Enemy Intelligence: Buffalo Bills

The Titans make another visit to Buffalo this weekend against the Bills. It seemed like the book was written on the Bills-a week after giving up 45 points to New England in the second half, they gave up 45 to the San Francisco 49ers in another blowout loss. Then, they visited Arizona and hold the Cardinals-granted, not a great offensive team, though I'd say they're not that much worse than the Niners-to 13 points and win in overtime. That victory improved their record to 3-3 along with everybody else in the AFC East.

For this post, I watched both the 45-3 road loss to the 49ers two weeks ago and the 16-13 overtime win in Arizona against the Cardinals last week.

 

1. It was late in last season I did one of these before the Titans' game in Buffalo last year, and offensively not that much has changed. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still Ryan Fitzpatrick, a not terrible but not great quarterback who really can't threaten defenses vertically and has to play efficiently in the three- and five-step game to be effective. When he's efficient, the Bills can do well. When he's not efficient, as he has been more frequently the early part of this season, it's very hard for the Bills to move the ball.
2. Stevie Johnson is still the wide receiver you need to care about. Good size, would be a good downfield target if Fitzpatrick could throw downfield, not easy to tackle.
3. The one guy offensively I'm really impressed by is C.J. Spiller. Joe compared him to Chris Johnson from a couple years ago. From what I've seen, I think Spiller is a little better between the tackles but doesn't quite have the extra gear Johnson displayed in 2009.
4. Scott Chandler is the opposing tight end who will have at least 60 yards receiving and probably score a touchdown this week.
5. The Bills still do a lot of spread sets. That will probably push the Titans into their extra-DB packages. The Titans have tended to struggle more defensively in the games where they've had 5+ defensive backs on the field a lot. Granted, the Lions and particularly the Patriots have better weapons than the Bills do, but it still concerns me.
6. The Bills' great sack numbers are mostly a product of offensive design. Fitzpatrick's job is to get the ball out quickly. He does that, even this year. The over/under on Titans sacks this game is no higher than 1.0 (the Titans currently rank 29th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate measure on defense). First-round tackle Cordy Glenn is out, but he's been out; ditto guard Kraig Urbik.
7. The key to the defense is the defensive line. Mario Williams is of course the biggest name. He's been playing primarily left defensive end with Mark Anderson, who's more of a pure speed rush guy, at RDE. Anderson is out this week. The best player is defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who missed last year's Titans game. He's more of a penetrator, and a really good player.
8. The linebackers are more or less junk. Middle man Nick Barnett is a good player in tight areas and tends to be the guy who stays on the field in dime situations, which was the Bills' most common personnel grouping last year. The dime package also includes Bryan Scott, who's somewhere between an oversized safety and undersized weakside linebacker. These guys can be had.
9. I go back and forth on the Bills' safeties. Jairus Byrd had a bunch of fortunate interceptions and got overrated, then didn't do anything, and is maturing into a better player. George Wilson had a great first half of last season, then started playing like the good but far from great player he is. New England's productivity came running with two tight ends against the Bills' dime package, and Wilson (and Scott) got manhandled like the Titans did.
10. The corners are thankful the linebackers are around. I liked Aaron Williams last year and coming out of Texas, but he was lousy. Stephon Gilmore is playing like a rookie, and even corners who are awesome later aren't awesome as rookies. Offenses can theoretically move the ball through the air against these guys.

Right now is when I customarily give a full assessment of how good the two teams are and make a sort of prediction in the abstract. The Titans are making this hard with what they're doing. They've now had a relatively efficient running game two of the past three weeks. Matt Hasselbeck was kind of functional last week and completely nonfunctional the week before. The good version of the Titans can score some points against the Bills, especially if Ryan Fitzpatrick obliges by throwing them the ball. Any line or prediction will say as much or more about what I think about the Titans than it says about the Bills, who are favored by 3 points. My guess at a line would probably be a point or so higher than that.

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