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Rams-Bills preview: 5 Qs, 5 As with Buffalo Rumblings

The key to the Bills defense could be the health of linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The NFL schedule makers have actually delivered two primetime worthy matchups for their Sunday and Monday night slate this week — Packers at Saints, Chiefs at Ravens — but the somewhat surprising game of the weekend could be the undefeated Rams at the undefeated Bills.

Buffalo isn’t only winning, they’re winning in style and that brings attention to the work that owner Terry Pegula, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have done to change the Bills culture and belief in themselves since 2017.

A complete roster overhaul has brought Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, Tremaine Edmunds, Jordan Poyer, Ed Oliver, Mitch Morse, Dion Dawkins, John Brown, Mario Addison, Matt Milano and even more to the Bills in the last three years and we may be left with little choice to expect Buffalo to be good, if not one of the best teams in the AFC.

However, they’ve also come off of wins against two of the worst teams in the NFL (Dolphins, Jets) and how much praise Beane and McDermott deserve probably depends on their record after 10 games, not after two.

To explain why 10 games and what’s so good about Buffalo right now, I sent five Qs to Corey Giacovelli of Buffalo Rumblings and in kind he sent me five corresponding As. The Bills host the Rams at 10 AM PT this Sunday.

Q: At the time of the draft, Rodger Sherman of The Ringer said that Josh Allen pick automatically made the Bills “the biggest loser of the first round” and Steven Ruiz of USA Today said he was inaccurate, can’t read defenses well and is uncomfortable in the pocket. Allen was panned by many other analysts who didn’t want to be left behind the trash Josh Allen campaign. Understandably, there were concerns about his accuracy and competition because of his stats and who he played for but do you think Allen has changed and developed his skills directly because of Buffalo’s coaching or was there a fundamental misunderstanding of Allen as a prospect and how a successful NFL offense with Allen could work?

A: I do think that there was a misunderstanding of Allen as a prospect to a certain degree. Coming out, the common narrative for him was that he was going to be a developmental quarterback and you basically had to hope for the best. When the Bills drafted him, I’ll be honest I was not a happy camper. I did not want a project, I wanted a quarterback who was ready to go from day 1 because I was tired of losing. We knew that Allen had the potential and the high ceiling but it was going to take a couple years for him to try to reach it. Lucky for us, Allen is proving the doubters wrong and is trending in a positive direction.

Buffalo was probably the perfect fit for him because he had a coaching staff that believed in his abilities and was ready to work the offense around his strengths and not his weaknesses, something that we are seeing in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson. Yes, coaching has definitely helped Allen in his development but he also has the hunger to be great which is what you want to see from your quarterback. Now by no means is Allen a finished product because there are still areas I would like to see him improve on such as ball security and throwing when he is scrambling to his left but for now, I have full faith in him as quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

Q: For the Bills to have been as successful offensively as they’ve been over the first two weeks, I would have expected them to be among the league’s most dangerous rushing teams. Instead, they are 32nd in rushing EPA and a big part of that is probably the fact that Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have combined for two runs on third down so far and no touchdowns. What I mean by that is, there’s a lot of room for easy improvement with more opportunities and maybe Buffalo hasn’t had needed them yet. However, do you think the Bills do have a dangerous rushing attack waiting to happen or is this going to be more of a Josh Allen show? How were Buffalo’s recent third round RB picks (Singletary, Moss) looking in camp?

A: It is tough to say but I am curious to see what the game plan is going to be on Sunday. In week 1, it made sense that the team wanted to air it out because one of the few things the Jets have going for them is a good run defense so running the ball was going to be a problem all game long. In week 2 against the Dolphins, the Bills new that their receivers could destroy the Miami secondary on crossing routes and they exploited that all game long. There was really no reason to run the ball as the passing game was so effective. Even late in the fourth quarter when it was time to kill some clock, the offense was still trusting Josh Allen and airing the ball out.

On the flip side, both Singletary and Moss looked good in camp, they both showed promise that they could be beneficial in the offense. The only issue is that there hasn’t been a need to ground and pound yet on the season which is why their production seems to be low. Even if they are not running the ball, both of these backs have been effective in the screen game and Moss has been doing a pretty good job in pass protection. I do think the running game has the potential to explode when they need it to be but for now, the passing game is just too good to pass up on.

Q: One player I did hear a lot about in camp was rookie fourth round pick Gabe Davis and he made a spectacular touchdown catch against the Dolphins. However, on this team, this season, Davis will have a hard time breaking into Allen’s top five options in the passing game after Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Isaiah McKenzie, Dawson Knox and the running backs. In what situations would you expect to see Buffalo’s lesser known depth pieces used against the Rams? What are the specialties that Davis, McKenzie and Knox bring to the Bills offense?

A: For Davis he is a big guy that is your typical red zone receiver that can go up and make a play but we also saw how athletic he is with that great diving catch. There was also a play near the goal line where he was the person in the wild cat formation taking the snap. That is the first time we saw that during the season so it will be intriguing to see if they go back to that formation at all.

For McKenzie he is your fast receiver that can be used to stretch the field vertically or even in the screen game. Where the Bills love to use him the most is down near the goal line because he is the perfect player to run the jet sweep with as the team runs that play almost every game.

Lastly, there is Dawson Knox who is slowly coming on as a viable target that can take advantage of matchups against linebackers. He does however need to work on his hands as he has been known to drop some passes but he is only in his second year. His status for Sunday is uncertain though, as he suffered a concussion against Miami. One off the radar player as well to keep an eye on is Andre Roberts in the return game. Roberts has been having a great year returning punts and has been one or two blocks away from making it into the end zone.

Q: For 20 years it seemed like the Bills were a franchise that would supply star players to the rest of the league after a few years of inconsistent seasoning. Players like Marshawn Lynch, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Stephon Gilmore, Donte Whitner, Cordy Glenn and so on. Now they’re acquiring Stefon Diggs and extending him, drafting good players like Allen and Tre’Davious White, who also got extended rather than finding himself in a contract dispute, and learning who valuable veterans are such as Mitch Morse, John Brown and Cole Beasley for reinforcements and more.

Terry Pegula bought the team in 2014 and after a two-year run with Rex Ryan, brought in Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane in 2017. How much different does the franchise feel based on those two changes at ownership and head coach? Counter point: Doug Marrone’s final season with the Bills had a +54 point differential and last season was +55, so has McDermott even sealed in the belief that things are “different” this time or will that come based on the next eight games? (Rams, Raiders, Titans, Chiefs, Jets, Patriots, Seahawks, Cardinals)

A: It is one thing to talk the talk but it is another thing to walk to walk which has been the difference between Rex Ryan and Sean McDermott. For Ryan, the best quality he had as a head coach was his ability to talk. That may be why he got the job in the first place because he was able to convince the Pegulas to hire him during their first ever coaching search. However, when it got to game day, Ryan could not back up what he was saying and what he promised during his introductory press conference. Then there was McDermott who preached about culture and trusting the process which some fans turned a blind eye too because they wanted to see results ASAP.

However, McDermott made the playoffs in his first year coaching while going through a complete roster rebuild which truly started to convince fans and the players that he was the guy for the job. Both Ryan and McDermott pride themselves on defense but only McDermott was able to bring that powerful defense with him to Buffalo. The next eight games will tell more about the team that McDermott honestly. We know and believe that he is a great coach by now as shown with his recent contract extension but he can really make an impact if the team can pull off a good stretch of games.

Q: Speaking of White and moving to the defense, we know that the Bills have one corner who is among the NFL’s elite at the position, but who are the other players that may find themselves matching up with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods or Van Jefferson? And which player on the defense who doesn’t play corner — whether that’s at safety, linebacker or pass rush — would you say has the most impact on the defense’s success against the pass?

A: The key to the defense will be the health of linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano who both missed the Dolphins game and it showed. Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to pick apart the middle of the field where they are normally lurking. These two are some of the best young linebackers in the game, especially Milano who is great in coverage and would probably have the task of guarding Tyler Higbee who just had a dominant game against the Eagles. They have both been limited in practice so their status is up in the air but if they are unable to play then momentum is already in favor of the Rams.

As for the other corner opposite of White it will be up to Levi Wallace to slow down the receivers. One thing the defense takes pride in is that safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde do not allow many passes over the top, they are great at keeping plays in front of them so it will be an interesting chess match to see.