It’s a rebound week for the Buffalo Bills, a chance to bounce back from their first loss of the season. A chance to rack up another conference win. A chance to go into the bye with a 4-1 record and a head of steam.
This week’s matchup with the Titans in Nashville may not have the hype and history of last week’s game, but it’s important. Here are some of the top storylines to follow about the Bills and the Titans:
1. MONITORING JOSH ALLEN’S HEALTH
Buffalo’s quarterback, Josh Allen, figures to be the topic of conversation throughout the week. He’s in concussion protocol, following his fourth quarter collision against the Patriots. So, the team will be restricted in providing updates on his status for this week. Allen will move through the five-step process in the protocol without many public updates on his progress.
2. GETTING BARKLEY READY
So, if Allen can’t go, the Bills will spend the week getting backup Matt Barkley ready to start at quarterback. It would be his second start with the Bills, his eighth in seven years in the NFL.
Barkley started with a bang last November in Buffalo’s 41-10 win at the Jets. In just 11 months with the Bills organization, Barkley has become an important and respected teammate. Head coach Sean McDermott talked about that early this week.
“He’s well respected by our team,” McDermott said. “He’s earned everything he’s gotten here. You guys saw what he’s done and how he carries himself week to week, day to day around the building. He’s highly prepared every week whether he’s played, or he hasn’t, which is the life of a, in this case, a backup quarterback. There’s a lot of internal belief in Matt Barkley, and we know he will be ready to go if need be this week.”
3. WHAT’S NEXT FOR QB1 WHEN HE RETURNS
Whether it’s this week or after the bye, the Bills know they have a work in progress in second year quarterback Josh Allen when he’s cleared from concussion protocol. His three interceptions against New England give him six in the first four games this year. And Sean McDermott says he’s got to fix that.
“Josh is going to continue to learn,” he said. “He’s a young player, and he's got the ball in his hands, on average roughly 65 times a game just from the snaps alone. So, he's going to continue to learn, he’ll continue to work at it. I know he's working at it, and we’ll continue to be there, right there alongside him”
Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is confident that he and the coaches can teach Allen to avoid turnovers and throw it away when he should.
“We have to do a good job of understanding when the play is over,” Daboll said. “You can teach it. You can show him other examples of other quarterbacks. You can show him examples of himself. You know he’s competitive. He’s very competitive. He wants to improve, and he will.”
4. HOW GREAT CAN THE BILLS DEFENSE BE?
The Buffalo defense finished last year ranked second in the NFL in yards allowed per game. They’re right there again after the first four games in 2019 — second overall. And the Bills are giving up less than 16 points per game, good for fifth in the league.
Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier says familiarity with the system goes a long way toward producing success on his side of the ball.
“I think if you take a look over the first four weeks of the season, you can see that the guys have a lot of confidence in what they're doing and playing fast and playing physical,” Frazier said Monday. “A lot of it has to do with the familiarity and the fact that we've been together for the last three years, a majority of us. So, that has a lot to do with it and we have some talented guys as well.”
5. KEY OFFENSIVE CONTRIBUTIONS FROM A LEGEND AND A ROOKIE
The Bills offense is getting key production from two players at opposite ends of the experience spectrum: 15-year veteran running back Frank Gore, and rookie tight end Dawson Knox.
Gore, seemingly ageless in his pursuit of wins and the Hall of Fame, has run for 253 total yards the last three games – averaging five yards per carry. He’s got two touchdowns in the last three games also.
He had 17 carries in the Patriots game, none in the final 10 minutes as the Bills tried to come from behind. And he didn’t take the bait when asked if he had enough touches down the stretch.
“It’s cool. We believe in our coaches, whatever our coach calls, we’re going to do it,” he said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about all of us.”
Third round draft pick Dawson Knox has shown a knack for making big plays the last two games. He’s six receptions and 124 yards against the Bengals and the Patriots, with long gains of 49 yards and 21 yards.
Are more targets in the works for the talented tight end?
“I think he keeps improving,” Daboll said. “And he’s got athletic ability and a good skill set. So as a young guy that’s only had a few games, he’s a good young player to work with – smart, tough. We just need him to keep improving.”
6. WAIT UNTIL “DAD” COMES HOME
The numbers stand out—the Tennessee Titans have surrendered 17 sacks in their first four games. They’re dead last in the league in sacks allowed percentage.
But they did not allow a sack in their win in Atlanta last Sunday. And they get three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan back this week. He served a four-game suspension for PED abuse to start this season.
Lewan is considered the leader of Tennessee’s offensive line—his teammates call him “Dad.”
And it’s not as if the pressure on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has generated interceptions. He and Russell Wilson of Seattle are the only two four-game starters this year to not throw any picks.
7. ‘MUSIC CITY’ HOME SWEET HOME
The Titans have built a 2-2 record playing three of their first four games on the road. And both of their wins have come on the road — they lost their home opener to the Colts three weeks ago.
Tennessee can begin to settle in to Nissan Stadium in the weeks ahead. They play five of their next seven games on their home field. Last year, Tennessee went 6-2 at home.
8. OLD AFL RIVALRY WITH RECENT INTRIGUE
The Bills and the Titans both celebrate their 60th year of football this season, even though the Titans started as the Houston Oilers in the old AFL. They’ve had an interesting history against each other, one that includes two playoff games, including the ‘Music City Miracle’ after the 1999 season.
Buffalo beat the Titans by a point in Orchard Park last season, but the Bills have lost four of the five games they’ve played in Tennessee.