1. Fix the (defensive) red zone woes. A lot has been made of the Bills’ struggles lately to finish drives inside their opponents’ 20-yard line with touchdowns. What’s been overlooked, however, is Buffalo’s difficulty in stopping teams from doing just that. The Bills rank dead last in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 29 of 40 possessions (72.5 percent). To compare, the Baltimore Ravens lead the league in red zone defense at a TD percentage of 36.6 (15 of 41). St. Louis has not shined when it gets inside the 20. The Rams’ touchdown rate of 40.7 percent is 29th in the league. The Rams have just 11 touchdowns on 27 red zone trips.
2. Pin the Rams deep. St. Louis’ adjusted average drive start after kickoffs is the 20.4-yard line, which ranks 29th in the NFL. Football Outsiders takes that stat a step further and measures the average drive start for each team for every drive. The Rams rank 30th in the league, taking over at the 24.17-yard line on average. The Bills need to make sure the Rams don’t improve those numbers today. That’s because they don’t need to go far to get into scoring range with rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein (right). “Greg the Leg” has made seven field goals of 50-plus yards, which is just one away from matching the NFL single-season record shared by Morten Andersen and Jason Hansen. Last week, Zuerlein hit a 53-yarder at the end of regulation to force overtime against the 49ers, then made a 54-yarder in OT to win the game. Wind is always the great equalizer at The Ralph, but if it’s going with Zuerlein, anything up to 65 yards might be in play.
3. Help on the right side. Right tackle Sam Young and right guard/center David Snow are making their first career starts today. Young will line up against Chris Long, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Rams’ front four is the strength of their defense. St. Louis is tied for fourth in the NFL with 34 sacks. The Bills will have to use their tight ends and running backs to help block. Tight end Lee Smith was in as a blocker on a season-high 29 snaps last week against Jacksonville. It’s a good bet he’ll see that many again today.
4. Match Steven Jackson’s physicality. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Jackson is the biggest featured back the Bills will have faced all season. He’s also one of the most physical in the league. There won’t be any secrets today when Jackson gets the ball – he’s going to put his head down and try to power through the line. “You can’t let him get started. You let him get motoring and past the line of scrimmage too far, you’re in for a long day,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. With 9,865 career yards, Jackson is the Rams’ all-time leading rusher.
5. Be ready to play. The Rams have scored 37 points on their opening offensive possession this season, tied for second most in the NFL. Rams coach Jeff Fisher will have his team ready to go today. He’s had the Rams practicing with a wet ball to get ready for the elements, and has presented this game as a challenge to their toughness. The Rams’ confidence will build with an early score. The Bills – and their home crowd – will need to be ready from the first whistle.
Outlook: The Rams entered the season as the youngest team in the league. That’s shown in their 1-6 record outside the NFC West. St. Louis will keep it close, but the Bills should prevail in Orchard Park.
Prediction: Bills 21, Rams 18