Welcome to Week Two of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ second game of the 2018 season will take place at New Era Field as they take on the Chargers. Here’s what to watch for:
RUNNING GAME SIMILARITIES
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive line coach Pat Meyer are both former Bills assistant coaches who worked for Rex Ryan (Wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan and defensive line coach Giff Smith also spent time in Buffalo with Sean McDermott and Chan Gailey, respectively). During their time in Western New York, Lynn – and predecessor Greg Roman – preferred a running game predicated on man-blocking schemes and gap/power principles, with guards and tackles pulling around the edge.
The Bills have returned to those type of schemes under current offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – mainly because it fits the personnel they have – but Lynn, Meyer and the Bolts’ play-caller, Ken Whisenhunt, have also brought that approach to Los Angeles. Although the team ranked 24th in rushing last season, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has shown that he can play well in the scheme, going back to his days at Wisconsin.
PASS PROTECTION ISSUES
The Chargers will be missing offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, but they will be confident that they can continue to have success on the ground and protecting Philip Rivers. The signing of former Dolphins center Mike Pouncey this past offseason brings some athleticism to an offensive line that sorely needed it.
The Bills, meanwhile, need to come up with answers for the holes along their offensive line quickly. After allowing six sacks and consistent pressure in the faces of Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman against Baltimore a week ago, offensive line coach Juan Castillo – regarded as one of the better line coaches in the league going back to his days in Philadelphia – will need to make a buffet out of what, frankly, amounted to garbage a week ago.
A way that Castillo and Daboll can help their beleaguered line – and Allen, making his first career start – can be to utilize the play-action game. Putting Allen on bootlegs and rolling him away from pressure that is sure to come also helps define reads for the rookie and cuts the field in half – simplifying the passing game to either/or options will take a lot off of his plate and also will take advantage of his athleticism.
PASS RUSH WOES
Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson will miss Sunday’s game due to injury, as will Chargers counterpart Joey Bosa. That leaves each team with just one true threat off the edge in Jerry Hughes and Melvin Ingram, respectively.
While both McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier don’t prefer to blitz much – leaving his front four to focus on getting after the quarterback while his back seven players concentrate on coverage – they may have to send more defenders after Rivers in order to generate pressure in the pocket. One way they might do that is through blitzing up the middle, aka the “A” gaps (for more on this, please check out:
Conversely, Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley likes to operate his unit with a Seattle style Cover 3, with one deep safety (likely rookie Derwin James) and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett – one of the best duos in the league – playing zone coverage, dividing the field in thirds. Verrett, however, will miss his second straight season due to injury and his replacements will be Desmond King and Trevor Williams.
Bradley now finds himself in a conundrum heading into Sunday’s matchup – will he continue to rush four guys and play zone coverage behind it with confidence in the players he has? Or will he expand his pressure packages and send more men after the quarterback? Time will tell.
HOW WILL THE BILLS TAKE AWAY THE CHARGERS’ WEAPONS?
Despite losing budding young tight end Hunter Henry for the season over the summer, Rivers – who is still playing at a high level – has a plethora of options as his disposal. Veteran Antonio Gates, while having lost a step or two, is still savvy enough to know how to get open over the middle and in the end zone. Keenan Allen is one of the league’s best route runners when healthy. And Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are all solid downfield threats.
It will be interesting to see whether McDermott and Frazier choose to attack the Chargers’ targets with predominantly man or zone coverage.
WILL SPECIAL TEAMS BE THE DIFFERENCE?
Last week, the Chargers allowed a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, muffed – and later fumbled – a punt at their own two-yard line, and Caleb Sturgis missed a critical field goal that would have kept Los Angeles in the game. It’s a recurring theme for the Chargers, as they have had underwhelming performances on that side of the ball for the last three years – most glaringly from their kickers, which has been a revolving door for the team (they used four kickers last season).
The Bills, on the other hand, got a decent debut from rookie punter Corey Bojorquez and nice results from Marcus Murphy in the return game last week. It remains to be seen if both trends will continue on Sunday.
FEATURE IMAGE (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)