Titans vs. Bills: Highlighting Key Matchups to Watch for Buffalo in Week 7
Six weeks into the season, the Buffalo Bills are right where they want to be, in contention for the top spot in the AFC East.
If they ever want to get there, they have to prove as they have this season that they can beat the teams they're supposed to beat.
Here's a preview of some of the key matchups and things to watch for during the game.
Catching Up With the Bills
While a win over the Titans wouldn't validate the Bills beyond beating up on another weak opponent, it is necessary to prove that they are to be taken seriously in the AFC East this year.
Catching Up With the Titans
At 2-4, the Titans are trying to hang on to their season with another win. The offense has not been stellar, but the defense has been the reason for rising electricity prices at stadiums across the NFL, with opponents lighting up the scoreboard at will on the league's 32nd-ranked scoring defense.
Key Matchup to Watch: C.J. Spiller vs. Titans Linebackers
Bills running back C.J. Spiller has only caught 13 passes thus far in 2012, but the Bills might want to get Spiller at least five opportunities in space with the ball in his hands.
The Titans linebackers have struggled in pass coverage all year, with linebackers Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy, Will Witherspoon and Zach Brown all grading out negatively in pass coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Meanwhile, FootballOutsiders.com has the Titans ranked as the league's seventh-worst team at defending running backs in the passing game.
This created a huge void in the defense for Spiller to get a full head of steam and allowed him to do what he does best: make defenders miss in the open field.
Biggest Advantage for Buffalo
The Bills running game is a big advantage over the Titans run defense.
With Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield, the Bills remain one of the league's most effective rushing attacks. They average 5.1 yards per carry, good for third-best in the NFL.
The Titans have allowed an average of just a shade over four yards per carry and have allowed four of their six opponents to accumulate over 100 yards rushing, with another opponent gaining 95 yards on the ground.
Biggest Advantage for Tennessee
Ten days of rest.
That may be a backhanded way of saying that the Titans don't hold any real advantages over the Bills, but it's an advantage that may still help the Titans win. Let's not forget that the Bills are traveling back from the west coast and are coming off an overtime game as well.
Tennessee needs to use that to their advantage to avoid falling behind early, as they have so often this year. The Titans lead the league in points allowed in the first quarter, with an average of 9.4 given up in the first 15 minutes of play, while scoring just 3.2 points of their own on average in the first quarter (via TeamRankings.com).
A little energy boost thanks to a few extra days off could go a long way, especially if the Titans offensive line is able to take it to the Bills defensive line and open up some holes in the running game.
Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game
Hey, remember this?
Bills Win If...
They can protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is an accurate quarterback with a clean pocket, and he only gets pressured on 22.8 percent of his drop-backs (according to ProFootballFocus.com), but he completes just 52.8 percent of his throws under pressure and has thrown three interceptions with men in his face.
Fitzpatrick could help his cause by throwing it away when pressure is in his face or by taking the sack. The Bills offensive line, however, should have no problem holding up against a lackluster Titans pass rush.
Titans Win If...
Their offensive line wins the matchup with Buffalo's defensive line.
Not only is Buffalo's run defense the most kind in the NFL to opposing backs (32nd in rushing YPA and YPG), it is a boom-or-bust group in the pass-rush department as well.
They've picked up 14 of their 15 sacks in three games, all wins. Three times, the defense has picked up one sack or fewer. In those three games, they are 0-3.
Clearly, a key ingredient to beating Buffalo's defense is to slow down the pass rush. The Titans have allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked on just 4.5 percent of drop-backs and pressured on 24.8 percent (hat-tip ProFootballFocus.com for the data), so it's not hard to see them protecting Matt Hasselbeck for long enough to get him in rhythm against Buffalo's secondary.
If so, their chances of winning greatly improve.
Besides the New York Jets, the Bills have beat every team they're "supposed to beat" this season. The Titans, at 2-4, fall into that category.
The Bills are certainly no lock to win this game, especially with the team-wide toughness set forth by the Titans this past week.
Who will win?
We are never quite sure what to expect from the Bills, especially this season, but unless the Titans are going to start changing the perception of their team, they shouldn't pose much of a threat to Buffalo.
Bills 27, Titans 14
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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