Thad’s Three Things: Bills vs. Rams

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In this Dec. 8, 2019, photo, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald waits to run onto the field for an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles. Donald is not thrilled about the prospect of playing football without fans. The Rams’ superstar defensive lineman doesn’t see how the NFL could play a season in front of empty seats, saying it “wouldn’t be fun to me.” (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Three things on my mind as the Bills get ready to go for win number three against the Rams…

Aaron Donald

Thoughts about any game against the Rams have to start with this guy. Josh Allen said this week he might be the best ever at defensive tackle. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but no one is giggling about the thought. Donald is a one-man game wrecker if you let him.

He becomes even more an issue this week because of what the Bills did at guard last time out. Cody Ford sat down 18 of 61 plays against the Dolphins. He also played three snaps (one series) at left guard for Quinton Spain. Brian Winters took all 21 snaps at right guard while one of Ford or Spain were on the bench.

I asked Sean McDermott about the rotation Monday and said the Bills were trying to work through some combinations to see what might work best. The shortened preseason will force many teams to do more in-season lineup experimenting than usual. You’d think the snap count and his spot on the sideline for the go-ahead drive in the 4th quarter would make Ford the top concern.

No matter which guard gets the Donald task from play to play, there’s no way the Bills are going to leave that player without help. This is also, however, not the game for experimenting. Any question marks at guard will turn into exclamation points real fast against Donald.

The 100 Million Dollar Man

The Bills were supposed to face two pretty good corners in Miami, but Byron Jones was injured early. The game did, potentially, provide a preview for how the Bills might go about their passing business against the Rams.

Jalen Ramsey is probably a step up from Jones or Xavien Howard. The Rams certainly think so because they made him the highest paid corner ever in the game with a $105 million dollar contract just before the start of the season.

The Bills offense has emphasized taking what the defense gives you and one would think the defense in this game would be giving most often somewhere other than Ramsey’s location. One of the reasons Stefon Diggs had a great game in Miami is because he abused rookie Noah Igbinoghene. The first round draft pick saw 11 targets in his direction.

The top remaining corner for Miami last week was Xavien Howard. He still saw six targets from the Bills, so I don’t think there will be “fear” in targeting Ramsey. I also think if Ramsey is shadowing Diggs all day, a different receiver will likely have the “big” day against the Rams.

Climbing The Ladder

The start of the Bills schedule has, very neatly, allowed the Bills to progress into the difficulty of this season. They opened with a doormat (Jets). Game two was against a functional, but unlikely playoff threat in Miami. This week, the opponent certainly seems—to borrow an oft-used McDermott phrase–playoff caliber.

We won’t know for a while if the Rams really are that good, but “playoff caliber” has been a level that’s severely troubled McDermott in Buffalo. If you include the actual playoff games, the Bills are 3-17 against teams that have made the postseason since the start of 2017. Only one win has come in the last two seasons with Allen at the helm and that was against a Titans team (last year) that did not play the quarterback that turned out to be their best option.

It’s seems unlikely this Bills team will be so ineffective against even Wild Card level teams. They are going to start having to win these games one way or another to make any deep runs in January. No better way to prepare than winning games against playoff caliber teams in September.

The Pick

This feels like a tight game. The Rams are more star driven. The Bills have better depth. Both teams have offenses with multiple targets. Both teams are well coached

This is the second trip east in a row for the Rams. They initially planned on staying out east after the game last week in Philadelphia, but Covid prevented that plan from happening. Jourdan Rodrigue, who covers the Rams for The Athletic told me earlier this week the Rams think that was a blessing in disguise. They really liked how the team responded to traveling the day before the game.

I have to think doing the cross country thing twice in a row will have an effect. Anyone who has traveled a ton knows how much it can take out of you. The Rams have also faced the fastest pace of play on defense among any team in the league, per Football Outsiders.

I think the Bills might have an opportunity to wear the Rams out a bit in this one. I like the idea of going up-tempo on offense if only to reduce the information provided to superstars like Donald and Ramsey.

This is the first tough pick of the year. I think the success of the Bills offense will be the story, either way. I’ll ride the travel issues as my tipping point and give the Bills a 28-27 win.

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