It has been two weeks since the Bills left the desert as victims of the Murray Miracle. In those two weeks, the Bills have had a chance to get healthy, which is, of course, a top priority; but they also got an opportunity to take an honest look at what they have done well and what needs work through the first 10 games of the season. By all accounts, the team appears to be refreshed and ready to start this second string of games, which hopefully includes a deep playoff run. The week, the Chargers come to western New York for an important AFC conference matchup.
The Last 5
Chargers 31 Bills 20 (2018)
Chargers 54 Bills 24 (2017)
Chargers 22 Bills 10 (2014)
Chargers 37 Bills 10 (2011)
Bills 23 Chargers 14 (2008)
The last time the Bills and Chargers faced off, Josh Allen was getting his first career start. It was the home opener for the Bills in his rookie year. Sean McDermott has an 0-2 record against the Chargers and former Bills coach Anthony Lynn. Everyone remembers the first game against them, the game that will forever be known as the Nathan Peterman game.
It is not just Sean McDermott who has struggled against the Chargers. The Bills franchise as a whole has struggled against them. The Chargers lead the series 25-12-2. This was an interesting nugget I discovered while doing research this week: the Bills have the worst record against the Chargers than against any other team in the league. The Chargers are the Bills kryptonite. A .307 win percentage against the Chargers franchise is the worst win percentage of any team the Bills have ever played. Obviously, the two biggest wins in franchise history game against the Chargers, the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship wins, but aside from that, things have not gone the Bills’ way between these two teams.
What To Watch For: Bills
Running Game – Sean McDermott said taking a deep dive into the running game and why they haven’t been able to get it going so far this year was going to be a special point of emphasis for the bye week. Let’s hope that he and his staff were able to figure some things out. While a lot of fans (including myself) love the new pass-first Bills, it would be nice to have a run game to depend on when the going gets tough for this team in the 3rd quarter and when attempting to close out a game. Devin Singletary had an excellent rookie year, but it seems he has fallen slightly out of favor with the coaching staff as Zach Moss’s run style is more of what the Bills are needing this year. It may just a byproduct of a struggling offensive line, but the Bills would love to see Singletary return to the player we saw last year. A big part of getting the run game going is finally getting some stability along the offensive line. Hopefully, Mitch Morse will return to his starting role on Sunday, and the Bills can establish some form of a run game during this final stretch of the year. Bye weeks are great learning and improving opportunities for coaches and players. McDermott made it clear how his team needed to improve…let’s see if the results follow.
Heartbreak Hangover – This game would be a great time to whip out the old football adage, “Don’t let this loss beat you twice.” Sometimes you are on the wrong end of a miracle, much like the Bills were in Arizona two weeks ago. The players indicated that they were bummed that they did not have a game the week after to get rid of the bad taste that the Cardinals game left in their mouths. Hopefully, the Bills used the extra week off to forget about that game and start fresh. This matchup is winnable, but I can also see this one as a “trap game” for them if they come out of the gate sloppy and are not as focused possibly letting that last second loss impact their performance this week.
Andre Roberts – Every time Andre Roberts returns a punt or a kick, he is a threat to score. The problem is, he has yet to do so with the Bills. Still, he is still considered one of the best return men in the league. For weeks now, Andre Roberts has seemed to turn it up to a different level, nearly breaking returns in back-to-back games. He had kick returns of 60 yards against the Seahawks and 40 yards against the Cardinals. This might be the week that Andre Roberts scores his first return touchdown for the Bills considering the Chargers are one of the worst Special Team teams in the league, ranking at the bottom of Football Outsiders DVOA rankings. The Chargers rank dead last in opponent punt return yards. This week is as good as any for Andre Roberts to find the endzone in the return game.
What To Watch For: Chargers
Offensive Rookie of the Year? – Justin Herbert and Josh Allen have nearly identical stat lines this year. While we won’t insert Herbert into the MVP discussion as we have with Allen, Herbert is clearly the front runner to win offensive rookie of the year. He is on pace to break many rookie quarterback records in the NFL, which is pretty impressive for the quarterback of a 3-7 team. Chances are, Herbert is going to be a problem for the Bills this Sunday, as he has been for most teams this year. The one team that he really struggled against was Miami. In that game, the Dolphins did an excellent job of disguising their blitz’s and coverages. I trust two veteran defensive minds in McDermott and Frazier to develop a plan that will do something similar to Herbert this week. Still…you don’t break records without doing a lot of things right. The Bills will have to limit the damage from Herbert this week if they want to win this game.
Ekeler Returns? – Austin Ekeler has been out of the Chargers lineup since Week 4. Before the injury, Ekeler was averaging over five yards per carry and had two games where he racked up over 50 receiving yards, as well. Ekeler is a dual-threat running back, one that the Chargers would love to add to their prolific rookie quarterback’s arsenal. The Bills are an excellent matchup for Ekeler to return to form, as their linebacker unit has struggled this year, and Matt Milano, their best coverage linebacker, remains on the short-term IR list for at least one more week. With Ekeler returning to practice this week, it appears that he will be activated off of IR this weekend and designated to return for this game.
Anthony Lynn – In two games against the shortest tenured Buffalo Bills coach, the Bills have been unable to solve Anthony Lynn. While only Jerry Hughes remains from the team that Lynn coached for one game in 2016, you’d have to think that the Bills passing on Lynn is something that he still takes personally. Both coaches have had success with their respective teams, McDermott a little more…but he has yet to break through versus the man that he leapfrogged as the favorite to land the job in Buffalo. As it always seems to be for the Chargers, they are more talented than their 3-7 record indicates with multiple late-game collapses this year. Lynn is a talented football coach and would love nothing more to punish the Bills again for passing on him a few years ago.
Bills 38 Chargers 26 This game has the potential to be a sneaky one for the Bills. We know that Sean McDermott preaches respect for every opponent, regardless of their record, and this is a game that the Bills absolutely cannot afford to overlook. With four straight primetime games looming, the Bills must take care of an inferior opponent this week. A week off can lead fans to forget just how great the team was playing in their games against the Seahawks and Cardinals. With the exception of the success of a 1 out of 100 miracle play, the Bills would be 8-2. I do not believe the bye week will cause rustiness for the Bills, and they will pick up where they left off against the NFC West opponents. As long as the Bills can handle Herbert and Ekeler, much like they did with Russell Wilson, they should be able to get out of this game with another conference win, which would be huge for postseason tiebreaking scenarios in a few weeks.