The Buffalo Bills made a statement in their opening matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams on Thursday at SoFi Stadium, winning 31-10.
While nobody will complain about the win, there were some issues that needed fixing. Both Zack Moss and James Cook fumbled, Isaiah McKenzie dropped a pass that turned into an interception, and the team couldn’t get Dawson Knox going. So there will be some areas of focus as the team prepares for their Monday night showdown at home against the Tennessee Titans
Here are the keys for the Buffalo Bills Week 2 matchup:
Key #1: Can the new-look defensive line stop Derrick Henry?
It’s no surprise that Derrick Henry is the number one name on the list. The Titans running back has dominated the Bills of late. In 2021, he ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a loss that cost the Bills a chance at home-field advantage in the playoffs. In 2020, he ran for only 57 yards but scored two touchdowns and laid the infamous stiff arm on Josh Norman.
However, the Bills spent big money on the defensive in the offseason, particularly at defensive tackle, where they signed DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips. In our analysis of the Rams game, we mentioned how good Jordan Phillips was but looking at the All-22 film also revealed how well Jones played.
With Ed Oliver hobbling off the field with an ankle injury, Jones played 69% of snaps for the Bills and saw a lot of double teams. However, those double teams are crucial because he ate up blockers which allowed the defensive ends to have one-on-one matchups in passing situations and gave the linebackers a clearer path to the ballcarrier in running situations.
Obviously getting Oliver healthy in time for Monday will be a huge boost for the Bills, but they should be in a good position to make life harder for Derrick Henry with their new defensive line addition.
Key #2: Can the Bills continue to protect their rookie cornerbacks
It helps the Buffalo Bills’ quest to stop Derrick Henry that the Titans passing attack is not what it was last year now that A.J. Brown is in Philadelphia. Brown had 173 yards and a touchdown combined in the last two games between these teams and is a tall order for any cornerback to handle. Now, the Bills will just have to worry about old friend Robert Woods and rookie Treylon Burks.
That’s good news for Buffalo who will still start Dane Jackson and rotate snaps between rookies Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam. While Cooper Kupp did catch 13 passes for 128 yards and a score, the Buffalo secondary actually did a solid job against the Rams overall. There were two keys to that which could help the Bills against the Titans in Week 2.
For starters, the Bills did not blitz once against the Rams. That means they used their four defensive linemen to rush the passer and were able to drop seven players in coverage. More defenders in coverage make it easier for the Bills to use other players to help the two rookies early on in their careers. Considering Buffalo also sacked Matthew Stafford seven times, I would expect that strategy to carry over into Week 2.
The Bills were also able to employ this strategy because they played Zone coverage over 90% of the time. That’s a big deviation from what they’ve done in the past and was a clear indication that they wanted the extra coverage help for Benford and Elam. Now that teams have seen that the Bills might structure their defense this way until Tre’Davious White is back from his November ACL tear, maybe offenses will adjust.
Key #3: Can any running back take the load off of Josh Allen
Lastly, a key when the Bills are on offense will be trying to establish their rushing attack so they don’t have to rely so much on Josh Allen’s legs. We know Allen is an asset on the ground, and the Bills are better when he is, but he also needs to hold up for a full season, and there’s no reason they should be calling designed runs for him up big in the fourth quarter.
Part of that likely had to do with both Zack Moss and James Cook losing fumbles in this game. That left just Devin Singletary with the trust of the Bills’ coaching staff and they don’t really like him running out the clock given his lack of power running style.
However, the Bills also had some issues on the offensive line where Ryan Bates had a really tough day against Aaron Donald and Spencer Brown was still a bit rusty working his way back from offseason surgery. Obviously, the Rams have a talented defensive front, but the Titans are a good defense as well. The Bills will need to find another running back to trust and get success out of because it’s too risky to let Josh Allen do so much on the ground for 18 weeks.