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Top 7 storylines for Bills-Bengals this week

Posted Oct 4, 2017

The Bills will travel to Cincinnati with a chance to win their third straight game and second consecutive game in Cincinnati. Check out this week's top storylines.

It’s on to Cincinnati for the Bills now, after back-to-back wins against unbeaten teams. The Bengals just put their first check in the win column last Sunday, and now they’re home to try to build on that first victory.

The improving Bills would love to head into their bye week with a third straight win. Here are the top seven storylines this week as the Bills get set to tangle with the Bengals.

1.   NEXT MEN UP

The win over Atlanta last week was surprising, thrilling, and costly for the Bills. They lost two starters and a key special teamer to injuries. They’ll have to lean on some backups this week as they prepare for week five.

With WR Jordan Matthews out with a thumb injury, look for Andre Holmes to pick up his reps at the position. Brandon Tate, Kaelin Clay, and even newly re-signed WR Philly Brown might also get some work in extra wideout packages.

LB Ramon Humber also had surgery on his thumb and rookie Matt Milano is slated to step into his starting role.

Colt Anderson has been one of Buffalo’s key special teams cover men through the first quarter of the season and he’s on injured reserve now. Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman will be looking for someone else to fill Anderson’s role chasing down punts and kickoffs.

“This is life in the NFL. This is what happens,” Head Coach Sean McDermott acknowledged this week.

“We’re certainly facing adversity, we’ve faced adversity before, and this is only going to make us stronger,” he said.

2.   ROOKIE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Rookie LB Matt Milano played almost half of the defensive snaps last Sunday in Atlanta after Ramon Humber left the game. Now, Milano is looking at a heavier workload this week as he prepares as the likely starter at Will LB.

The fifth round draft pick from Boston College told The John Murphy Show earlier this week he expects many more practice reps and much more film and classroom work this week as he steps into the starting lineup.

3.   WALK BEFORE YOU RUN

The Bills run game got healthier last Sunday in Atlanta. Not 100-pecent healthy.  But better.

They ran for 117 yards and 3.3 yards per carry against the Falcons. It was a much better game for the offensive line especially, and it was a return to some of the run schemes that were so successful for the team the last two years, when Buffalo led the league in rushing.

Guard Richie Incognito says the power run scheme has slowly been mixed into Buffalo’s new zone blocking scheme. In particular, Incognito says, he was put on the run again, acting as a pulling guard on some of the Bills best runs against the Falcons.

“That’s my specialty – I’m a pulling guard,” Incognito said on The John Murphy Show. “I like to get out in space.”

Incognito says the veterans on the offensive line have had open lines of communication with the offensive coaching staff in recent weeks and both sides are reaching a better understanding of what works best for this group.

“They’re kind of adding wrinkles,” he said of the Bills coaches. “They’re sort of digging back into what we’ve done well in the last couple of years which is power and counter, getting guys out into space and moving.”

Moving the ball isn’t likely to be easy against Cincinnati’s defense this week. The Bengals are third overall in defense in the NFL.

4.   CLAY LAYING THE FOUNDATION FOR HIS BEST YEAR

Don’t look now, but Bills TE Charles Clay is on his way to his best year ever in the NFL.  He’s Buffalo’s leading receiver with 227 yards. Clay caught five passes against Atlanta last week and now ranks tied for third in the AFC with 18 receptions for the season.

At his current pace, Clay would finish the season with 72 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns, by far his best single season.

And Clay only has to look back two years, when the Bills hosted the Bengals in Orchard Park, for inspiration.  He caught a career single game-high nine passes in that game.

In the first quarter of the season, Clay has become Tyrod Taylor’s most consistent and dynamic playmaker in the passing game. No reason why that shouldn’t continue.

5.   IT’S NOT ALL ROSES AND FAIRY DUST

Bills fans may have been giddy Monday after the upset win in Atlanta. Head Coach Sean McDermott was not.

The first year Bills coach identified that plagued the Bills in the win over the Falcons and he had no trouble enumerating a list.

“We’ve got a lot of room to grow as a football team,” McDermott said.

“When you look at penalties, when you look at: we had opportunities and a drive stalled. At the end of the game, we’ve got to finish, when we’re in those situations and we have an opportunity to finish a team, we’ve got to finish. Just speaking offensively, that’s where I expect us to grow this week.”

He had some words of criticism for the Buffalo defense as well.

“As good as it was yesterday at times, we gave up some big plays, and we didn’t tackle as well as I would’ve liked to have seen us tackle,” he said. “Communication could’ve been better.”

Coaches gotta coach.

6.   KUMBAYA

There’s nothing like a win streak to bring a team together. And that seems to be happening to this year’s Bills team four games into the season.

The team-building exercises started by Sean McDermott back in spring minicamps have established a bond among teammates already. The regular morning meeting routine of one player standing in front of the group to talk about himself, his family, his reasons for playing football, etc. have made this year’s roster especially close.

“I know more about some of these guys on the team than I do guys I call buddies back home,” Bills captain Eric Wood said this week. “It lets you respect them a little bit more, understand them a little more,” he said, in an appearance on the Bills flagship radio station, WGR Sports Radio 550.

Wood says he’s realized the Bills have accumulated a group of players who approach their jobs and their lives in a similar fashion.

“We’re like-minded,” he said. “We work the same way. We prepare the same way.  We get along really well. If you accumulate enough guys like that then you have a team that will like each other more.”

7.   LIVING ON THE AIR IN CINCINNATI

Wood is one of three Bills headed home this week to play in Cincinnati. The Bills center was a standout at Elder High School. LB Preston Brown returns home to play in front of friends and family. His father, Mike Brown, was a long time high school football coach in the area. And second year defensive linemen Adolphus Washington is a product of Taft High School in Cincinnati.