Tennessee Titans vs. Buffalo Bills: 6 Keys to the Game for Buffalo
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Whenever the Tennessee Titans versus the Buffalo Bills comes up, there are immediately three memories that surface: the comeback game back when the powder blues played in Houston, to "Music City Miracle" that cast the Bills into more than a dozen years of wandering without a return to the playoff promised land and Bud Adams giving the Bills a piece of his mind—and fingers—after beating them in 2009.
That Week 10 contest in 2009 bears the dubious distinction of being Dick Jauron's final game as a head coach, and a huge day for running back Chris Johnson. Johnson rushed for 132 yards on 26 carries and added 9 catches for 100 yards receiving.
A lot has changed for both teams since 2009, but as some things change, some things stay the same. Both teams are owned extremely old dudes who are apparently enemies since one of them played a childish prank on the other in 1964 that the one guy has never forgiven the other for doing. I mean, what else could explain an 86-year-old man letting his birds dance like that?
And let's face it, both teams continue to struggle in landing a franchise quarterback and escape the clutches of NFL mediocri-, I mean, parity.
Heading into a bye which followed by games on the road in New England and Houston, this is as close to a must-win as a Week 7 game can be.
Here's the keys to the game for the Bills. Enjoy, Americans!
Give the Titans the Byrd
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You had to see this one coming.
Jairus Byrd is coming off his finest performance as a Bill, allowing Coach Chan Gailey's squad to survive a series of curious coaching calls.
If the Bills are to turn the tide against their record-setting suckiness on defense they've displayed for half of their games so far, they'll need players on defense to make plays.
And that's where Byrd comes in. The guy can't be expected to make two clutch interceptions every week, but I'm cautiously optimistic that Byrd's one of the few on a promising roster who will actually achieve his potential as a player, and if that's right, we're going to see something special out of him every week.
Last week against the Steelers, Titans' QB Matt Hasselbeck had passes for 37, 35, 25 and 25 yards. The Bills will need to limit the vertical passing game that has victimized them in their three losses this season.
Let CJ Spill Downfield
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Fred Jackson, you are one hell of a football player, and Bills' fans appreciate everything you've brought to the team. The way you've played your heart out in losing efforts in nowhere seasons has been nothing short of inspiring and beautiful.
But you're the second-best running back on this football team, and your skill sets overlap.
Sooner or later, Coach Gailey is going to realize that his job is on the line and that he can't take carries away from C.J. Spiller, who is emerging as potential elite running back.
Potential, heck. You could argue he's already there. Spiller is averaging 7.6 yards per carry through six games (one played with a bum shoulder). That's just insane.
Tennessee's defense has been allowing an average of 129 yards per game. We've all seen where Fitzpatrick's season is at now. The Bills need to control this game on the ground and not be afraid to give Spiller the lion's share of the carries, and not be afraid to run against a stacked defense.
Get a Chandle on the Offense
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If the Bills have any chance at making this a season and rising slightly above the extremely mediocre crop of teams in the AFC this year, at some point Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to improve on his ability to pass down field.
Look for the Titans to crowd Bills' receivers closer to the line of scrimmage and challenge Fitz to throw further afield, where interceptions have sprouted like pumpkins in the patch.
Enter TE Scott Chandler. He's second on the team in receptions with 17, but coming off a season-low performance (1 catch for 4 yards) in Arizona.
Chandler needs to help lure Fitzpatrick back to where he's found plenty of success so far in his career.
I'd love to see Fitzpatrick finally connect on one of the many go routes down the sidelines he's missed badly on this year, but I'll settle for 20 yard strikes over the middle to Chandler, one of the few Bills tall enough to catch a Fitzpatrick special.
Building on Super Mario
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Anyone else getting tired of thinking about Mario Williams and analyzing every little thing about him? I suppose it comes with the territory of being so highly paid and so highly counted on to generate a game-changing rush off the end.
Football Outsiders have the Tennessee Titans pass protection ranked at No. 5 with a sack rate of only 4.7%. In more concrete terms, the Titans' yielded three sacks to James Harrison and the Pittsburgh defense last week on Thursday night.
Mario Williams is coming off a two-sack performance and his finest afternoon as a Bill last week against Arizona, and will need to push the envelope against Tennessee's RT David Stewart and the rest of the offensive line.
Bills' fans have grown somewhat impatient with Williams' slow start, but some kind of showing to back up last week's performance will turn the tide greatly in his favor. If Williams can lead a sustained attacking Bills' defense, like we've seen in fits and starts so far this season, the Bills' home crowd will be there on third down.
Contain Chris Johnson
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As we saw in the lede, Chris Johnson, like many lesser running backs throughout the league, has track record of eating Bills defense toast on Sundays.
What are we going to see from the Bills this go-round? The team that stuffed Trent Richardson and Jamaal Charles in successive weeks, or the team that allowed a gazillion yards rushing in a different two successive weeks?
Since breaking the land-speed barrier of 2,000 yards in 2009 and cashing in, Johnson hasn't come close to regaining peak form. He is coming off a strong showing of 91 yards against the Steelers, and Bills' fans all half-expect Johnson to easily double that number, depending on who and what shows up.
Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and rookie Nigel Bradham all have a chance to make an impact here.
Don't Throw out of the Wildcat, Seriously
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Last week, the Bills were driving up by three points with under four minutes remaining. And Gailey reached into the same Travis-Henry-halfback-option bag of tricks that was part of Gregg Williams' undoing in 2003 and called a deep pass from Wildcat QB Brad Smith.
Disaster ensued, and the Bills deserved to lose the game because of it.
Previously I would have said just scrap the Wildcat entirely, because I believe the novelty of the system as outlived its usefulness. But the Bills have actually had some productive plays out of the Wildcat in recent weeks.
Just do us that solid, Chan. You don't need to run the Wildcat at all, you have C.J Spiller and Fred Jackson on your team. But if you do run it, please don't feel the need to pass out of it.