Welcome back to our weekly series here on an insider’s opinion of Buffalo Bills gameday expectations. Yes, yes, I know there wasn’t one last week. Let’s call that my “Bye” week. That said, a lot has happened since the last post, and it’s been a rollercoaster ride at One Bills Drive (pretty much like how we started the season). The Bills’ fearless (and sometimes risk-taking) leader EJ Manuel was hurt on a scramble against the Browns, which will sideline him for a few weeks. Fellow rookie Jeff “Tueltime” Tuel unfairly was put in the driver’s seat after a shortened week with limited reps, and looked all but the part. Coach Doug Marrone had a choice on his hands: stick with Tuel and hope for the best or shop around for experience. Marrone and the Bills chose to go with Thad Lewis, a practice squad hero, to hand the keys to the car for this weekend. Expectations are low for this gunslinger, but what can Bills fans look for in today’s game?
Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati’s Defensive Coordinator, is going to bring more heat than your uncle’s salsa. This should not come as a surprise here. Cincinnati’s D, which is a perennial top-10 unit, smells blood in the water with Lewis at the helm, and will do everything they can to make his life miserable today. Expect to see Thad on the ground more than CJ Spiller today. Where do I expect the pressure to come from? Michael Johnson (who is listed as Questionable) again LG Colin Brown & LT Cordy Glenn to start. Protecting and blocking the Left “A” and “B” gaps will be critical today, and be one of Brown’s biggest tests of this young season. Consider it a success today if Buffalo is sacked less than 5 times.
The Bills will run, run, run all day long. Buffalo, who is currently third in rushing in the NFL, will most likely try to get Fred Jackson and, if he plays, CJ Spiller the ball 30+ times today. If the ground game isn’t moving, this game will get ugly. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett once again will have his work cut out for him, scheming up creative ways of creating mismatches and mixing in play action to keep the Bengals linebackers honest. If the Bengals “stack the box” like the Jets did three weeks ago, and Thad cannot spread the ball and connect deep, expect less than 50 yards rushing today for the Bills.
Special teams play should be improved this week. With the release of Punter Shawn Powell and the return of Brian Moorman, the Bills’ special teams should be improved this week over last game’s disastrous output. Moorman, who owns Bills’ records for gross punting average (GPA) and punts inside the 20, will be happily welcomed in Orchard Park. I predict Buffalo going 3-and-out often today, so Moorman will be thrown into the mix quickly and often. Field position will be key today, and Moorman helps give the Bills an advantage.
Today will determine the fate for the 2013 Buffalo Bills. In what could probably be called their most important game of the year, today will determine the fate of this season and the start of the Doug Marrone era. Buffalo is currently at 2-3, last in the AFC East. A win today coupled with a win by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the New York Jets (and a Dolphins bye), would put the Bills tied for second place. The New England Patriots, while not playing at their Super Bowl year levels, are still first in the division at 4-1. Buffalo cannot afford to lose too many more games and still have a chance to reach the playoffs this year (if they intended on doing so). Today’s game would be more than a regular victory, it would be a statement game. Winning without their starting Quarterback at home could give the Bills exactly the momentum they need to win a huge game on the road next week in Miami. With three of the next four games on the road (including a stop in New Orleans), a loss today would most likely set the tone for the rest of the year.