First and Five: Tennessee Titans
Buffalo Bills: First and Five
This week, the Buffalo Bills head back to Orchard Park to face the Tennessee Titans. Both teams have been battling some injuries. The Bills injuries focus more on the offensive line, as Kraig Urbik and Cordy Glenn both have still been ruled out. There was some hope that Urbik would be ready to go this week, but head coach Chan Gailey officially ruled him out this weekend. The Titans, who have been inconsistent like the Bills, have been playing without their franchise quarterback, Jake Locker. This week Matt Hasselbeck will be starting quarterback. The Titans administration must not be too confident in Hasselbeck, as they have already declared that when Locker is ready, he will go right back in as starter.
The Bills and Titans went up against each other in the 2011 season and the Bills blew the game that was also in Orchard Park. The Titans have won the head to head battle the last three times the two teams played against one another. This is considered to be Buffalo’s best shot at coming up victorious and it is important for them to grab a win heading into the bye and, what I think, is really their most difficult month of the schedule, even though they have already suffered three blowout losses.
Not only is this an important week for the Bills, there is also a key match-up against the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. At the end of the game, one of the teams will be 3-4. The Miami Dolphins are on a bye but will face the Jets next week in another important divisional match-up. Let’s take a peek to see what the Bills will need to accomplish in order to have a winning record heading into the bye week.
1- Defense needs to stop Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson had a slow start, causing people to wonder if he was past his prime after landing a big contract. In 2011, running back, Johnson signed a huge contract extension for $53.5 million, with $30 million guaranteed after holding out for most of the off season. Since signing the new contract, his numbers have declined. He managed to run for over 1000 yards but only reached the end zone four times, after posting back to back double digit touchdowns in the prior two seasons. After another slow start in 2012, only running for 301 yards through six weeks, with no touchdowns, it seems as though Johnson is starting to gain some ground and is anxiously awaiting his chance to run against the Bills defense.
In order to for the Bills to be successful, they must shut down Johnson. In three of his 5 game played this season, he has been held to under 25 yards three times. He is paid too much to bench him or bring in a back-up so if the Bills are able to stop him early on, it is assumed the Titans will be too stubborn to make a change and will resort to throwing the ball.
2- Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to throw deep
The Bills wasted their Wildcat deep ball last week in their game against the Arizona Cardinals, so knowing that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has difficulty throwing down field, the Titans will be preparing for Brad Smith to throw deep if there are opportunities to do it. Considering that, Fitzpatrick needs to be able to throw the ball deep. Fitzpatrick still struggles to get the ball to number one receiver Stevie Johnson as it looked like an accurate pass would have led to at least five completions for Johnson last week against the Cardinals.
Fitzpatrick and the Bills offense ranks 29th in the league in passing yards per game, with only 195.8 yards. If Fitzpatrick has any chance to save his job, this game is one that he needs to capitalize on. The Titans have one of the worst pass defenses in the league, ranked 29th in the league as well. With all of the complaints and criticism this week after the win in Arizona, I expect Fitzpatrick to give in to the masses and take a couple shots down field. His job may very well depend on it. It will be a battle of one of the worst passing offenses against one of the worst passing defenses. Whoever comes out victorious will lead the team to victory.
3- Get the ball to C.J. Spiller
As much as Bills fans have loyalty ties to Fred Jackson, it is obvious that C.J. Spiller is a play maker. As it stands now, the Bills have split carries pretty evenly between the two running backs. In radio interviews this week, Bills GM Buddy Nix seemed to hint that a running back who has a hot hand may stay in the game a little longer moving forward. Spiller has the best yards per carry average in the league at 7.55 yards.
Last week against the Cardinals, Spiller had an impressive week with 88 yards on only 12 carries and getting into the end zone once. This week, head coach Chan Gailey announced that the running backs will rotate every two series, rather than every series like that had been doing. Both running backs also have the ability to catch on short paces so I also expect both to be on the field simultaneously. Spiller has explosive power at gaining yards after catches and also has been targeted on deep balls down the sideline. With the way things have been laid out prior to this week, I think the Bills are planning on Spiller having one of his best days yet this season.
4- Defensive line needs to be consistent.
While the defense was much improved in its win against the Cardinals, but it leaves many wondering if they are actually improving, or if the Cardinals, whose quarterback was knocked out of the game and whose running backs are not the usual guys lining up, aren’t really that good. The defense had three sacks and grabbed two interceptions that locked the game up for the Bills last week. They only allowed the running backs to gain a total of 92 yards between them and quarterback Kevin Kolb only threw for 128 yards before getting injured late in the fourth quarter.
This week, the Bills defense goes up against another struggling offense. With Johnson blaming the offensive line for his inability to break through holes, and the Titans having already allowed 11 sacks, this is a good game for the line to make a statement and show that they are starting to get everything together. If the Bills can stop the run, it should make for a very rough day for Hasselbeck.
5- Avoid three and outs
Buffalo has kept opposing teams alive and also allowed teams to either gain a huge lead early or come from behind and take wins because of their inability to keep drives alive. Buffalo is ranked 23rd in the league in time of possession with an average time of 28:44. This is compared to the Houston Texans who are ranked 1st in the league with 34:54. There is no reason, with two strong running backs that the Bills shouldn’t be able to sustain drives and keep the offense on the field. Fitzpatrick needs to go back to being a game management quarterback and Gailey needs to accept the fact that Fitzpatrick is not the answer.
What do you think the Bills need to do to go into the bye week with a winning record? You can also find my articles on twitter @christynepolle.