Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers: Three Keys to the Game

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 26: Quarterback Nathan Peterman
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 26: Quarterback Nathan Peterman /

The Buffalo Bills’ Week 11 tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers kicks off at 4:05 p.m. in Carson, Calif.

While at the time, last week might have been the Buffalo Bills’ biggest game of the season, their Week 11 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers comes with their season on the line.

Fresh off a mid-week quarterback change and back-to-back embarrassing losses, the Bills’ campaign looks to be spiraling out of control.

However, if Nathan Peterman can lead the Bills to the team’s second road win of the season, they’ll sit in fifth place in the AFC standings with six games to go.

It’s a big ask of a rookie playing against a top-shelf defense and making his first-career start, but maybe this shakeup at quarterback was exactly what Buffalo needed.

You know the drill, each week during the regular season this column will provide the three ways the Bills can secure a victory. So, without further ado, here are the Three Keys to the Game for the matchup against the Chargers, which kicks off 4:05 p.m. Sunday at the StubHub Center on CBS.

Stop Melvin Gordon

After getting thrashed on the ground each of the last two weeks, Melvin Gordon has the talent to give Buffalo fits all game long.

Gordon is 10th in rushing yards, but his talent is better than that. He’s a borderline top-five running back based on talent alone.

The Bills ranked third in the league in rushing defense heading into their matchup with the New York Jets. Fast-forward to Sunday, and they rank 22nd. What a fall from grace.

"“Being in and out of our gaps was a big problem,” according to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, via BuffaloBills.com. “Why is it happening? We have to go back to the fundamentals of what we do and teach it as if we’re at the beginning of training camp. We have to get back to the basics of run defense.”"

The Bills have the talent to fix the problem.

The biggest factor could be who Buffalo just signed: 340-pound defensive tackle Deandre Coleman.

Buffalo’s biggest problem the last two weeks was gap discipline. They were getting blocked out of their respective gaps, opening up huge holes for running backs to run through.

Coleman is a big body who can help out in this area.

Lean On LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy cannot touch the ball just 11 times like he did last week against the New Orleans Saints. He can’t frequently come off the field on third downs either.

With Peterman drawing his first start, McCoy needs the ball in his hands as much as possible. He’s the Bills’ best player.

This is an opportunity to get back on track for McCoy.

The Chargers feature the league’s worst run defense. McCoy should see no less than 20 rushing attempts.

Keep Nathan Peterman Upright

The Bills rank 25th when it comes to the number of sacks they give up each week: 3.1.

Now some of that is because of the way Tyrod Taylor plays. But now Taylor isn’t starting.

Peterman is.

Making his first-ever start, it’ll go a long way if the offensive line can keep him clean. It’s a tall task, especially for tackles Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills. They’ll face two of the best pass rushers in the league in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.

"According to Pro Football Focus, “Bosa ranks second among edge defenders with a pass-rush grade of 93.1, his 47 total pressures are third-most and he is 12th with a pass-rush productivity rating (PRP) of 12.7” and “Ingram is having his best year to date, his overall grade of 92.8 is the highest by an edge defender this season and he also has the highest pass-rush grade of 94.0. Another pass-rushing category Ingram leads the league in is total pressures (51).”"

Oh boy.

However, both Dawkins and Mills are having solid seasons.

"“Dawkins has graded as average, with an overall PFF grade of 70.6 and a pass-block grade of 70.9,” while Mills’ “pass-blocking grade of 77.6 ranks 23rd among 78 qualifying tackles this season. He is inside the top 20 in terms of PBE with a PBE of 96.3, allowing 15 total pressure on 318 pass blocking snaps,” according to PFF."

If Dawkins and Mills can keep Bosa and Ingram at bay Peterman will have a shot at finding production against this stout Chargers defense.

One thing Peterman can do that Taylor couldn’t is get the ball out of his hands quickly. So if Buffalo does have problems against the Chargers’ pass rush, Peterman has the ability to make a quick decision and keep the drive alive.

Prediction: Bills 24-20

On paper, the Chargers should win. They have Philip Rivers, one of the best running backs in the league, a great set of wide receivers and a tremendous defense.

However, they always seem to find a way to lose. Just look at last week’s crippling loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers gave that one away. A couple times.

Peterman isn’t going to be flashy, but he won’t lead the Bills to three-and-out after three-and-out.

Kelvin Benjamin adds a spark and McCoy leads them to a win.