The Buffalo Bills missed a major opportunity to get back in the playoff race with their overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The Bills were outscored 34-17 after jumping out to a 14-point lead, but two fumbles late cost them the win.
The team will have to try and forget about that game and turn their attention as they head south to take on the Tampa Bay Bucs. The Bucs have played well as of late, winning three of their last four games.
Even with the Bucs recent strong play and the Bills seemingly reeling, this is a winnable game for Buffalo. It will be important to see them finish the year strong to build some momentum heading into the offseason and next year. These are a few key points for the Bills' game plan against the Bucs.
The offense has been playing better as of late with two straight games scoring over 30 points. There is still room for improvement though, particularly in two areas.
Protect the Ball
The first thing the Bills offense has to improve on is limiting turnovers. The fumbles by Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler came at critical points in the game and were the deciding factor in the final outcome. However, giving the ball away has been an issue for the majority of the season.
This chart breaks down the Bills' giveaways and takeaways over the course of the season.
|Giveaways vs. Takeaways|
|New York (A)||0||2||+2||L|
|New York (A)||0||4||+4||W|
|Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com|
It is clear that this is a good indicator of the team's success over the course of the year. In three of their four wins, they were positive in turnovers. On the flip side, though, in six of their eight losses, they either tied or lost the turnover battle.
The Bucs have done an excellent job in this category this year with 24 takeaways and only 14 giveaways. If the Bills offense can play mistake free and not turn the ball over, they will be in a good position to win the game.
Be Consistent Over 4 Quarters
The Bills came out firing on all cylinders against the Falcons. They quickly jumped out to a 14-point lead and scored points on three of their first four drives. Over those four drives, Buffalo averaged 8.25 plays and 54.5 yards per drive.
The offense became very stagnant after that.
On their final 10 drives, Buffalo scored two touchdowns, punted the ball six times and fumbled the ball twice. Excluding the two touchdown drives, Buffalo averaged 3.38 plays and 13.13 yards per drive. It gets even worse if you take away the two drives ending in fumbles as the averages drop to 3.16 plays and 5.67 yards.
This inconsistent play has been a trend for the Bills over the course of the year. Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com broke down the offense's third down conversion between the first half and second half of their games.
In the first half, Buffalo is converting 43.1 percent of their third downs. This number drops to 27.6 percent over the final two quarters. By the offense not extending drives, the defense is rushed back out there quickly with very little rest which is expending energy quicker.
One player who has a noticeable drop off from the first and second half is quarterback EJ Manuel. In the first half of his games this year, Manuel completes 60.7 percent of his passes, has three touchdowns, zero interceptions and only six sacks.
The second half is where Manuel starts to struggle, completing only 56 percent of his passes, with six touchdowns, four interceptions and 11 sacks. If the rookie quarterback can make quicker, better decisions, it should help Buffalo extend drives and convert more third downs late in games.
The Bills defense had some good stats against the Falcons with a forced turnover, six sacks and nine quarterback hits. It wasn't all good as they gave up 34 points, 311 passing yards and an additional 151 on the ground. Entering the game Sunday, the Falcons were averaging only 74.7 yards rushing per game.
Defensively, the Bills' game plan has to be to stop the run against the Bucs and get off the field on third down if they hope to win.
Stop the Big Runs
The basic game plan of every defense is to force an offense to become one dimensional. If they are able to stop the run for example, it forces a team to rely on the passing game. This makes play-calling much easier for a defensive coordinator.
In the case of the Bills defense, they not only have to stop the run, but more specifically, they have to stop the big runs. The chart below shows the Bills' last three opponents rushing yards and in each one of those games, there has been a run of 25 or more yards.
|Rushing Yards Last Three Games|
|Opponent||Total Rushing Yards||Longest Rush|
|New York (A)||134||69|
|Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com|
Coach Marrone was asked after the Falcons game about the run defense this year, and he talked about this very issue:
We gave up the two big runs which, again, those are tough because we were able to do what we try to do and get out early and Atlanta came back with those two big runs. For us it’s a constant work in progress to make sure that we get that better.
On Sunday, the Bills face an explosive running back in Bobby Rainey. He has done a good job of picking up yards in bunches with at least one run in each of the last four games of 10+ yards. This includes two runs of 31 and 43 yards. The best way for this defense to stop these kind of runs will be for players to stay in their gaps and close running lanes quickly.
Get off the Field on 3rd Down
As bad as the Bills offense has been at converting third downs, the defense has been equally as bad at stopping teams on third down. The Bills defense currently ranks 16th in third down conversions with opposing offenses converting 38.8 percent of the time.
This was a major issue in the last game as Atlanta converted 10-of-18 third downs. This was one of the keys for the Falcons to get back in the game.
If the defense is not able to stop them on third down, they are on the field longer, which only compounds the fact that the Bills offense can't sustain drives. This team as a whole is just wasting their energy with their third down struggles.
This game will be a good opportunity for Buffalo to right the ship in this area as the Bucs offense has struggled on third down. They have only converted 33.7 percent of their third downs, which ranks 28th in the NFL.
This game will most likely be a low scoring affair, and the team that limits mistakes should come away with the victory. If Buffalo is able to execute these four points in their game plan effectively against Tampa Bay, they should be able to leave Raymond James Stadium with a win.