After a bye in week six, the Buffalo Bills return to action on Sunday to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s a matchup between two teams who don’t have much on-field history as they’ve only played one another ten times. That’s not too much of a surprise considering they’re in opposite conferences and the fact Tampa Bay has 16 fewer years as a franchise than the Bills.
But perhaps the quirkiest fact of this series is that Sunday’s game is just the second all-time to occur at New Era Field. You read that right. Nine of the previous ten games these franchises have contested took place in Tampa. It’s no wonder then that Buffalo has managed just three wins all-time against the Bucs. It included a 33-20 triumph in that lone game in Western New York on September 20, 2009.
Both teams are looking to get back on track after setbacks in recent weeks. The Bills two-game winning streak came to an end in week five with a 20-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is on a two-game skid of their own that included a 38-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week, a game much more one-sided than the final score indicated.
With a win, the Bills can temporarily move into a tie for first in the AFC East (the New England Patriots have their Super Bowl LI rematch with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football). What must happen on the field for that to become a reality? Below are the keys to victory in week seven’s inter-conference showdown with the Bucs.
Week Seven Buffalo Bills Keys to Victory
Unleash Tyrod Taylor on a Suspect Buccaneer Pass Defense
Five games into the Bills regular season campaign and it’s safe to say that Tyrod Taylor plays fairly well in the friendly confines of New Era Field. In wins against the New York Jets and Denver Broncos, the seventh-year man out of Virginia Tech boasts a quarterback rating of 109. But in Buffalo’s three away games, two of which resulted in losses, that number drops to 83.3.
It included a dismal performance last time out in Cincinnati. Taylor barely completed half his passes, threw for just 166 yards along with a touchdown and an interception. He was also constantly under pressure, getting sacked six times. But he appears to have a golden opportunity on Sunday. And his offensive line is in a similar situation with respect to redeeming themselves in pass protection.
Tampa currently finds itself near the bottom of the league in a variety of pass defense statistics. They rank dead last in sacks, second-worst in pass yards allowed per game and third worst in opposing quarterback completion percentage. Only three other teams in the league are allowing a higher passer rating at this point as well. On paper, this suggests a bounce back game from the Bills’ signal caller.
But games aren’t played on paper and the biggest issue in unleashing Taylor on the Bucs is a Bills pass-catching corps decimated by injury. Charles Clay suffered a torn meniscus and sprained MCL against the Bengals and is out while Jordan Matthews is questionable as he recovers from thumb surgery. That means in order for Taylor to prove to the world he’s franchise quarterback caliber, players such as rookie wide receiver Zay Jones and tight end Nick O’Leary will have to help him out.
Unleash the Run Game With Offensive Line Tailored to Scheme
Heading into the sixth game of the season and Bills fans have legitimate concerns about the effectiveness of the ground attack. After two straight seasons of leading the league in rushing yards per game and possessing a dynamic bell cow speedster in LeSean McCoy, expectations are immeasurably high. But Buffalo ranks 17th in rushing yards per game and 25th in overall yardage on the ground right now. So what’s the problem?
Part of it stems from an offensive line that’s struggled to adapt to offensive coordinator Rick Dennison‘s run game schematics which emphasize the outside zone running game. This requires more finesse blocking and lateral athleticism among offensive linemen than pure man-on-man power. It’s led the coaching staff to insert Vlad Ducasse at right guard in place of John Miller much more often than expected.
Miller started all 28 games he appeared in over the previous two seasons. But his skill set as more of an inside zone blocker isn’t the best fit in Dennison’s offense, particularly with respect to run game. It shows in the fact that his Pro Football Focus grade of 30.1 in run blocking situations ranks 73rd among guards. Ducasse, on the other hand, proved reliable if anything in his first start of the season against the Bengals.
The importance of outside zone run concepts to the Bills offense is that it sets up the bootleg for Taylor, where he’s most effective as a passer. But it requires interior linemen who have the athleticism to reach block on cutbacks while also pulling around the edge on runs outside the tackles. McCoy is due for a breakout performance, but the O-line needs to play its part. Ducasse is the best option at right guard given his scheme versatility.
Unleash Tre’Davious White in His Quest for Redemption
If you’re looking for a defensive rookie of the year candidate, Tre’Davious White is figuring prominently on your list. The LSU product is exhibiting shutdown corner capabilities early on in his pro career. He earned his first big accolade in September when the league named him its top rookie on the defensive side of the football that month. But in the Bills’ loss to the Bengals in week five, White dealt with his first bout of adversity.
It took place on the first play of Cincy’s second possession of the game. Lined up against the Bengals talismanic receiver A.J. Green, White made a slight hesitation in coverage which gave Green too much space downfield running a go route. Before White knew it, he was staring at Green’s last name on his jersey as he scampered into the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t his only mishap covering Green. On the final play of the third quarter with Buffalo up 13-10, he gave up a 47-yard pass play to the six-time Pro Bowl wideout on third and ten. One play later, Cincy ran it in and never surrendered the lead for the rest of the game. It won’t get any easier this week. White faces another big-bodied matchup nightmare in Mike Evans, who already has three touchdown grabs on the year.
It’s not the adversity itself which defines you but how you respond to it. And White certainly has a chance to do so in a positive manner with a bounce back performance against Evans and the Bucs. It won’t be easy with Jameis Winston starting after being listed as questionable earlier in the week. But White’s ability as a disruptor of opposing pass games, which includes an NFL-leading 11 pass breakups, could key a redemption story after his first truly rough outing as a pro.