I said heading into last weekend's game against the Packers that we would get a better idea of who this Bills team is based on their follow-up performance to their historic upset over the Vikings the week before.
They proceeded to get shutout for the first time in a decade.
So a quarter of the way into the season I do feel I have a good idea for what is ahead and it is not much of a departure from how I felt before any games were played.
The offense will struggle because of a rookie quarterback surrounded by a serious lack of talent at the skill positions and below-average offensive line. The defense will keep things as close as they can and maybe, if dominant, can lead the way towards victory.
Let's look at this formula heading into Sunday's home game against the Titans.
The Bills best offensive weapon is LeSean McCoy, yet he only has 21 carries in the three games he has played this season. Yes, game flow has played a part of it, but last week in Green Bay the Bills were not out of things enough to abandon the run like they did. Shady is frustrated, but the opportunity is there against a Titans defense in the lower-third of the league in stopping the run, allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Whether it is handing him the ball or getting more involved in the passing attack (8 receptions on 13 targets), McCoy in space needs to be a priority for Brian Daboll's offense.
Winning the Line of Scrimmage
The offensive line needs to be better, period. When I told Dion Dawkins the Bills have allowed 21 sacks through four games, his response was "sheesh!" Not all of those are on the line (Josh Allen either holds onto the ball too long or runs into sacks), but there were more than a few times last week Packers defenders came into the backfield untouched or with little resistance. Keeping Allen upright definitely helps the passing game, but more so I think the o-line needs to improve to help the running game. While Sean McDermott said earlier in the week that "we'll see" if changes will come up front, from what I've seen in practice this week it doesn't seem like a shake-up is happening just yet.
Catch the Ball
There have been an NFL record 228 passing touchdowns through four games this season. The Bills have 2. The team has 60 receptions total, last in the league, with only 28 coming from wide receivers (2 of which reeled in by the departed Jeremy Kerley). So the big fear most had entering the season about this wide out group has come true and possibly worse than expected. Kelvin Benjamin is supposed to the top target, yet has just 7 catches on 21 targets with many notable drops. Guys aren't getting open and when tasked to make a play for their young QB they have often failed to do so. Someone needs to step up and actually help out Allen like we heard many times since the rookie was named the starting QB.
Let's Get Creative
As surprising as the Bills defensive performance was against the Vikings, I was equally taken back by the offensive play-calling. Brian Daboll kept things simple for Allen while adding multiple wrinkles to things that aided in his success. It is the only time I've seen any imagination from the Bills offense through four games. They need to get back to that. Make a concerted effort to get McCoy in space and the wide receivers in a rhythm early with Allen using quick, one-read passes.
Marcus Mariota's been battling an elbow injury to start the season, but broke loose last week and earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. His mobility is a step up from Aaron Rodgers, who, even dealing with a knee sprain, was able to break contain and use his legs to create more time or pick up yards. The Bills defense must make him a passer, much like the game plan teams would use against Tyrod Taylor when in Buffalo. The Titans receiving core isn't much better than the Bills, with last year's fifth overall pick Corey Davis the only real weapon.
Thunder and Lightning
Tennessee is imploring a thunder-lightning combo in their backfield this season with Derrick Henry joined by former Patriot Dion Lewis. Their carries are about equal, as is their production through four games (Henry 54 carries for 163 yards, Lewis 43 carries for 143 yards). As a team, though, the Titans are just averaging 3.6 yards a carry (same as the Bills) and have just one run over 20 yards (Lewis). They will stick with things on the ground, which will put this Bills run defense to the test, one they have passed fairly well to this point this season.
Safeties Micah Hyde (groin) and Rafael Bush (shoulder) are questionable. If neither can go, expect Siran Neal to get his first career start. McDermott also said they will discuss brining up Dean Marlowe from the practice squad. Charles Clay (ankle) is also questionable.
Titans at Bills kicks-off Sunday at 1 pm.