By Jay Skurski
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
1. Get the running game back in gear. The Bills have been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in each of their past two games. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have the opportunity to get back on track today, however, against an Atlanta Falcons’ rush defense that has given up 130 yards per game on the ground, 29th in the NFL. Over the past five weeks, all losses, that number has ballooned to 170 yards per game on the ground. Buffalo’s bye week was especially important for both Jackson and Spiller, both of whom have been dealing with nagging injuries.
2. Red zone should be friendly. Finishing drives has been a big problem for the Bills’ offense, which is scoring touchdowns on just 44.8 percent of trips inside the red zone (tied for 29th in the NFL). Atlanta, though, has been friendly to opposing offenses, allowing touchdowns on 63.2 percent of trips in the red zone, a figure that also ranks 29th. On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ defense ranks seventh in the red zone, allowing touchdowns 47.4 percent of the time. The Atlanta offense is also struggling to punch it in, scoring touchdowns just 50 percent of the time (23rd in the NFL).
3. Give EJ time to throw. If the running game gets going, it should create some opportunities in the passing game for the Bills. Atlanta’s pass rush has been nearly nonexistent. The website Pro Football Focus, which grades every play of every NFL game, gives Atlanta a pass rushing productivity grade of 7.05. That’s the number of disruptions compared to the number of pass rushes and ranks 31st in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 106.7 against the Falcons, the best in the NFL. Atlanta’s lack of a pass rush – the Falcons have just 22 sacks, which ranks 28th in the NFL – should give rookie quarterback EJ Manuel time, which in turn could lead to more deep completions against a secondary that is giving up more than 250 yards per game.
4. Douglas steps up in Jones’ absence. Atlanta’s offense lost one of the best players in the NFL earlier this season when Julio Jones went on injured reserve because of a broken foot. Additionally, veteran Roddy White has struggled with various injuries of his own, robbing him of his usual effectiveness. In their absence, slot receiver Harry Douglas has become quarterback Matt Ryan’s go-to wideout. Douglas has a career-high 60 catches for 833 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Douglas is particularly effective out of the slot, where he’ll be matched up against Bills rookie Nickell Robey, one of Buffalo’s unsung heroes this season.
5. Make the best of it. The Bills’ Toronto series has been a disaster on the field, with a 1-4 record in the first five games. Last year, the crowd completely was behind the Seahawks. The Bills need to forget about the way things have gone in the past and focus only on getting a win today.
Outlook: The Bills’ playoff hopes are slim, but not dead. They will be with a loss today, though. This is a game Buffalo absolutely should win. The Falcons are eliminated from the playoff race and could easily check out early if they get down.
Prediction: Bills 30, Falcons 20