Rams vs. Bills: Highlighting Key Matchups to Watch for Buffalo
Home has been kind to the Buffalo Bills, where they have won three of five games.
The road has been unkind to the St. Louis Rams, where they have won just once this season (1-3-1).
Of course, Sunday's showdown will be about much more than that. Both teams have won two of their past three games, and both teams need a win desperately if they want to stay alive in the playoff race of their respective conferences.
The game will be won and lost by the matchups between the white lines. Here's how those matchups break down.
What's At Stake
Both a streak of futility and a chance at the playoffs hang in the balance in Sunday's showdown.
Both the Bills and the Rams are at least two games out of the playoffs. Thus neither team has much of a choice but to win if they want to stay in contention for a Wild Card spot.
A loss would guarantee that the Bills finish .500 or worse for the eighth straight year, while the Rams would lock up their ninth.
Highlighting Key Matchup to Watch: Stevie Johnson vs. Janoris Jenkins
Stevie Johnson is the Bills' most reliable threat in the passing game, and will likely draw the attention of the Rams' top cornerback, Janoris Jenkins.
Jenkins has put together a (shaky) case for himself as the defensive rookie of the year by making some athletic interceptions. He's also taken some risks in coverage that have cost his team dearly.
Johnson, meanwhile, has built his reputation as an "innovative" route runner. That is to say, he runs his routes differently each time, depending on the coverage he sees and what defenders are doing. If he catches Jenkins out of position, he could easily adjust his route to compensate.
He got Colts defensive back Cassius Vaughn to bite aggressively on an underneath route, then proceeded to run straight past him in their matchup.
Johnson is not known for his vertical speed; Fitzpatrick is not known for his deep throw. In fact, he's known for his inability to effectively throw deep. Here, though, the pattern gets Johnson wide open and makes for an easy 63-yard catch-and-run.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill made a similarly spectacular deep throw to wide receiver Marlon Moore, beating Janoris Jenkins for a touchdown in the process.
Fitzpatrick is far from an elite quarterback, but Jenkins can't afford to gamble. He'll have to stay disciplined if he wants to come out victorious in this all-important battle.
Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game
Luckily for Buffalo, they don't have to worry about these guys.
Bills' Biggest Advantage
The elite play of the Bills defense over the past four weeks, specifically against the run, will be of great benefit against the Rams. which, while not lethal on the ground, Jeff Fisher's squad gets in a groove when the running game is working efficiently.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford attempts the 11th-highest percentage of play-action passes in the league (20.4 percent, via ProFootballFocus.com). His passer rating on those throws (102) dwarfs the passer rating he's compiled on standard passes (78.9).
Thus, the Bills' advantage against the run will help them greatly in stopping the pass, as it will force Bradford out of his comfort zone.
Rams' Biggest Advantage
The Rams have a high-pressure defense that brings down opposing quarterbacks on 7.3 percent of drop-backs, the fifth-highest average in the league. They don't blitz a whole lot to get there, either (173 of 459 drop-backs, 37.7 percent), which will serve them well against Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Although the Amish Rifle has been inconsistent, to say the least, he's been remarkably stout against the blitz, with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 97.1 passer rating.
When not facing a blitz he's average, at best, with 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 80.6 passer rating.
Getting pressure on Fitzpatrick will not be easy, though. The Bills' QB is among the least-pressured quarterbacks in the league, with defenders getting within reach on just 26.4 percent of his drop-backs. A lot of that is due to the short passing game of the Bills. He gets the ball out within 2.5 seconds on 58.2 percent of his dropbacks. He is one of the five-worst quarterbacks in the league on the other 41.8 percent of his throws, though, when teams force him to hang onto the ball.
Playing sound coverage on the back end could be the winning key for the Rams.
Bills Win If
They can be efficient in the passing game.
Fitzpatrick's completion percentage is little better than average (61.1 percent), but this week more than most he has to take what the defense gives him. Fitzpatrick must avoid forcing throws into traffic and allow the rest to work itself out.
Rams Win If
They can slow down the running game of the Bills. Their run defense has been the sixth-best in the league over the past three weeks, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry on average according to TeamRankings.com.
They also haven't seen a back like C.J. Spiller over those three games. His speed and acceleration have helped him lead the league in yards per rush attempt (6.6). If the Rams can hit the brakes on Spiller the Bills will be forced to put the ball in the hands of the ever-erratic Ryan Fitzpatrick (league-leading 35 interceptions over the past two seasons), thus greatly improve their chances of winning.
The Bills are not a good team, but they usually win the games they are supposed to win (exceptions against the Jets Week 1 and the Titans Week 7).
Who will win the game?
This is different, though. The Bills hold several advantages and play well enough at home that this should end up in their favor.
Bills 20, Rams 12
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 or via team press releases.
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