Top 3 Individual Matchups
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Red zone defense – The Bills have been solid in defending their red zone all season long. Ranked seventh in holding opponents out of the end zone, Atlanta’s surprising struggles (24th in red zone offense) stand a good chance of continuing if they crack Buffalo’s 20-yard line.
Best advantage – Run game – Buffalo’s rushing attack has been held under 100 yards each of the past two games, but Sunday they face the 28th ranked run defense. Atlanta is allowing 130 rushing yards per game, almost the exact amount that the Bills are averaging this season (134).
Bills Number 1 Must
Win in the red zone – Buffalo’s offense has had its share of troubles converting in the red zone this season, but that cannot happen against the second-worst red zone defense they will face this season in the Falcons. Atlanta is allowing opponents to reach the end zone better than 63 percent of the time. The Bills need to have a success rate right around that figure to hand the Falcons their sixth straight loss.
For the Falcons this season field position has been a veritable nightmare for all sides of the ball. On offense their average drive start is their own 24-yard line, which ranks 31st in the league. Part of the problem can be attributed to the fact that their return unit has been the victim of the highest touchback percentage in the league (83.1%). Not surprisingly, they have more possessions inside their own 20-yard line than any other team in the NFL.
In addition their defense, particularly in road games, is being handed shorter fields than most in the league. Atlanta opponents are starting possessions on their own 32-yard line when the Falcons are the visiting team. For Atlanta that’s third-worst in the NFL.
No short stops
The Falcons defense has a host of problems this season. Among them is their inability to stop teams in short yardage situations. Whether it’s 3rd-and-short or 4th-and-short Atlanta hasn’t stopped too many opponents through their first 11 games. On 3rd-and-short opponents are converting almost two-thirds of the time (64.6%). On 4th-and-short it gets even worse. Opponents are successful more than three-quarters of the time (77.8%). It’s kept the ball out of Atlanta’s hands more often than not, which is why they rank 23rd in the league in the time of possession.
Offensive line issues
With the free agent signing of Steven Jackson, it was thought that Atlanta would have a formidable one-two punch on the ground. The problem is a Jackson injury combined with an underperforming offensive line has ground the Falcons run game to a halt.
Atlanta is 31st in the league in rushing as they don’t even average 75 yards on the ground per game (74.7). Head coach Mike Smith has shuffled the deck up front a lot of late in an effort to find a better combination as the collective performance has been subpar.
Peter Konz lost his starting job to Joe Hawley and there have been in game benchings at guard and tackle as well. The problems up front have not only affected the run game. QB Matt Ryan was sacked a season-high five times last week and hit on 10 other drop backs in last week’s loss to New Orleans.
Take the ball, please
Making game-changing plays has proven difficult for Atlanta’s defense. Tied for the league low in takeaways with just eight, they have been unable to stay on the right side of the turnover margin. With only six teams turning the ball over more than the Falcons offense (20) it easily explains why Atlanta sits at the bottom of the NFC in turnover margin at minus-12.
Third down means first down
Atlanta’s defense simply cannot get off the field this season. The problem is no matter how far away the sticks might be for the opposing offense on third down the Falcons allow them to convert. They have the worst third down defense in the NFL allowing conversions at a rate of better than 46 percent (46.6).
On third down situations when defending their red zone the success rate of their opponents climbs higher. Atlanta allows opponents to move the chains in the red zone better than half the time (51.7%).
Even on third and long, Atlanta is the worst in the league when it comes to getting stops surrendering conversions more than a third of the time (35.9%).
Blitz all you want
The Falcons pass defense is lacking teeth this season. With 22 sacks on the season they stand 28th in the league. Simply put their blitzes have been relatively ineffective. Proof of that lies in how opposing quarterbacks have fared against Atlanta. Opposing QBs have compiled a passer rating of 103.83 against the Falcons when blitzed this season.
In fact the passer rating of opposing quarterbacks overall is the highest in the league at 106.7, which is why it’s no shock that even on deep passing attempts quarterbacks have a rating of 111.2 where Atlanta ranks 29th.
Quote of the Week
“I raise my own bar and I set my own bar. I definitely want to hold myself to a high standard. I definitely don’t want to revert back to having games where it’s inconsistent or anything like that. Not to put any more pressure on myself, but I feel if I continue to do what I did that week versus the Jets and continue to study and prepare we should all go out and have a good game.”
Stat of the Week
The Bills rank second in the league in their run percentage on 1st-and-10 (62%) while the Falcons rank last in the NFL in run percentage on 1st-and-10 at less than 40 percent (39.9%).
Milestones in reach
EJ Manuel needs two touchdown passes to match a franchise record among rookie signal callers (Dennis Shaw, 10, 1970).
In two of his last three games in Toronto,