The Bills quest for their first victory has them back on the road for the first of two in a row at NFC North outposts. They’re in Minnesota this week, Buffalo’s first game in the Twin Cities in eight years.
Here are some of the top storylines this week, as the Bills get set to take on the Vikings:
1. WHO’S IN?
It’s a significant injury list for the Bills as the practice week begins. And it starts with LeSean McCoy, still Buffalo’s most important offensive weapon despite a total of 16 carries in the first two weeks. He suffered ‘torn’ rib cartilage last Sunday, according to head coach Sean McDermott. McCoy’s status is going to be a day-to-day proposition this week.
“We’ll just take it one day at a time and make sure he’s comfortable as we go forward and we’ll go from there,” McDermott said Monday. “I know he’s a guy who’s been through some injuries before and played and played at a high level. So, we’ll just take it one day at a time right now”
The Bills have injury questions at cornerback also. Phillip Gaines dislocated his elbow in last Sunday’s game, and rookie Taron Johnson sat out with a shoulder injury. Defensive end Shaq Lawson missed the Chargers game with a hamstring injury. The daily practice participation reports will be closely monitored this week, as Buffalo tries to cope with several injuries.
2. CAN THE BILLS OFFENSE HANDLE THE VIKES QUALITY DEFENSE?
Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense took steps forward last week, with two second half touchdowns against the Chargers. But the Bills step up in class this week against Minnesota—the NFL’S top ranked defense last year in yards and points allowed.
Minnesota put five defensive players in the Pro Bowl last season—LB Anthony Barr, DE Everson Griffin, NT Linval Joseph, CB Xavier Rhodes, and S Harrison Smith. They’ve got six former first round draft picks on defense. They’ve got standout players at every level of their defense and they have depth.
After giving up 29 points in their tie with Green Bay last Sunday, the Vikings defense will be looking to settle down this week. It will be an uphill climb for the Bills.
3. VIKINGS GOOD DEFENSE STARTS WITH THE COORDINATOR
Minnesota’s defense is led by coordinator George Edwards, in his fifth year on Mike Zimmer’s Vikings staff. Edwards was the Bills coordinator in 2010 and 2011, Chan Gailey’s first two years in Buffalo. And Minnesota’s top ranked defense last year has made the 51-year old coach a candidate for head coaching vacancies around the league.
Edwards interviewed last year for Chicago’s head coaching spot, but the Bears went with Matt Nagy to work with young QB Mitchell Trubisky.
Zimmer has let Edwards call defensive signals from time to time, especially during preseason games.
4. SPEAKING OF CALLING THE DEFENSE….
There was Sean McDermott in the second half last Sunday against the Chargers—the defensive call sheet in his hands, relaying signals in to rookie LB Tremaine Edmunds. McDermott took over defensive play calling from coordinator Leslie Frazier in the second half, and the Bills held the Chargers to three points and 65 yards of offense in the second half.
So now what?
McDermott was not ready earlier in the week to say whether he’d continue calling defenses.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “Look, I’ve been around some coaches before where that’s been the case. Sometimes, you’re able to get into a flow. Sometimes, somebody else you feel like can get into a flow. And that was really where it came from.”
Frazier’s been a coach in the league for more than 20 years. And he says whether he calls the plays on defense or not, he’s all in.
“Just whatever it takes to help our team win,” Frazier told the media Monday. “That’s what it is all about in our league. Bottom line is, how can we win? And whatever can help us win is what’s going through my mind. We owe it to our players to give us the best chance to win, whatever it may be.”
McDermott may not preview his plan for defensive play-calling this week. But whatever it is, he’ll have to be mindful of what he may lose, in terms of big picture, in-game focus, if he takes over the play-calling duties.
5. BILLS O-LINE GETS A SECOND LOOK
Buffalo’s offensive line play has been scrutinized and roundly criticized this year, dating back to the middle of the preseason schedule. But maybe the pass protection isn’t as bad as advertised.
Analytics website Pro Football Focus says the Bills guards are doing a good job in pass protection. PFF says left guard Vlad Ducasse has the highest grade in pass blocking for guards in the NFL.
And PFF gave right guard John Miller the highest grade of any Bills offensive player against the Chargers. According to PFF, Ducasse and Miller have only allowed one quarterback pressure in the Bills first two games.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was asked this week about the 11 sacks the Bills have allowed through the first two games of the year. He was quick to point out that those sacks are not just indicative of a problem on the offensive line.
“More than half of those sacks aren’t the offensive line,” Daboll said. “Those guys have protected inside out for the most part in pass protection. There have been some free runners that you guys have seen. It’s not all on the line, no question about it.”
6. KICKED TO THE CURB
Minnesota’s tie in Green Bay Sunday may feel more like a loss to some Vikings. That’s because they had chances to win it late in the game and missed three field goals.
Rooke Daniel Carlson missed a potential game-winner from 35 yards out as time expired in overtime, and the Vikes had to settle for the tie. Making it particularly galling was the fact that the Vikings spent extra draft picks to move up in the fifth round and pick Carlson. It was the highest pick used on a kicker in Minnesota history.
But save your tears. The Vikings have recovered nicely. Tuesday, the signed veteran kicker Dan Bailey—the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (behind Baltimore’s Justin Tucker).
Bailey was released by the Cowboys on the final cutdown.
7. BILLS FIRST VISIT TO THE BANK
The Bills have played five times in Minnesota in franchise history, at Metropolitan Stadium and the Metrodome. They’ve won just once in those five visits. And this is their first ever game at the three-year-old U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota’s new indoor playpen, the site of the Super Bowl last February.
Buffalo’s last visit to Minnesota was eight years ago, when the 2-9 Bills lost 38-14 to the Vikes. What’s memorable about that game is the first quarter hit on 41-year old Minnesota QB Brett Favre. Bills rookie LB Arthur Moats drilled Favre and knocked him out of the game with a shoulder injury. Favre could not play the following week, ending his NFL record streak of 297 consecutive starts at QB.