Weekend Look Ahead

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7 things to watch for in Bills vs. Chargers | Week 12

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1. Allen and Diggs, but not the Allen you think

As much as Sunday's matchup will feature two of the more productive young quarterbacks in the league in Josh Allen and Justin Herbert, the game also features two of the best receivers the league has to offer.

L.A.'s Keenan Allen leads the NFL in receptions with 81. Right behind him is Buffalo's Stefon Diggs, who ranks second in the league in that category with 73.

In receiving yards Diggs and Allen rank first and second respectively in the AFC with 906 and 835 yards. 

To say that both are their respective teams go-to receivers would be an understatement. The two wideouts also rank first (Allen) and fifth (Diggs) in the AFC in third down receptions with 25 and 16.

Allen has been particularly dangerous on third downs this season as five of his six touchdown receptions on the year have come on third down.

The Chargers top receiving threat also ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch with 384 thus far this season.

"He's one of the best slot receivers in our game," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "He can make plays outside as well, but he really makes his money on the inside. The performance that he had on Sunday was really magical in a lot of ways and it seems like their quarterback really targets him and looks for him. His numbers have gone up because of that. They've got a great rapport between the two of them and we're going to have to find ways to slow him down."

Allen had 16 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. His 16 catches tied a Chargers single-game record.

The production between the two talented receivers shouldn't be all that surprising knowing that Allen and Diggs are the top two targeted receivers in the entire league.

2. One-score woes

The Chargers are a team that has been in every single game they've played this season. The only problem is they have not come out on the right end of most of them as evidenced by their 3-7 record.

All seven of L.A.'s losses have been by eight points or less, including a one-point loss on the last play of the game and a three-point loss in overtime.

The Chargers are 2-7 this season in one-score games, and their struggles in tight games have been an issue going back beyond the 2020 campaign. Since Week 2 of the 2019 season, Los Angeles has a record of 3-16 in one-score games.

"(Our issues) are pretty obvious," said Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn. "Even in the Jets game we gave up scores on three consecutive drives. We've got to get a stop."

Los Angeles ranks 24th in the league in points allowed, surrendering 27.3 points per game.

3. Herbert's a handful

Some rookie quarterbacks need time and experience to develop and some just get it right from the drop. The latter has unquestionably been the case for the Chargers top draft choice this past spring. Justin Herbert, from the time he was thrust into the lineup after Tyrod Taylor was a last minute scratch in Week 2 against Kansas City, to his career-best 366-yard passing performance last week against the Jets, the first-year signal caller has been extraordinarily productive.

"He's a special talent," said teammate Hunter Henry. "I'm glad he's on our side and he's just continuing to grow. For a rookie to come in like that, especially from the first game and continuing to get better and better. It's just pretty fun to be a part of."

Ranked sixth in the league in passing touchdowns (22) and ninth in passer rating (104.7), Herbert has demonstrated arm strength comparable to Josh Allen, goes about the same size as Allen and has some of the same mobility as his Buffalo counterpart.

Henry says that Herbert does a lot of the little things that a lot of outside observers don't even notice.

"He gets us in the right plays. For a rookie to see the defense and adjusting… it's a lot that people don't realize," said Henry. "Switching the play and seeing the safeties rolling down and bringing something we weren't expecting on that play and getting us out of it. He's doing an incredible job."

Herbert has also shown an ability to extend plays and produce off script.

"It's a little different than what we're used to for sure. You're on alert the whole time you're running a route. So you have to adjust and run the scramble drill and stay alive for as long as you can," said Henry. "It's huge for our offense because if we mess up a protection he can help correct that with his legs. Then his skill set with some of those off-balance back foot throws that he can make. It's impressive."

"He does not play like a rookie," said Leslie Frazier. "He's basically leading that offense. He's the reason they're having so much success as an offense and that's unusual this early in a rookie's career, to really be the guy that shoulders the brunt of success or failure of the offense. His release, his accuracy, his mobility. He's a smart player. He just has a lot of good qualities and very good size as well. So, a lot of positives and we've got to find a way to affect him on Sunday."

With his three touchdown passes last week, Herbert became the first rookie quarterback in league history to throw three touchdown passes or more in five or more games in a season. He also has the highest passer rating in the league when under pressure at 100.2 according to Pro Football Focus.

4. Will we see Austin Ekeler?

Chargers feature back Austin Ekeler returned to the practice field this past week from a torn hamstring suffered back in Week 4. No definitive news as to whether he'll play Sunday, but if healthy, NFL Network and Chargers radio network analyst Daniel Jeremiah thinks he'll be in the lineup.

"I think he helps in a big way," said Jeremiah in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week. "Some of the opportunities they've had the last few weeks because of their vertical passing game, there have been opportunities on draws and dumping the ball off where there's a lot of real estate for the backs out of the backfield. Those are the types of plays where Austin Ekeler turns those plays into big gainers as a space player. If he's healthy I think he'll be limited in terms of the touches, but he can turn underneath plays into big gainers."

Jeremiah said if Ekeler does play he anticipates he'll be on a pitch count after what amounted to a two-month layoff.

5. Special Teams shake up

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn demoted special teams coordinator George Stewart this week in the wake of another subpar day on special teams for L.A. against the Jets last week. Punter Ty Long had a punt blocked for the third time in the last four games and failed to properly execute an intentional safety by going down with a second left on the clock, allowing the Jets a chance to get one more opportunity to tie the score off a free kick.

The week prior against Miami they had a punt blocked, jumped offsides on a Dolphins field goal attempt allowing Miami a fresh set of downs, which they turned into a touchdown and committed multiple penalties in that phase of the game.

The Chargers rank 28th in punt return average, 30th in punt coverage and 31st in kick coverage. 

"We weren't getting it done, so I feel like we need to make a change,'' Lynn said.

Special teams will now be run by Assistant special teams coach Keith Burns and coaching assistant Chris Caminiti. The club also tried out a new kicker, long snapper and punter this week leading up to their game with Buffalo.

6. Will Chargers 'D' value the blitz?

Bills QB Josh Allen has been blitzed at the ninth-highest rate in the league this season among qualifying NFL quarterbacks (34.4%). Fortunately for Buffalo, Allen has been able to produce when facing pressure with a completion percentage of 62.4 percent, a 9:1 touchdown to interception ratio and a 105.5 passer rating.

The Los Angeles defense has not relied on the blitz much at all this season. In fact, the Chargers have the lowest blitz percentage in the league as they've done so on just 15.2 percent of their plays this season according to NextGen Stats.

It's likely due to the fact that their success when they blitz hasn't impacted opposing quarterbacks all that differently from their regular four-man rush. When rushing the passer with four defenders or fewer, the opponent passer rating is 95.8. When they blitz and send more than four the opponent passer rating is only slightly lower (91.5).

Will the Chargers change their stripes and blitz more on Sunday, or will Allen's success in beating the blitz keep L.A. from turning up the heat?

7. Takeaway advantage?

Buffalo's defenders know they haven't been the lockdown defense this season that they've been each of the past two years. They're allowing over 75 yards more per game than they did last season as well as more than 10 points per game than they did in 2019.

CB Tre'Davious White said a few weeks ago he believes Buffalo's defensive identity will be that of a takeaway type defense. Over their last four games the Bills have nine takeaways.

With 16 total turnovers on the season, Buffalo has almost twice the number of takeaways as Los Angeles (9).

Add in the fact that the Chargers could be without two of their top three pass rushers in starter Melvin Ingram and fellow DE Uchenna Nwosu and top cornerback Casey Hayward due to injury and creating takeaway opportunities for the Chargers might prove more difficult to come by.

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