3TFO: Bengals @ Bills, Week 6
The Buffalo Bills will play their third straight AFC North opponent this week when the Cincinnati Bengals take the field on Sunday. They lost their quarterback in the game when they faced the Browns on the road last week, but came out on top when they played Baltimore at home in Week 4. The Bills will give young journeyman Thaddeus Lewis his second NFL start at quarterback this week against a tough defense that has shut down Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the past three weeks. Four of the next five games for the Bengals are on the road, and they’ll look for their first road victory in Buffalo.
Bills Running Attack
Buffalo has rushed the ball more than any other team in football this year, averaging just over 35 carries per game. This week should be no different as they’ll try to take some pressure off of Lewis who this time last week was on the practice squad. It sounds like lead back C.J. Spiller’s ankle is getting healthier every day, but Fred Jackson has been no slouch while he’s picked up extra snaps as Spiller recovers. Spiller is off to a rough start this year with a -6.0 rushing grade so far, a dismal Elusive Rating (19.5 is miles from his 94.6 in 2012), and limited receiving productivity (0.55 Yards Per Route Run a far cry from last year’s 1.9 YPRR). Reports this week, though, suggest that he’s cutting markedly better in practice compared to last week. Jackson has done especially well in the receiving game, where his +1.9 grade is ninth-best for halfbacks, and his 1.78 YPRR is seventh for backs with at least 21 targets. Posting a respectable-but-not-great Elusive Rating of 38.8, Jackson is forcing a few missed tackles per game and has a second-best 2.89 yards after contact (for backs with at least 50 attempts).
Against the Cincinnati front seven, Buffalo’s duo could be in for quite a challenge. The Bengals rank fourth in overall run defense led by defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. Johnson may miss the game, but Dunlap has made it tough for teams to run it to the right side. Better known for his pass rushing prowess, Dunlap has flipped the script and become a monster in the running game at left end for the Bengals, and his 11.6 Run Stop Percentage leads all 4-3 defensive ends. Opposing teams have found some success against the Bengals on runs straight up the middle, where they’re averaging 5.5 yards on 39 carries. Besides that, though, the Bengals are giving up just 3 yards per carry, and have logged a run stop on 55% of rushing plays. With only Cordy Glenn posting green run blocking numbers so far this year, Buffalo faces an uphill battle this week.
Can Andy Dalton Get It Going?
If there is a week that Andy Dalton and the Bengals need to rely more on receivers than their tight ends and Giovani Bernard in the passing game, it’s this one. Buffalo’s overall coverage grade this year is fairly neutral, largely due to great coverage plays from rookie Kiko Alonso and former Bengal Manny Lawson at linebacker. In the secondary, it’s more of a mixed bag. Justin Rogers has allowed a 142.3 pass rating on the 39 throws into his coverage. Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey have both been much better, though Robey primarily lines up against the slot and might not see the field much against the Bengals’ oft-used 12-personnel. If Stephon Gimore and Jarius Byrd return, the secondary suddenly looks a lot stronger, as both are plus cover men.
Dalton has had an up-and-down 2013, but has our sixth-worst passing grade this year. Again, he’s among the lead leaders in Sack Percentage, where 22.9% of pressures he’s faced have turned into sacks. Fortunately for Bengals fans, he’s the second-least pressured QB in the league, and the Bengals’ offensive line has been excellent in pass blocking. Dalton will need to put up another accurate performance and avoid mistakes, especially since the Bills have shown the ability to create takeaways on two of Dalton’s favorite throws — they’ve got four interceptions on hitches and out routes.
Geno Atkins vs. Bills Interior OL
We don’t have a ton of data on Thaddeus Lewis, who played 70 preseason snaps for Detroit and Buffalo this year, and one game for Cleveland last season. In an extremely limited sample size, he seems to cope fairly well with pressure, maintaining a 67% Accuracy Percentage in his regular season game with Cleveland last year on 12 pressured snaps. We can’t easily predict how he’ll handle pressure this week, but Geno Atkins will try to make his job uncomfortable when he drops back.
Atkins leads the Bengals in pass rushing this year, and Buffalo’s biggest pass blocking liability is left guard Colin Brown, the worst-graded player at any position this year. After three disastrous games to start the year, Brown actually had a clean day in pass blocking against Baltimore two weeks ago before allowing six pressures against Cleveland on Thursday. Center Eric Wood and right guard Kraig Urbik have both been solid in pass protection for the most part, allowing four and seven pressures respectively. Given Brown’s weakness and Wood’s relative strength in pass blocking at center, Atkins can expect to see double teams when he’s over the left guard. If they’re one-on-one, though, Atkins has a clear advantage. He excels with outside moves (seven pressures) and bull rushes (five pressures), and those moves account for 19 of the 26 pressures Brown has given up. If Buffalo can’t slow down Atkins, their new quarterback could be in for a rough debut.
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