It’s back home for the Bills this weekend for the first time in three weeks. And it’s the red-hot Tennessee Titans coming to town, winners of three in a row.
Here are some of the issues to keep an eye on this weekend as the Bills head into the second quarter of the season:
1. A VOTE FOR CULTURE FROM THIS FORMER NFL HEAD COACH
Twenty games into his head coaching career, Sean McDermott’s approach and philosophy of team building is still being revealed. The 1-3 start to the season is a test of that philosophy, McDermott admits. He says it hasn’t always been easy.
But McDermott also told the media this week that he’s committed to building a strong team culture.
“We’re trying to develop a culture here,” he said. “The culture, to me, trumps strategy. That’s what I believe in wholeheartedly. It doesn’t mean we have choir boys, it means we have guys that love football and do things the right way for the most part.”
McDermott’s belief is applauded from some who have held his position in the NFL.
Dave McGinnis spent 31 years coaching in the league, including four years as head coach at Arizona. He’s currently the radio color analyst for the Tennessee Titans. And McGinnis says head coaches like McDermott must focus on culture when they assemble players for their roster.
“In my mind you’ve got to have one focal point,” McGinnis told One Bills Live. “You have to have one voice. You have to have players able to carry that message to a locker room, and it has to be the significant players.”
2. ANOTHER STEP FORWARD FOR JOSH ALLEN
Sunday will be the fourth NFL start for Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen and another chance for him to build his portfolio as a bona fide franchise player.
Allen is coming off a rough outing in the shutout loss at Green Bay. But at least one prominent NFL analyst, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner of the NFL Network, sees a lot of positives in Allen’s performance so far.
“When I watch Josh play I see that when he knows where to go with the football, he throws it, he rips it, he throws the ball and he throws with confidence,” Warner said in an appearance on One Bills Live.
“His biggest thing for me right now is understanding the whole playbook that they have or being able to see pro defenses and understand what he’s seeing so he can get through his progressions and get to the right guy. I think that’s his biggest stumbling point right now. I think that was what I thought coming in. I thought the biggest transition for him was to continually learn how to see things and how to get the ball out on time.”
Next test—this Sunday against the Titans.
3. WHERE’S THE REAL MCCOY?
It’s not just Buffalo’s passing offense that has struggled. The rushing offense is in the bottom third of the league as well.
LeSean McCoy is averaging seven rushing attempts per game in the three games he’s played. And Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas says McCoy has to get his touches, on the ground and through the air.
“I think you’re not giving LeSean McCoy enough touches,” Thomas says. “I think that’s the problem. You’re not giving him enough touches and, okay, if your running game is not going, then the guy can catch the ball out of the backfield whether you put him at backfield or put him at wide receiver. He’s the focal point of your offense. He needs to touch the ball.”
4. BIG PLAYS AT A PREMIUM
Neither the Bills nor the Titans have filled up the highlight reel with big plays on offense so far this season. In fact, they’re the two worst teams in the league at creating big plays.
The Titans have had just eight plays of 20-or-more yards on offense so far, last in the NFL. The Bills are second to last, with just 10 big plays.
5. YOUNG GUNS EMERGING ON DEFENSE
While the offense has struggled, the Bills improvement on defense has been tangible in the last two-and-a-half games. And the defense has been getting extensive contributions from several first and second year players.
As many as seven first or second year players have become starters or important reserves for the Buffalo defense; Harrison Phillips and Eddie Yarbrough on the defensive line, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano at linebacker, and Tre’Davious White, Ryan Lewis, and Taron Johnson on the back end.
6. NEAL UP NEXT?
The Bills may put another rookie to the test on defense this week. Neither safety Micah Hyde nor his backup, Rafael Bush have practiced the first two days of the week due to injury. That may put rookie safety Siran Neal, Buffalo’s fifth round draft pick, in the starting lineup for the first time.
He’s played in three of Buffalo’s first four games with a total of eight snaps on defense.
Neal says starting or subbing in doesn’t change his weekly preparation at all.
“It really isn’t different. You never know when somebody is going to go down. Preseason or regular season. So, I prepare like I’m going to be a starter every day. Coach has been getting on me about getting everything right, little small things. Because they’re depending on you.”
7. BIG GAME HISTORY BETWEEN TWO ORIGINAL AFL TEAMS
It’s old history, but significant history between the Bills and Titans franchises. Both teams were born in 1960, with Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson and Houston’s Bud Adams charter members of the “Foolish Club” that started the AFL.
And they’ve matched up in three memorable playoff games. The first-ever playoff game at the stadium in Orchard Park was the Bills and the Oilers on New Year’s Day 1989, 15 years after the Bills moved their home games to then Rich Stadium. The Bills won it 17-10.
Four years later was “The Greatest Comeback” game, the 32-point rebound by the Bills in the AFC Wild Card Game against the Oilers, perhaps the greatest win in Bills franchise history.
Tennessee probably believes the ‘Music City Miracle’ in January 2000 was its greatest win. The Titans won 22-16 on a last minute ‘lateral’ for a touchdown on a kickoff return.
The stakes aren’t quite as high this week.
The Buffalo Bills will return to New Era Field Week 5 to take on the Tennessee Titans. In anticipation for the matchup, we take a look at the opponents through the years.