The Buffalo Bills aren't being given much of a chance against the 49ers this week. If you've watched any NFL programming this week all you've heard is how everyone expects this game to be a blowout in favor of the home team.
In the famous words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!" While the 49ers should be favored, there are plenty of reasons for Bills' faithful to be optimistic against the 49ers.
How can the Buffalo Bills invade Candlestick Park and leave with the win? Here are my five keys to victory!
Run the ball!
The 49ers have not yet faced a running back duo as talented as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. So far this season the Niners have gone against Cedric Benson, Kevin Smith, Adrian Peterson, and Shonn Greene. Minus Peterson, that's not exactly a real who's who of running backs.
It is no coincidence that the game where the 49ers were at their worst was when they went against the Vikings. Minnesota was able to hand the ball to their premier rusher, Peterson, 25 times. He carried the ball for 86 yards, a 3.44 yards per carry average.
The Bills need to follow this game plan and give Jackson and Spiller a minimum of 25 carries. Will there be times where they get little to no gain? Absolutely; the 49ers defense is legitimate. That said, every time Jackson and Spiller have the ball they have the ability to break off a long run.
Running the ball a minimum of 25 times also will keep the 49ers honest in the passing game. If the Bills are rushing the ball effectively, the 49ers won't be dropping multiple players back into coverage.
Keeping Spiller involved in the run and pass game is essential for the Bills to win.
Running the ball effectively will also help the Bills control the clock and is the second key to victory.
Take a look at every game so far for the 49ers:
Time of Possession:
Packers 27:00 49ers 33:00
Lions 30:26 49ers 29:34
Vikings 33:28 49ers 26:32
Jets 23:04 49ers 36:56
The 49ers have won the time of possession in two games, and the Lions game was basically a push. The one game in which the 49ers lost, the Vikings held the ball for almost an additional seven minutes. Buffalo needs to do the same thing.
Not only will holding onto the ball keep the 49ers scoring total low, but it will keep the Bills defense fresh. One of the biggest reasons the Bills were blown out by the Patriots last week was due to their inability keep the Patriots off the field in the second half, especially in the 4th quarter.
If the Bills win the time of possession battle, then they have a great chance of winning the game.
Look for Stevie Johnson to run plenty of slant routes against the 49ers.
The 49ers' defense is known for its aggressiveness. Keeping this in mind, the Bills need to connect on short, fast passes against the Niners' defense.
Again, this is the same formula the Vikings used to move the chains against the 49ers. Christian Ponder's longest pass against the 49ers only went for 24 yards. Ponder's final stat line doesn't blow anyone away, 21 of 35, 198 yards, and two touchdowns, but he did a great job managing the game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't known for his big arm, so this strategy also benefits the Bills. Fitzpatrick needs to throw fast slants, a strength of his, as well as multiple screens, out patterns, and curls. Fitzpatrick needs to be a game-manager against the 49ers and not a gunslinger.
I'm not saying the Bills shouldn't try to stretch the field a few times against the 49ers, but they most likely will not have the time to do this often, especially with two backup offensive lineman playing on Sunday.
Other players besides Jairus Byrd need to create turnovers.
If the Bills want to beat the 49ers, they have to win the turnover battle.
Last week, the Bills turned the ball over six times against the Patriots. In the NFL you won't beat anyone with that many turnovers.
Alex Smith is a smart quarterback. He won't ever put up big numbers like Tom Brady, but he keeps his turnovers low. It won't be easy for the Bills to intercept Smith, but they need to either force him into bad throws or strip Smith, Gore, and the 49ers' wide receivers of the football.
To win, the Bills' offense needs to keep their turnovers to a minimum as well. Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson fumbled, which is uncharacteristic of the running back duo. I don't expect them to fumble again this week.
Fitzpatrick is my biggest worry. Whenever he drops back in the pocket, my blood-pressure rises slightly. That said, he is generally accurate on short-routes so I'm optimistic that he can keep his turnovers down against the 49ers.
Head back to the sidelines Scott.
Against the 49ers, the Buffalo Bills need to keep Frank Gore under 75 yards. After last week's game, this sounds easier said than done, but I think it's more likely than people believe.
Against the Bills, Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley rushed for 243 yards, but this is deceiving. For the first time this season, the Bills primarily featured a nickel defense.
The Bills kept Kelvin Sheppard and Arthur Moats, both strong in the run game, off the field for the majority of the game in favor of linebacker Bryan Scott and cornerback Justin Rogers.
The Bills felt that Scott was a better fit last week due to his past as a safety. While his coverage abilities are better than that of Sheppard or Moats, the Patriots took advantage of the Bills' undersized defense.
Against the 49ers, the Bills will be back to their traditional 4-3 look and Moats and Sheppard will help keep Gore in check.
If the Bills can keep Gore under 75 yards, there is a great chance that the 49ers will not have as much success moving the ball.
Final Prediction: Bills 16 - 49ers 13.