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6 things to watch for in Bills vs. Titans | Monday Night Football Week 2 2022

Stefon Diggs (14). Buffalo Bills vs Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium, October 18, 2021. Photo by Ben Green

1 – Rock 'em, sock 'em football

A week after playing a high-octane passing game of the Rams, the Bills will have to change their approach against a Titans team that plays a hard-nosed brand of football.

"I have so much respect for those guys because I know the identity of the team," said Bills guard Rodger Saffold, who played the last three seasons for the Titans. "I know how those guys play. That's all the motivation I need. I know that this is going to be a physical game. I know there are going to be some big collisions, and I know that we're really going to have to be efficient up and down the field to make them one dimensional and then really start attacking."

Tennessee doesn't mind grinding out victories. Six of their 12 wins last season were by three points of less. They're comfortable bludgeoning their way to wins with a pound-it-out ground game and physical defense.

"They have a very, very tough team," said Von Miller. "They like to sign tough guys, bring tough guys into the organization. So, we're going to have a really, really tough job on Monday night. But we've got a tough team too. We've got a lot of smart, tough guys over here too. We've just got to go out there and play the game."

Coming off a subpar performance in their Week 1 loss to the Giants (21-20), Saffold knows how the Titans usually respond the following week against a quality team like the Bills, especially when they're a 10-point underdog.

"I hate to say this, but when it comes to teams that are supposed to win and they have trouble, and the game goes the distance and doesn't go their way, (the next game) when they're challenged with a really, really good team they bring out their best ball," Saffold said in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "So, I'm not expecting to see the kind of mishaps that happened to the Titans last game. I expect to see the best shot they have to offer, and we need to nullify that early because then their confidence just continues to roll on throughout the game."

It's critical for the Bills to match the physicality of the Titans on Monday night knowing Tennessee is a team that has lost back-to-back games just once in each of the last two seasons.

2 – Defensive line call ups?

The Bills made upgrading their defensive line priority number one this past offseason. Von Miller was the headliner, but free agent defensive tackles DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips and Tim Settle were all signed to improve both the run front and the interior pass rush. But heading into the Monday night game with the Titans two of Buffalo's defensive tackles, Ed Oliver and Tim Settle, are on the injury report.

Oliver and Settle were both unable to practice on Wednesday and Thursday leaving their status for Monday night a bit in doubt.

"We'll just take it day by day and see where it goes," said head coach Sean McDermott of the defensive tackles.

Oliver and Settle are critical components to Buffalo's run defense and their defensive line rotation, which typically rolls eight players through over the course of a game. If one or both of them cannot suit up on Monday night, Buffalo would have to call up practice squad DT Brandin Bryant or C.J. Brewer.

Bryant, who had a solid camp and preseason this summer, has stepped up into this role before with the Bills. The fourth-year defensive tackle played in Week 12 at New Orleans and Week 14 at Tampa Bay last season and got time against New England in Week 8 of the 2020 season.

"Brandin has grown tremendously over the offseason and with what he did through training camp," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier last month. "The way he has played with such physicality and force, he's improved so much with his knowledge of the game as well. He is a thinking man's defensive tackle. He understands situations and he makes plays. So, I'm really pleased with the progress he's made."

DE Shaq Lawson, who is a solid run defender could be an activation who's considered as well.

3 - Titans D-line adjusting without Landry

Tennessee's biggest offseason move was signing their top pass rusher, Harold Landry to a five-year $87.5 million contract extension. Landry put together a career season in 2021 with 12 sacks and 22 quarterback hits earning his first Pro Bowl nod. But Landry sustained a torn ACL the week before the season began and is now lost for the season.

Adjusting to his absence was a bit of a struggle last week for the Titans in their first game without him.

"I equated it to it being a bigger loss than having Derrick Henry injured last season," said former Titans safety and radio analyst Blaine Bishop in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "And that sounds crazy for people to hear something like that, but Harold Landry is a bigger miss here because of what he does not just in the pass rush but his dropping into coverage, his versatility in his pass rushes with him lining up inside, outside. He's just a key cog and that's why they gave him 80 million dollars. He's a really good player."

The Titans tried to fill Landry's role with a handful of players including Denico Autry, Rashad Weaver and Ola Adeniyi.

"They had multiple people trying to step up in that role and sometimes they did well and sometimes not so well," Bishop said. "So now you can't just rely on your front for to get after the quarterback. They're going to have to do it with multiplicity and different schemes to create pass rush lanes."

DT Jeffery Simmons and OLB Rashad Weaver were productive in the pass rush as each had a pair of sacks, two tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits against the Giants. But the rest of the defense had a total of one sack and four quarterback hits.

"Defensively, the thing that was a really big takeaway for me is their pass rush is just not the same without Harold Landry. It just isn't," said ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky while appearing on ‘One Bills Live.’ "And that showed up later on in that football game. And then also, I don't want to take shots, but the fact that the Giants offensive line outplayed them physically - Saquon Barkley had an incredible game. He had 138 yards before getting touched. I mean, that is the offensive line of New York just moving Tennessee that does not happen often."

Tennessee's pass rush hopes are being pinned on Bud Dupree, who had a 'get healthy' year last season after signing with the Titans in free agency. It took him all last season to round back into form, but Week 1 showed signs that Dupree's trademark burst at the snap is back.

"Dupree definitely look a lot better than last season," said Bishop. "It was just one week but he did look like he was more explosive. He got some production there and was around the quarterback all day long. I didn't see any of that last season, so I would have to say he is fully healthy and ready to rock and roll. And I think he's going to have to fulfill Landry's role as kind of that lead dog from the outside pass rush if they're going to have any success, not only on defense, but just this season."

Dupree had a sack, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery in Week 1.

4 – Seeking playmakers

While the Bills have a collection of proven playmakers at the receiver position, the Titans are working to find who they can count on when there's a 'got to have it' play. Tennessee revamped their receiving corps in the offseason, trading A.J. Brown to Philadelphia, while Julio Jones left to sign with Tampa Bay. The Titans then traded for veteran Robert Woods and drafted Treylon Burks with their top pick and added fifth-round draft choice Kyle Phillips. Their top three receivers were not with the club last season leading to what appears to be a work in progress.

"They're not identity or schematically any different," said ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "They still believe that they want to line up with their big bodies and run the football with Derrick (Henry) and utilize their play action pass. The difference is utilizing the play action pass with AJ Brown in comparison to Robert Woods or Treylon Burks. The NFL world has gotten a glimpse of AJ Brown. He is a phenomenal wide receiver, and Robert is really good. But he's not AJ and Treylon Burks is very talented but he's not AJ. And if you look at their game in Week 1, Tennessee was in search of a guy who could go win on the perimeter. It looked like they were trying to figure out who's the winner. And there weren't a lot of chunk plays open in their pass game."

It wasn't like the Titans didn't try to hit on some big pass plays against the Giants, their wideouts just had difficulty gaining separation to make a clean play downfield.

5 – A third down challenge

Last week, the Bills offense was remarkably efficient on third down converting on nine of their 10 opportunities against the Rams, which included their three longest plays in the game, a 26-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis, a 47-yard deep post to Davis and a 53-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs. All those plays came on third down. But Buffalo's challenge figures to be a stiffer one this week against the Titans defense.

In fact, Josh Allen admitted this week that the Titans are one of the tougher defenses to decipher in terms of their coverage intentions.

"Their safeties move in unison, one of the better safety duos in the league," said Allen of Titans' safeties Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker. "So, they make it very difficult in their zone coverages in terms of disguising, and just showing one hand and doing the other. So, for us, going out there and executing. Me making my decision, being decisive with it, and living with it."

Last season, the Titans only sent five or more pass rushers on four of 77 plays. They committed to coverage and spun their safeties to disguise coverage. They also dropped out their primary pass rushers at times to get into the short area passing lanes.

Allen and the offense were still able to move the ball as they rolled up over 400 total yards of offense and they converted more than half of their third downs (7-13; 53.8%), but he was far from satisfied with his performance.

"Going back and looking at the film from last year, too many times my eyes were in the wrong spots," he said. "And I can help clean that up, again just with eyes and ball placement, allowing our guys to catch and go. But they're as tough as anybody. They've given us problems for the last couple of years, and we all know what happened last week down there. They're going to be a motivated team coming into our stadium Monday night, so we got to be ready for that."

Tennessee held the Giants to just two third down conversions on 10 opportunities in Week 1.

6 – Relying on rookies

After coming through an offseason where the Titans lost starting offensive linemen Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry in free agency to the Bills. We already mentioned the turnover at receiver. With starting LB Jayon Brown also departing via free agency, the Titans had some starting holes to fill and they're relying on some rookies to do so.

Top draft choice Treylon Burks is expected to fill some of the void left by Jones and Brown with help from veteran pickup Robert Woods via trade. And fifth-round pick Kyle Phillips has been a pleasant surprise as not just a capable slot receiver but is the team's primary punt returner too. Their starting right tackle is third-round pick Nicholas Petit-Frere.

Phillips has been a revelation for the Titans passing and return game. A precise route runner, Phillips has earned the trust of QB Ryan Tannehill. Despite playing just 48 percent of the offensive snaps last week, Phillips had nine targets, more than twice the number for everyone else except draft classmate Burks who had five.

"Phillips did an exceptional job. I think he showed off during camp that he was going to be special because of his route running ability and his return ability and that's just something that the Titans didn't have," said Bishop. "So, his emergence wasn't a surprise, maybe the number of targets he got, but they need big plays from their wide receivers."

Phillips finished with six catches for 66 yards and was critical on the team's final drive to try to win the game with a field goal.

Meanwhile on defense, second-round pick Roger McCreary is the team's starting left corner. Tennessee even has a rookie punter in Ryan Stonehouse.

Scroll to see photos as the Buffalo Bills prepare for the Monday Night Football matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

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