The unbeaten Bills and the winless Bengals, in an early season AFC matchup. It’s the seventh time in 10 seasons these two teams have met in a regular season game, and Cincinnati has come out on top four of the last five times they’ve played.
Here are my observations on this game and more around the AFC East heading into Week 3 of the NFL season:
1. JOSH ALLEN HYPE TRAIN PICKING UP STEAM
After a shaky first half in the opener, Josh Allen has been on fire. In their first six drives against the Jets on Kickoff Weekend, the Bills offense turned it over four times. Since then, in their next 16 offensive drives, the Bills have scored six touchdowns and have not turned it over.
And Allen has been the offensive catalyst. His completion percentage is up to 64 percent through two games – up 11 percent points from 2018. He’s averaging 254 passing yards per game compared to 173 in 2018.
NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt, co-host of the network’s Good Morning Football Show, told One Bills Drive this week Allen’s running and passing against the Giants last Sunday was eye-opening.
“Josh Allen gets me excited – he really does,” Brandt said. “I loved that touchdown where they pulled two linemen and they had Frank Gore out in front of him, running one in (Allen’s 6-yard TD in the 1stquarter).
“But there was one throw in the first quarter,” Brandt continued, “to the tight end Dawson Knox, where Allen rolled out and threw a frozen rope right across the middle and I just kept saying, it’s all there. He’s running, he’s throwing and he’s doing it on the road.”
Now Allen gets his first home start of this season, after winning four of his six starts at home last year.
2. THE ‘MOTOR’ IS IN THE SHOP – YELDON READY TO GO
Rookie running back Devin ‘Motor’ Singletary has been ruled out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring strain, so look for fifth-year veteran T.J. Yeldon to get his first significant snaps of the 2019 season. He’s only been in for seven snaps so far through two games and has yet to carry the ball or catch a pass.
Yeldon got plenty of work in his first four years in the league in Jacksonville, including 55 pass receptions last year, four of them for touchdowns.
Although he’s likely to see an increased number of reps this week, he’ll bring something different to the offense than Singletary. At 6-1, 223 pounds, nearly 20 pounds heavier than Singletary, Yeldon brings an element of power to the backfield. It will be interesting to see how the Bills coaches mix Yeldon into the offense this week.
3. HANDS UP
The Bills led the league with 19 passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage last year. Through two games this season, they’re again on top of the NFL with seven.
And it’s not by accident. Buffalo’s front-line defenders say they’re schooled in the art of knocking down passes and it’s emphasized as a good way to disrupt more modern, quick passing NFL offensive attacks.
“We talk about it. We emphasize it up front,” defensive tackle Harrison Phillips told One Bills Live this week.
“We know that in this league, the way that it’s going, quarterbacks are not sitting back there and patting the ball, patting the ball. They’re getting to their set and they’re throwing the ball in two seconds, 1.8 seconds, 2.2 seconds. So, if you can’t get home, one of the ways to affect the quarterback is with your hands — get in his vision or bat a ball down,” he said.
And Phillips says the Bills defensive linemen are told not to wait to put up their hands—the ball is coming out of the quarterbacks’ hands in a hurry.
“Knowing the situation, getting smart players out there—if they’re empty, he’s not going to sit back there and hold the ball for forever. So, you have to dictate that in your rush. Don’t dial up some elaborate rush. Just get close and get your hands up,” said Phillips.
Scroll through to see photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during the third week of the 2019 regular season. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.
4.NEXT MEN UP AT THE NICKEL CORNER SPOT
The Bills will miss nickel cornerback Taron Johnson for a second straight week with the hamstring strain he suffered against the Jets. And they may employ the same three-man nickel corner rotation they used against the Giants last Sunday this week.
Kevin Johnson played 25 snaps, most of them as the nickel corner. Siran Neal saw 24 snaps there, and Dean Marlowe played 14 snaps.
The opponent’s offensive personnel, and whether it’s a passing or running down seems to be the decisive factor on which defensive back takes the field. And Siran Neal says the rotation was smooth and effortless against the Giants.
“We all do play nickel,” Neal said this week. “It was just certain packages that we rolled through. It just came from the sideline, who’s in at nickel.”
Buffalo is in the NFL’s top 10 in third down defense after two weeks. They may not want to try to fix what’s not broken.
5. HOMECOMING FOR THIS WNY PRODUCT
Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski was in the news this week, when his grandson Mike played at Fenway Park with the San Francisco Giants. Mike Yastrzemski hit a home run in his grandfather’s old stomping grounds, with Yaz in the stands. And the next night, grandfather Carl threw the ceremonial first pitch to his grandson.
What does this have to do with the Bills? A similar scenario is in place this Sunday.
Bengals third-string quarterback Jake Dolegala will be on the sidelines for Cincinnati when the Bengals play against his grandfather’s old team. Dolegala grew up in Hamburg, NY, and his grandfather is Bills all-time great center Al Bemiller.
In an appearance on One Bills Live, Dolegala acknowledged the similarity with the Red Sox/Yastrzemski story and said he’s excited about coming to his hometown with the Bengals; playing against his grandfather’s team.
And he said his pre-draft pro day in the Bills’ ADPRO Sports Fieldhouse last spring, as part of UB’s Pro Day, was a big factor in NFL teams seeking him out after the draft.
“Tyree (Jackson, UB QB) was a very sought-after prospect in the draft. For me to be able to throw right after him was a good thing for those scouts to compare us and see what I was made of.”
Dolegala has been inactive for Cincinnati’s first two games. But he thinks the Bengals offered him his best chance to stick in the NFL.
“I think this is the best opportunity I had,” he told One Bills Live. “This was one of a couple of teams that wanted me. Here, I get to learn from a great quarterback like Andy Dalton. I had a really good opportunity with a new head coach coming in, a new offense. We were all starting up together and I thought that was a good fit for me.”
6. A NEW GENERATION OF QBS?
By the end of play Sunday, the NFL will have seen 39 different quarterbacks start games already this year, in just the first three weeks. That’s a league record for the most starting quarterbacks through Week 3.
Daniel Jones with the Giants, Kyle Allen of the Panthers are two of the new starters week. And every week so far this season, a rookie quarterback has started in the league.
At least 18 quarterbacks age 26 or younger are expected to start this week, the most since week three of 1987. That includes Buffalo’s 23-year old starter, Josh Allen.
The injury list has names like Newton and Brees. Eli Manning has been benched and Luck has retired. It’s pretty clear the new generation of NFL quarterbacks is moving to the forefront this season.