoreboard and more which players are doing the scoring.
The Bills have mixed the blitz in well this season. They were relentless adding pressure two weeks ago against Cam Newton and had four sacks to show for it. It’s been necessary addition, at times, for a front four that’s remained too quiet.
This week’s assignment might be react a little differently to the blitz. Matt Ryan has shown a willingness to hang in the pocket and throw from a phone booth. Atlanta is a very respectable 14th in percentage of sacks allowed per pass.
With playmakers at tight end (Kyle Pitts) and running back (Cordarrelle Patterson) plus a pair of water bug like receivers in Russell Gage and Olamide Zacchaeus, the Falcons do have the weapons to exploit a blitz that doesn’t get home quickly. Along with a few turnovers, Ryan having a big day seems to be the most likely event that puts the Buffalo win in danger.
I wonder if the Bills sit back more in this game to try and win with coverage. Pitts is very talented, but still very young and raw. The receiving corps is also generally on the inexperienced side. I think Buffalo would be better off forcing those receivers to try and win the expert level chess game finding holes in coverage rather than blitz and make those holes even bigger.
The Falcons are 7-8 and still very much in the NFC playoff race. Based on that, you’d figure the Bills will get a kitchen sink type game from Atlanta. However, Falcons beat reporter Josh Kendall (The Athletic) pointed out during an interview with me earlier this week the Falcons had a similar opportunity in a big game against San Francisco two weeks ago and laid a giant egg. (You can see more from that interview on Buffalo Kickoff Live Sunday at 11:30am on WROC-TV and WIVB-TV).
The Falcons, frankly, are not good. All seven of their wins have been by one score or less. The best teams they’ve beaten are Miami and New Orleans (both on the road). They haven’t really competed against any team that can legitimately walk and chew gum at the same time.
The Bills do need to worry about a letdown after such a monstrous emotional win over New England. If there is a letdown, Buffalo still so much outclasses the Falcons they will have no excuse not getting a win and that goes double at home. It goes triple when you consider Atlanta had 12 players still on the Covid list as of Saturday night, including a couple of solid contributors on offense in tight end Hayden Hurst and 6-4 wideout Tajae Sharpe.
The weather is picking up for this game and could be a factor, but the Falcons play in the cold so rarely, a bad weather game should still be advantage Buffalo. That forecast makes me think I might be assigning too many points, but I’ll stick with it. Give me the Bills 38-17.