1 – Mindset for success
Bills QB Josh Allen certainly hasn't been short on production thus far this season. He's among the league leaders in passing touchdowns, completion percentage and Buffalo's offense ranks second in the league in red zone touchdown percentage converting at a rate of better than 71 percent.
But knowing the offense has appeared to be more of a heavy lift of late, Allen is seeking to place himself in a mindset conducive to playing his most efficient football.
"Just trying to stay in this state called low positive where your energy is not super high and you're allowing your mind to think and be free and just stay on top of everything, because obviously as the quarterback, there is a lot of things going through our mind," said Allen. "So, if I can limit myself and my energy and my heart rate, I feel like I can maybe think a little bit more, but who knows, maybe I need to think a little bit less and just play football.
"Maybe I've got to be more upbeat and be a voice and be a little bit louder -- let my emotions show a little bit more. Whether I do that Thursday or not I guess will come with the execution of it, because obviously everybody is having more fun when you're winning football games and performing well. That's first and foremost. We've got to go out there and execute. I think execution breeds energy."
Whichever path he chooses, Allen is clearly striving to be laser focused to get back to the highly efficient play that led to him landing a pair of AFC Offensive Player of the Week awards in a three-week span earlier this season.
"I'd rather him stay where he is, like standing in a little area of execution and not getting too high or getting too low," said Stefon Diggs. "I'd rather he be locked in and playing at a high level than getting too high at one point and then being too low. I appreciate his onus on taking it upon himself to really take those steps forward.
"When it's not going right, he's trying to steer the ship and get us on the right path. And then when it is, he's obviously going to bring that juice and that energy. But he obviously knows that it comes from executing at a high level, too. So, his main focus is executing first."
Josh Allen is 5-0 in his career in Thursday games and has averaged 300.8 yards of total offense and three offensive touchdowns.
2 – Youth movement?
In order to achieve that high level of execution on offense, Buffalo might need to lean on two of their younger, but more consistent performers. James Cook leads the team in rushing and is fourth in receiving, while rookie Dalton Kincaid stands second on the team in receptions despite missing a game in Week 6.
Cook had over 100 total yards from scrimmage last week at New England and Kincaid had his most productive game of the season with eight receptions for 85 yards.
"I thought Dalton did a great job," said offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey. "He had a good feel out there. Was able to create some separation and get open. He just continues to grow as a player and learn with every single down every single snap that he takes. So, he just continues to grow, and Josh continues to get more and more confident in him. And I think that's the exciting part for him that as a young player he's still ascending in terms of his development in this league."
Head coach Sean McDermott was very encouraged by what Kincaid did through the course of the Week 7 game knowing their offense needs reliable playmakers.
"It's good for our offense. That's something that we've needed to get going for some time now," McDermott said. "And obviously he was out the week prior with the concussion, so it's good to see him getting going and building a rapport with Josh and I think that can help us as we move forward here."
When asked if Cook might have a larger role going forward after factoring in both the run and pass game last week, McDermott did not dismiss it.
"Yeah, James I think has done some really good things," said McDermott. "James is another young player that has shown flashes of the standard that we talk about and playing winning football. Very impressed with some of the things he's done early on in his career to this point.
3 – Hurry up for rhythm?
Buffalo's offense will try for a fourth straight week to find an early rhythm on offense and finish with a touchdown drive in the first half for the first time since Week 4. Since Week 5, the Bills rank 30th in first half scoring with an average of 3.33 points per game.
Where their offense appeared efficient and in rhythm during this three-week stretch was when they had to go to into hurry up mode at the end of the half or end of the game. Defenses do tend to play differently at the end of a half or game, especially if they're ahead on the scoreboard, but it could be something Buffalo chooses to explore.
"Hurry up is just something Josh feels comfortable with," said Diggs. "He sees it better and he says he can kind of get out there and figure it out as we go. And he has answers. It's different when you have a play call, we have to break the huddle fast, we've got to get lined up fast, so he knows what he's seeing. We have shifts, we have motions, there's a lot of moving parts. But I think hurry up is more simplified and defenses have to hurry up and line up too. They don't have all day."
In hurry up mode, Buffalo has often gone with an empty set with five eligible receivers out wide with Allen in the shotgun. Over the past three weeks when the Bills have not huddled, Allen was 13-for-19 passing for 131 yards with two touchdowns and an interception with a passer rating of 101, good for fifth best in the league over that span.
"If it's tempo, if it's under center, gun, whatever personnel those are all things that, yes, we look at that," said offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey. "And when you get into those no-huddle situations at the end of the game and you can be effective, yeah you always consider those things, but the defense is a little different. So, you've got to gauge all those things on how much you want to use it, and when you want to use it. We're going to continually evaluate to make sure we're putting our guys in the right spots.
"When you are in no-huddle you're trying to get specific things done, but at the same time, you've got to be ready for those different pressure packages, so they don't surprise you."
Tampa Bay has two of the best blitzing linebackers in football in Devin White and Lavonte David, and Josh Allen will need to be mindful of their ability to trigger and get into the offensive backfield in a blink. But Buffalo's head coach seems to believe in his quarterback's abilities when they're going up tempo.
"Yeah, you talk about areas of strength, I think that's some of what he does best," said McDermott. "And so that's been evident when you're looking at, I think statistically last year, end of half, end of game situations, that's how he's operating in those situations. I think he was, if he wasn't at the top, he was close to the top in terms of quarterback play in those situations. And he's done that this year as well."
4 – A puzzling defense
The Buccaneers are still a formidable defense particularly when it comes to defending the run. Nose tackle, Vita Vea, spearheads a run front that ranks 10th in the league. That creates long down and distance situations for their pass rush and head coach Todd Bowles isn't shy about sending his talented linebackers, Devin White and Lavonte David or versatile safety Antoine Winfield on blitzes.
What's hard to understand is despite all that talent and playmaking ability, the Bucs are last in the league in third down defense giving up first downs an alarming 50 percent of the time. More than half the league is 10 percent better at getting off the field on third down than Tampa Bay.
The Bucs' opponent last week, Atlanta, a middle-of-the-pack offense, converted third downs at a rate of better than 53 percent.
"They're phenomenal run defense-wise," said ESPN NFL analyst, Dan Orlovsky in his weekly appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "Very few teams have run the ball against them. I think there are chunk throws that Josh and this offense can take advantage of against them. You are not going to drop back chunk play this team though. They're too good up front. You have to play action chunk play them. There are three-level throws that you can get on this defense."
However, when it comes to defending their red zone, no other defense is better. The Bucs are tops in the league in keeping opponents out of their end zone. They're allowing just 1.7 yards per play inside their own 20-yard line, which ranks second in the league. And they've allowed just four red zone touchdowns all season, which is tied for the best in the league.
Opponents have scored touchdowns just over 22 percent of the time against Tampa Bay this season. Atlanta QB, Desmond Ridder helped the Bucs red zone defense to a great degree last week, with three fumbles inside the Bucs' 20, including two at the one-yard line. But Orlovsky sees only a couple of solutions in defeating what Tampa Bay does so well deep in their own territory.
"They are a tremendous linebacker blitzing team. Lavonte David and Devin White and the way that they pressure and then drop people," said Orlovsky. "Two things will be paramount. The Bills are going to have to get it out quick or it's going to have to be Josh in a one-on-one situation versus a coverage unit that's not as good as it was during their Super Bowl run because they will all-out pressure you. And you can't throw it over the middle because they will drop guys out and there are easy interceptions there for the defense, so it's more kick the ball to the perimeter versus pressure and then you better be ready for those blitzing linebackers because they get on you quick."
"This defense that we're playing, they do a lot of different things, they've got a couple really good pass rushers," said Allen. "They play the run very well. Their linebackers are very smart and savvy. They move around very well. We're going to have our hands full."
5 – Shoring up the run 'D'
The Bills rank 31st in yards per carry average allowed and 24th in rushing yards allowed per game. Some of the key losses in their front seven on defense have undoubtedly been a factor in Buffalo's run defense dropping so far in the league rankings, like All-Pro LB Matt Milano and DT DaQuan Jones. Since their departure from the lineup in Week 5, Buffalo's run defense over the last three games has slipped to 30th in the league.
"We've got quite a bit of youth on defense that we're developing and trying to develop and grow and it's good to get those guys reps," said head coach Sean McDermott. "That way we can play at that level and the standard that we have for ourselves, of playing winning football on a more consistent basis."
Opponents' success in running the ball has helped them to stay out of long down and distance situations, which prevents Buffalo's pass rush from being productive because there are fewer opportunities to rush the passer.
Buffalo signed free agent DT Eli Ankou to their practice squad on Wednesday, and he's familiar with the Bills defensive system having been with the club before. At 6-3, 325 pounds, Ankou could be a practice squad elevation this week to help plug up the middle of their run front, knowing Jordan Phillips (back) and Ed Oliver (toe) are less than 100 percent healthy.
One other factor working in Buffalo's favor defensively is Tampa Bay has found it difficult to run the football all season. Ranked 29th overall in rushing, the Bucs top three backs this season have averaged just 2.74 yards per carry. Their team average of 3.1 yards per rush ranks 31st in the league.
Scroll to see photos from the Buffalo Bills Week 8 Practice as the team prepares to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.