After a two-game trip through the NFC North, with an impressive win and a dispiriting loss, the Bills are back home and back in the AFC this week, with the Tennessee Titans coming to town.
Here are some of the top storylines this week as Buffalo gets going on the second quarter of the season:
1. CAN JOSH REBOUND?
It probably feels familiar for Josh Allen—being the focus of attention going into a game. He’ll make his fourth NFL start this Sunday, and this time he’s being watched by fans who want to see him bounce back from his most difficult Sunday so far.
Regrouping after rough outings is part and parcel of the NFL experience for quarterbacks. Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells met with Allen and Jets QB Sam Darnold before the draft last spring. And Parcells says the one message he delivered to both first rounders was that the best quarterbacks in the game know they have to bounce back and show confidence to their teammates when they return to work after a bad performance.
"You have to get back in the huddle and convince everybody, even the peripheral people, that you can lead the team. You don’t really find out whether you’re going to be an NFL quarterback until that happens to you." Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells
“You don’t really find out what you’re going do in this business, until you just got beat 35-10 and you, the quarterback, was the reason you lost,” Parcells told One Bills Live last May.
“Maybe the fans are starting to boo you,” he told them. “Maybe the coaches are starting to look at you sideways, and now it’s Wednesday and you have to get back in the huddle. You have to convince everybody that you can lead the team. You have to get back in the huddle and convince everybody, even the peripheral people, that you can lead the team. You don’t really find out whether you’re going to be an NFL quarterback until that happens to you.”
We’ll find out how Allen responds this week.
2. FINDING THE RUN GAME
Since LeSean McCoy arrived in Buffalo three years ago, he’s been the foundation of their offense. That hasn’t happened yet this year.
McCoy goes into his fourth game of the season with just 85 yards on 21 carries. He only got eight touches last week in the shutout loss at Green Bay.
The man who is supposed to be Buffalo’s offensive linchpin has not been a factor. Head coach Sean McDermott says he knows McCoy is frustrated. McDermott says an overall lack of rhythm in the offense is the reason.
“There’s some rhythm in that,” he said. “When you get three plays and you’re punting--that’s not a whole lot of opportunities. Starting with the plan and getting into a rhythm then where you have the chance to go four, five, six plays whatever plays, whatever the play drives, and start to spread the ball around and get people into a rhythm and a flow.”
3. CAN THE DEFENSE KEEP IT UP?
Bills defenders are not patting each other on the back, but it’s clear the Buffalo defense has found its footing after a very rough start to the season. After giving up 75 points through the first six quarters of football (through halftime of the Chargers game) the Bills have only allowed 31 points in their last 10 quarters played (three in the second half vs L.A., six vs. Minn., 22 vs. GB).
Buffalo’s defense is ranked 15th in the NFL after four games. The Bills 2017 defense finished the year ranked 26th.
They may have to play this week without veteran safety Micah Hyde, who’s week-to-week with a groin injury he picked up in Green Bay. But the Bills defense may be the team’s best chance to rebound from the 1-3 start to the season.
4. IS THE TOUGHEST PART OF THE SCHEDULE BEHIND THE BILLS?
The first quarter schedule gauntlet is over for the Bills — three out of four games on the road, matchups with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, etc.
They get a home game this week, and seven of the Bills remaining games on the schedule are at home.
The won/lost percentage of the Bills first four opponents this year is .570. For the remaining 12 games, it’s an even .500.
On paper, anyway, the schedule should get a little more manageable for Buffalo.
5. TITANS PRESENT PROBLEMS UP FRONT
With seven sacks allowed at Lambeau last Sunday, the Bills are dead last in the NFL in sacks allowed. And here come the Tennessee Titans, coached by defensive specialist Mike Vrabel. And they have two premier veteran pass rushers: four-time Pro Bowl performer Brian Orakpo coming off the edge, and three-time Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey coming from the other side.
The Bills must find some pass protection solutions this week, involving offensive line play, quicker decision-making at quarterback, and a scheme to get the ball out on time.
6. FOURTH DOWN JUST THE START FOR TITANS OFFENSE
It won’t be enough for the Buffalo defense to stop Tennessee on third downs—fourth down is in play also.
The Titans lead the league with seven attempts on fourth down through the first four games. And they’ve converted 5 of those seven attempts, also tops in the NFL.
Last Sunday, in overtime against the Eagles, Tennessee converted three fourth downs on their game winning overtime TD drive.
“Making the call is really the easy part," Vrabel said after the game. “The players are the ones that have to go out there and make it happen, and they did.”
7. HOMECOMING FOR TWO TITANS
It’s the first trip home for an NFL game for Titans backup running back David Fluellen. He’s a 2009 graduate of Lockport High School, the all-time leading rusher in Lockport Lions history.
Fluellen, who married his high school sweetheart from Lockport, bounced around from the Eagles, to the Colts, to finally the Titans three years ago. Fluellen has played in two Titans games so far this year but has yet to get a carry.
Tennessee’s punter is Grand Island’s Brett Kern, who has punted against the Bills in Orchard Park a couple of times already. Kern made it to the Pro Bowl last year.