The brain has been quickly reloaded with three more items of note in advance of the Bills only Thursday Night Football appearance of the year against the Bucs…
Two For The Money
Tampa Bay’s top two receivers remain among the elite duos in the NFL.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin make the Bucs one of three teams to have a pair of wideouts among the top 25 in receiving yards this year (Indy and Minnesota are the others). Mind you, Tampa is one of the few squads to already have their bye week.
The Bucs are a pretty terrible rushing team–averaging the second least yards per attempt–and Baker Mayfield isn’t spraying darts around the yard leading 12 and 15-play drives. Tampa relies on their wideouts for big plays to move the ball. Whether it’s lobs over everyone’s head or short throws that get busted for big gains, Evans and Godwin are still plenty capable.
Without Tre White, the Bills won’t have an elite corner to match against these elite receivers. Dane Jackson and Christian Benford will have to be up to the test. You can guarantee they will be tested.
What Were They Made For?
The Tampa defense is odd.
They are dead last in the NFL in third down defense. They’re also 20th in yards allowed per pass attempt. The Josh Allen yardage over seems a pretty safe bet (264.5 at DraftKings as of late Wednesday). He should be driving the ball at will all evening.
On the flip side, the Bucs are number one in red zone defense and number one in percentage of opponent drives that end in a turnover. They are third overall with 13 forced turnovers, one behind the Bills total of 14.
Last Sunday, Tampa lost a three point game to the Falcons that should have been a wildly bigger blowout. The Bucs allowed 400 yards of offense, but kept Atlanta to 16 points by forcing a pair of fumbles at the goal line. (Including a crazy fumble out of the end zone on a run by Desmond Ridder that reversed a TD long after the Falcons were done celebrating. You can watch it here)
There are plenty of athletes on that Tampa defense capable of covering ground and ruining a drive on every snap. Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Devin White, Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Carlton Davis are all high level defenders. Vita Vea is a game time decision, but he could easily join this list.
The implication is clear. The Bills can move the ball up and down the field all they want. The only play that’s going to matter on any drive is the last one.
Without Dawson Knox and Quintin Morris, the Bills head to Thursday with one healthy tight end on the active roster. That would be rookie Dalton Kincaid.
Kincaid still has a ways to go as a blocker, so don’t be surprised to see a healthy dose of fullback Reggie Gilliam or 6th offensive lineman David Edwards in this game. Edwards is having a solid year and, until the New England game, the Bills have successfully run the full array of offense with him in the game. The top blocking wideout in Buffalo, Gabe Davis, should also have made sure to get quality shuteye Wednesday night.
In the passing game, Knox’s absence could easily keep the door open for the rookie breakout Kincaid may have begun in Foxboro. Kincaid wasn’t super dynamic, but he was dependable and efficient. Eight targets turned into eight catches for 75 yards.
There’s no doubt the Bills offense could use a shot in the arm. I’ve been preaching on various platforms the supporting skill players have not been good enough. If there’s anyone that could quickly take a step up and change that, it’s Buffalo’s first round pick. His hands are excellent. There were brief glimpses of his run after catch ability in New England.
I’m almost as interested in the number of targets for Kincaid as what he does with them. Something within shouting distance of double digits would not only be ideal, it might be a requirement.
I flew too close to the sun. Tried to ride my perfect start into a +250 parlay and I got bit. So, we move on now at 6-1. I’m still in the black 5.8 units.
I’m going to take my medicine, learn my lesson and roll with something much simpler this week. As mentioned above, the Bucs are absolutely no threat as a rushing team. They average only 3.1 yards per carry and less than 80 yards a game.
Tampa’s lead back, Rachaad White, has topped 40 yards in only two games this year. One was against the terrible Bears. The other was a 26-9 blowout win over New Orleans. In addition, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is picking up carries and eating into White’s touches the last couple weeks.
The line for White is in the mid-40’s everywhere. At MGM, it’s 46.5. I’m grabbing the under at -120. A decent chunk of this bet is an expectation that Ed Oliver will be active, so you might want to wait until that’s official 90 minutes before gametime. Even if Oliver is out, there’s lots of paths to hit this bet.
Speaking of Oliver, it was quite evident he and DaQuan Jones were out last Sunday against the Patriots. Jordan Phillips and Tim Settle are capable backups. Both made some quality plays (Settle’s stop on the Mac Jones two-point conversion sneak was ridiculous). Neither are the same as Oliver or Jones.
Getting Oliver back isn’t just good for the defensive tackles. It’s good for everybody. The pocket push makes it easier for edge rushers to reach the quarterback. His work in the run game opens lanes for linebackers to attack. The pressure is eased all over the defense. Don’t discount the emotional lift for a team that might need one following Sunday’s debacle.
Mayfield is already a quarterback that’s tough to reach. Only the Chiefs have allowed less sacks this year than Tampa Bay. However, the potential return of Oliver coupled with left guard Matt Feiler missing his first game of the year might be something the Bills can exploit.
Gabe Davis said keeping things simple is the smart play for a short week. It’s not worth the mental strain of trying to cram a complicated game plan in a week that doesn’t have the space for it. Davis has talked about the benefits of a simpler game plan for a while. Allen wondered, in the midst of a deep dive into his new approach to gameday mental state (“low positive” is the QB1 buzz phrase for the week), if he should just stop thinking and play.
The short week could create a new philosophy on offense.
There’s also the idea that more up tempo drives can help. Over the last three games, the Bills have scored two touchdowns total in the first three quarters and six TDs in the fourth quarter. Half those 4th quarter touchdowns were hurry up drives, so why not try it more often.
I think the Bills need something different on offense. I’m open to either idea and interested to see what Ken Dorsey has up his sleeve. It’s not impossible that he may be coaching for his job. A fourth consecutive distressing performance leading into a mini-bye is plenty excuse for many organizations to make a change.
My predictions have been terrible lately. I was off 13 points in the margin of victory for the Giants game and that’s my closest pick since week two. I haven’t even gotten the winner correct in three of the last four and I don’t really have a good feel for this game.
I’m also going to keep it simple here. Give me the team with the better quarterback. Give me the team that’s home. Give me the team that’s not making a long trip on a short week. Give me the team that is desperate to avoid having a Super Bowl season spiral down the drain before Halloween. I’ll take the Bills 23-17.