Thad’s Three Things: Bills vs. Panthers

Buffalo Bills

TAMPA, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 12: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Three things on my mind as the Bills get set to host the Bills South… aka the Panthers…

Good To Go, But How Good?

Josh Allen will play on Sunday despite the sprained foot he suffered last week in Tampa. This is not much of a surprise. Allen never seemed concerned about the injury and all the indications during the week were that it was not super severe. The question now is if the injury slows Allen in any way.

Clearly, the guy is a warrior and will be on the field if it’s in any way possible, but the Bills might need him to be at or close to 100%. Allen is just about the entire offense right now. Running the ball with actual running backs seems more hope and prayer than plan this season. The Bills need the extra blocker that running the ball with the quarterback provides. Obviously, Allen is also the triggerman for what remains a very dangerous, if maybe a bit less consistent, Bills passing game.

If Allen is limited and either cannot or prefers not to run the ball, that removes the sizable prong of the Bills offense. If Allen has trouble dancing around the pocket and avoiding rushers that may be a significant issue against the Panthers. An issue that is exacerbated by Thing number two.

As The Offensive Line Turns

Dion Dawkins went back on the Covid list on Friday and appears very unlikely to play. The most important thing within the Thing here is that Dawkins is healthy. Covid is not a joke for anybody, but especially for the Bills left tackle whose experience with the virus sent him to the hospital in the summer. Just hoping the big man comes out okay.

From a football point of view, Dawkins loss to the offensive line is significant. Along with Mitch Morse, Dawkins has been the only other dependable lineman from both a health and performance point of view. My gut says the Bills replace him with rookie Tommy Doyle or Bobby Hart and leave the other four spots the way they prefer. Give that group a shot and hope to get away with it.

If they can’t–and there’s an excellent chance the Panthers are too good for it–don’t be surprised if the O-Line merry-go-round really gets spinning. I think plan B is Spencer Brown moving to left tackle, Daryl Williams going back to right tackle and Ike Boettger coming back into the lineup as a guard.

It’s going to be a very less than ideal situation against this particular defense no matter what Sean McDermott chooses. The Panthers are one of three teams in the NFL that have two players with over eight sacks already this season in Brian Burns and Haason Reddick. If the Bills go with Doyle to replace Dawkins, they would be sending two rookies to stop two elite edge rushers on every snap. Allen is a pretty confident guy, but even he had to be losing a little sleep thinking about that idea this week.

Blood In The Water

While the offensive side of the ball is all questions for the Bills this week, the defense might very well be all answers.

This Carolina offense is bottom 10 in just about every NFL category. They’re playing two quarterbacks which, as the old saying goes, means they really don’t have any. Their best offensive player–Christian McCaffrey–is already out for the season. They’re second best offensive player–D.J. Moore–is questionable after being limited in practice all week with a hamstring injury he said he tweaked last Sunday.

The Panthers do like to run the ball with Newton and have had some success with it. My thought is the Bills take that away and force Carolina to be a throwing team. Moore and Robby Anderson need to be respected as receivers, but they are a far cry from the Mike Evans-Chris Godwin-Rob Gronkowski show we saw last Sunday in Tampa. Plus, the quarterbacks are certainly not TB12. Get ahead of Carolina or take away their run option and there’s a good chance this contest becomes another interception fest for the Bills secondary.

The Pick

We spent the past two Sundays seeing what the Bills are not this season. They don’t beat the very good teams. They don’t win the close games. Their defense does not stop the better offenses.

However, let’s not forget that the Bills are a team that hammers the snot out of anybody not in their weight class. The Panthers have lost eight of the last 10 after a 3-0 start and are certainly a team not in Buffalo’s weight class. The Carolina defense is pretty good with a couple of pass rushers that any team would be dying to have. Allen should be able to neutralize that problem enough for the Bills offense to be successful and I really think they might only need to score about 14 points to win this game anyway.

I think the Panthers are roughly the same caliber as the Dolphins (maybe a bit worse) and this game will look a lot like the one Buffalo played against Miami in Orchard Park. A close, low scoring contest where Buffalo pulls away late. The Bills need to win in the worst way and I think they get it done. I’d even lay the 12-13 points Vegas is giving Carolina. Give me Buffalo 31-13.

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