3TFO: Rams @ Bills, Week 14
Steve Palazzolo takes a look ahead at a game that could decide the playoff hopes of both the Bills and Rams.
3TFO: Rams @ Bills, Week 14
A pair of teams with similar records will face off this weekend, as the Buffalo Bills host the St. Louis Rams. The Bills come in at 5-7, while the Rams are somewhere in between with their 5-6-1 mark. They almost tied the San Francisco 49ers for the second time this season, but a game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein with 30 seconds left in overtime avoided that potential oddity.
The Rams are trying to string together three straight wins for the first time this season, as it’s been a mix of strong efforts like last week and games where they seemed overmatched. They have an 0-3 record on their venture through the AFC East so far this season, so they’ll need a win (or another tie) to avoid the clean sweep.
Buffalo finds itself in a three-way tie for second (or last) in the AFC East along with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. They broke a five-game losing streak last week as they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 34-18. Their highly touted defensive line has finally shown signs of life in recent weeks, but it’s likely too late as they sit here at 5-7. Still, there is jockeying to be done in the AFC East as the three second place teams are battling to prove their worth as a challenger to the New England Patriots in the coming years.
Here are the matchups to watch in this game.
Rams Wide Receivers vs. Bills Cornerbacks
With quarterback Sam Bradford’s favorite weapon, wide receiver Danny Amendola, injured, he may have found a new frequent target in WR Chris Givens. Used primarily as a deep threat early on, the rookie has expanded his repertoire the past two weeks, catching 16 of the 19 balls thrown his way and he has done so at all levels of the field. Amendola was Bradford’s safety net in the slot and second-year WR Austin Pettis had his first extended action in the role last week. He caught only two passes for 12 yards at the position, good for a pedestrian Yards/Route Run of 0.41 for the day.
The Bills have had some injuries at cornerback that thrust rookie CB Ron Brooks into his first start last week. The Jaguars found him early and often as he was targeted a ridiculous 16 times. While he was able to deflect three passes, he also picked up three penalties and gave up a touchdown. Opposite Brooks will be fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore who has been a starter since Week 1. He’s been tracking opposing No. 1 wide receivers in recent weeks so he’s likely to get matched up with Givens. While he’s grading at +4.4 in coverage, his 10 penalties are second-most among cornerbacks. He’s right around league average with his 1.23 Yards/Cover Snap.
Rams Offensive Line vs. Bills Defensive Line
As mentioned, the Bills’ defensive line has been much improved in recent weeks, particular rushing the passer. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams played well all season and he ranks second at the position at +29.9. The big change has been the improvement of DE Mario Williams and DT Marcel Dareus. Williams is grading at +14.1 in his past five games, including six sacks. Dareus has seen an increase in production as well, as he’s grading at +9.2 as a pass rusher in his past four games. He’s now 11th in Pass Rush Productivity among defensive tackles, at 5.9. Kyle Williams is third at 8.4. The Bills’ offseason plans are finally starting to take shape for the defensive line.
The Rams counter with an offensive line that ranks 12th as a group in Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) at 83.5. Right guard Harvey Dahl ranks sixth among guards in PBE at 98.1. Left tackle Roger Saffold doesn’t have enough snaps to qualify, but he’s given up only four total pressures on his 183 pass block attempts. His 98.1 PBE would rank first in the league if he qualified. Keep an eye on RT Barry Richardson who will match up with Mario Williams. He ranks 45th out of 61 tackles with a PBE of 93.7.
Bills Running Game vs. Rams Linebackers
Despite boasting two top notch running backs, only recently have the Bills appeared committed to running the ball. RB Fred Jackson picked up a season-high 109 yards on 25 carries last week. He is seventh in the league in Elusive Rating (52.9) on the strength of 29 missed tackles forced and 2.46 yards gained after contact. Teammate C.J. Spiller has been even more elusive this season, as he ranks second in the league at 96.6. He’s been one of the best big-play threats in the league, as 44.1% of his yards come on gains of 15 or more yards.
St. Louis has started to get better play from their linebackers, particularly James Laurinaitis who picked up 10 stops in last week’s game against San Francisco. He’s now up to fourth among inside linebackers in Run Stop Percentage, at 12.5%. He’s also among the surest tacklers at the position as he’s missed a tackle every 19.5 attempts, good for eighth in the league. Fellow linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar ranks third among 4-3 outside linebackers in run stop percentage, at 10.1. He hasn’t been as efficient as Laurinaitis, as he’s missed one every 8.8 attempts, but his +8.3 run stop grade ranks fourth at the position.