The first game of the 2022 NFL season is just a few days away - the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams are set to host the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at SoFi Stadium. It’s a clash of two teams that expect to compete for titles of their respective conferences.
While the most intriguing positional matchup on paper will be the battle between the two heavy weight quarterbacks, LA’s Matthew Stafford and Buffalo’s Josh Allen, there are two areas of weakness on the Bill’s roster that the Rams will look to take advantage of:
LT - Dion Dawkins
LG - Rodger Saffold
C - Mitch Morse
RG - Ryan Bates
RT - Spencer Brown / David Quessenberry
Buffalo has made a strategic decision to build their offensive line affordably, and aside from reliable left tackle Dion Dawkins the rest of the line is perfectly average. Mitch Morse has been a reliable starter since entering the league with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 - he’s a dependable leader in the middle of the Bills’ offensive line.
The guards are a different story for the Bills. While Rams fans know Rodger Saffold well from his time with the team and an important contributor for LA’s 2018 Super Bowl berth, at this point in his career he’s a liability in pass protection. Ryan Bates is entering his fourth season, and he’s also been a better run blocker than pass protector during his career for the most part.
That’s not necessarily a recipe for success against a tenacious defensive line for Los Angeles - Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, and A’Shawn Robinson could disrupt Allen and the Bill’s passing attack.
Buffalo is a team that doesn’t want to have to run the ball often, but they strive to maintain balance to keep defenses on their toes. If the Rams can force the Bills into obvious passing situations, Donald and company will have time to win favorable matchups against lackluster competition.
The Bills have been looking for a sidekick to Pro Bowl corner Tre’Davious White for quite some time, and they thought they were finally at the end of their search this past spring when they drafted Kaiir Elam with the 23rd overall selection.
But White is still recovering from the injury that ended his season last year. He’s on the Physically Unable to Perform list to start 2022, which means he will have to sit out at least the first four games. Elam has struggled in training camp to fill White’s absence, and he was largely outplayed by Christian Benford - who Buffalo selected in the sixth round.
"Best man plays. Those guys have been battling...once they're here, even playing field. Doesn't matter how you got here." - #Bills GM Brandon Beane on rookie CBs Kaiir Elam (1st rounder) and Christian Benford (6th round).— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) September 1, 2022
Taron Johnson is a capable nickel corner that is entering his fifth season. While he can provide a veteran presence in a young cornerback room, two rookie corners playing large roles against Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson in their first NFL game isn’t an ideal scenario.
If there’s a silver lining for Buffalo it’s that their defense was among the best at preventing chunk plays last year, and they can frustrate Stafford and the Rams by taking away big gains. A skeptic would point out that the Bills faced a pretty underwhelming crop of quarterbacks, but at the end of the day production is production.
The Tre White injury for the Bills isn't just about replacing his cornerback spot. There's a domino effect.— Bills Chat Podcast (@BillsChatPod) September 4, 2022
6 of Taron Johnson's 8 worst coverage grade games, according to PFF, were the 6 games after White's injury.
Johnson was still solid, but there was a dropoff.