Welcome to Week Three 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’ third game of the 2018 season will take place in Minnesota as they take on the Vikings. Here’s what to watch for:
A TALE OF TWO DEFENSES
Defensive end Everson Griffin may be out for Sunday’s game, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer won’t have to worry much. Minnesota has a plethora of options who can get after opposing quarterbacks in linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Linval Joseph and defensive end Danielle Hunter. Zimmer also likes to create pressure in the pocket via Sean McDermott’s favorite method – double-A gap blitzes – and his defenses are tremendous at it. (For more on this method, please read:
Safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo might be the league’s best safety duo – they’re a great combination of being versatile, aggressive and intelligent. The Vikings like to play a lot of coverages with both safeties playing deep (Cover Two, Cover 4, etc.), which usually eliminates one of those two aforementioned players from helping out against the run. Luckily for the Vikings, they have a stout front seven and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are physical, sure tacklers.
Meanwhile, the Bills’ defense was reeling after the first six quarters of their season, but after McDermott took over the defensive play-calling in the second half of the Chargers game, things seemed to settle down. It’s probably a good thing that he and Leslie Frazier will collaborate on Sundays going forward, especially with the Bills down to just three healthy cornerbacks in Tre’Davious White, Lafayette Pitts and Ryan Lewis. Buffalo will need all of the brainpower they can get.
HOW WILL JOSH ALLEN HANDLE HIS FIRST ROAD START?
Although Josh Allen does have experience playing in large, loud stadiums – Wyoming once visited Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, which holds over 85,000 people – the NFL is a different animal. Despite U.S. Bank Stadium having a capacity of just over 66,000, Vikings home games have a long history of raucous crowds at both their new stadium and at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Look for the Bills to aid Allen in his communication between his offensive line and his receivers with visual signals instead of verbal, and a silent snap count.
HOW WILL MINNESOTA ATTACK THE BILLS’ DEFENSE?
The Vikings won’t have running back Dalvin Cook available due to injury, but it may not matter much due to the presence of veteran Latavius Murray behind him. As solid as Murray may be though, he will be the least of the Bills’ worries on defense.
The signing of Kirk Cousins from the Washington Redskins this past spring has given Minnesota their best signal-caller since Brett Favre. Cousins is a savvy, accurate quarterback who does very well when put in play designs that allow him to capitalize on his strengths, and new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo – the former quarterbacks coach for the Eagles – has taken some of the things he did well in Washington and melded it with what he learned in Philadelphia.
The results, so far, have been spectacular. Cousins has averaged over 300 passing yards per game with six touchdowns and one interception, while throwing to two of the league’s best route runners in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Tight end Kyle Rudolph remains a good red zone threat.
Watch for the Vikings to utilize lots of play-action in order to take advantage of Tremaine Edmunds’ lack of experience and the Bills’ lack of healthy cornerbacks.
SHIFTS AND MOTIONS COULD HELP ALLEN
One issue that the Bills have seen during their first two games is the inability of their receivers to create separation from defenders in tight man coverage. It’s likely due to a combination of a lack of speed at the position plus some route-running inefficiencies at the line of scrimmage.
If offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wants to help his receivers get open more often, he should look no further than his own recent past in New England. Shifting formations and sending more players in motion – like the Patriots love to do – can not only help said players create more space from defenders, but can also determine the coverage for Allen and create matchup problems for the opposition. They will likely need to get more creative should LeSean McCoy miss any playing time with his recent rib injury.
As the season goes on, it would behoove the Bills to open up their playbook for Allen as he gains more experience. He may be working with a limited scheme right now due to this being only his second start, but he’ll become more comfortable as his career progresses.
EX-BILLS COACHES LITTER VIKINGS’ STAFF
Three ex-Bills coaches are on Mike Zimmer’s staff – tight ends coach Todd Downing (Doug Marrone’s former quarterbacks coach), defensive backs coach Jerry Gray (Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey’s former defensive coordinator) and defensive coordinator George Edwards (Chan Gailey’s defensive shot-caller).
Although Edwards doesn’t call the defensive plays for the Vikings – Zimmer does – he and Zimmer do collaborate on game plans throughout the week leading up to Sunday. It’s nice to see him land on his feet and have success, given what little he had to work with on a rebuilding Bills roster in 2010 and ’11.