A big game calls for immense insights. For the big Monday Night Football clash between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, we tapped the knowledge of the pros over at SB Nation’s Buffalo Rumblings.
Matthew Byham gave us the scoop on things this week, being incredibly thorough and amazing with his analysis.
1.) AC: While Josh Allen gets most of the fanfare (and for good reason), the Bills just are a well-rounded team. What would you say their biggest current weakness is for a team like Bengals to exploit?
MB: You mean apart from turnovers, right? Those are the team’s biggest red flag. Aside from that topic? Take away wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and it significantly changes offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s game plan.
The Bills have lacked a consistent receiving threat beyond Diggs for much of the 2022 NFL season. Fortunately for them, Diggs is incredible. But Gabe Davis, while his stats show a productive season (797 yards, 17.7 avg., 7 TDs), has been more miss than hit many weeks this season. He’s dropped far too many passes in key situations (45 receptions on 83 targets).
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But he’s also come to Allen’s rescue at other times. Davis has off-the-chart potential in Buffalo’s offense, but this season he’s regressed a bit in terms of reliability.
When Cole Beasley left this past offseason, the idea was for newly-signed Jamison Crowder and Isaiah McKenzie to step into his vacated role. Crowder went down with a broken ankle almost as soon as the regular season began, and McKenzie hasn’t provided the necessary outlet in a more featured role — whether that’s by offensive design or trouble adapting to an increased role isn’t entirely clear to the fanbase.
With the issues surrounding the team’s depth at wide receiver, both John Brown and Cole Beasley were brought back to help Allen and the offense get back in a groove. Neither have really made much of an impact yet, but the hope is with time back in the system they’ll prove valuable additions in the playoffs.
2.) AC: Can you talk us through the state of Buffalo’s defensive front? I’ve been intrigued by Ed Oliver since he came out of college and Greg Rousseau has showed promise, but losing Von Miller obviously stings…
MB: If you were only to study the Week 16 tape, you’d find a unit that held Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields to 11 yards on 7 carries. Remember, he’s a nightmare to defend as a runner. They’re really good – and really young.
It’s impossible to understate how badly it stings to lose Von Miller, but the defensive line hasn’t missed a beat since his absence. That’s a testament to Miller’s impact as a teacher and team leader. Since Miller’s arrival, Greg Rousseau has blossomed as a defensive end. If he’s unable to get to the quarterback, his length can prove detrimental to QBs getting the ball past the LOS.
With Miller out for the season, Rousseau has taken on the mantle of top pass rusher, and he appears up to the task with seven sacks, nine tackles for loss, along with four passes defended. A.J. Epenesa continues to make strides as well with 6.5 sacks and 7 TFLs, and 5 passed defended.
Boogie Basham has quite a bit of growing to do still, but he’s found a way to make huge stops in big moments this season. One Bills Drive also brought back Shaq Lawson, who is his best football self when part of the Buffalo Bills. He’s been an integral part of the team’s success on defense in 2022, and is a classic case of a player’s worth extending far beyond their stats.
Ed Oliver gets most of the press, and deservedly so, but Buffalo has assembled a truly scary group of defensive tackles. The addition of DaQuan Jones in free agency may prove to be one of the team’s best personnel moves in 2022. He’s been a force, allowing the rest of his teammates to collect stats due to the attention he brings on his own.
Bringing back Jordan Phillips was a fantastic move, though he’s been injured a fair bit this season. Still, he’s an elite football player in the Bills’ defensive scheme – something you couldn’t say about his tenure with the Arizona Cardinals.
The key for Buffalo’s defensive front has been the quality of depth, which has seen significant snaps. That’s both by design due to heavy rotation and out of necessity due to injury. Defensive tackle Tim Settle has performed exceptionally in a reserve role.
3.) AC: What would the Bills like to do in the ground game this week? Allen runs well, but their backs can be hit-and-miss, in terms of reliable production. Might they try to run it a bit more this week to keep the Bengals’ offense off of the field?
MB: I think the Bills’ approach to the run game is somewhat like the Baltimore Ravens or San Francisco 49ers. That is, maddening to fantasy football players, but efficient and formidable to their opponent. Buffalo has been blasted by the media for lacking a productive run game this season, but the stats tell a different story. They’re the only team to have rushed for 100+ yards in every game. Those who analyze football tend to just notice Josh Allen’s running stats and assume there’s no one else capably carrying the rock.
For all the talk of inconsistency out of their running backs, Devin Singletary has accumulated 790 rushing yards and five touchdowns, along with 37 receptions for 277 yards and a receiving touchdown.
Add in James Cooks’ numbers – 462 rushing yards, two touchdowns; 19 receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown–-and you have a great tandem of backs who complement an elite passing offense. True, Josh Allen’s stats bolster the final product (115 attempts for 746 yards and seven touchdowns), but it’s not due to an inability by the RB room – it’s the result of opportunity.
What the Bills may lack is a true bruiser at RB, with Singletary and Cook both smaller backs. But I’m not sure Buffalo wants to feature a bruising running back (aside from Allen). On Monday, I think they run more only if the passing game struggles. But there’s also the possibility they don’t want to put certain aspects of their offense on display for the Bengals (or any other playoff team), so perhaps the run game is more prominently featured this week.
Near the goal line, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them try to force their will in the running back, just to establish a bit of tape showcasing their ability to do it against an elite team.
4.) AC: Give me one name on offense and one on defense we need to be familiar with in this one—those who aren’t the household names, preferably—and why.
MB: On offense I’ll go with rookie receiver Khalil Shakir. This isn’t because he’s featured nor that he’ll even see a lot of snaps on Monday Night Football. It’s because when he gets an opportunity, he shines – whether as a safety valve for Allen, running a key route to get a first down or find the end zone, or even coming up clutch for a 2-pt conversion while the defense obsesses over ways to stop Diggs. Again, his sample size is small because of those ahead of him, but he’s shown well, and he could find himself with increased snaps this winter should the offense implement new wrinkles.
On defense, it’s nickel cornerback Taron Johnson. In his role, Johnson has been one of the Bills’ best defenders. His performance allows Buffalo to operate almost exclusively out of nickel for its base defense.
While it may mean giving up yards in the run game between the 20s, it often means tightening the vice grips around a team’s red zone offense. He’s another player who if you looked up his stats, you might say I’m off target in calling Johnson out.
But stats don’t begin to paint the picture of his importance. He plays much bigger than his 5’11”, 192-pound frame. He’s also proven adept at making game-changing plays in a game’s biggest moments.
5.) AC: Per DraftKings, the Bills are one-point favorites over the Bengals on the road and, somewhat-stunningly, the over/under is set at just 49.5. How are you feeling about these numbers and what are you predicting for Monday?
MB: I’m not an expert about much of the gambling world, as a disclaimer. The total points spread seems low, but perhaps that’s a result of the quality defenses on both sides of the field. This is the time of year where defenses usually begin to clamp down.
I am pretty surprised the Bills are favored to win. Not that I don’t feel confident that can win, just that I would think the oddsmakers would side with the home team in such a close spread.
Yes, Buffalo boasts a six-game win streak, but Cincinnati’s is a game longer at seven. While the Bills lack consistent production out of any receiver not named Diggs, the Bengals boast a trio of truly explosive players in Chase, Higgins, and Boyd.
I know you want me to do it, but I’m not going to predict a score. I’m very superstitious, unlike Michael Scott. I will say that I expect this to be an entertaining game – one that should feature plenty of points by night’s end. I predict the winner secures the one seed, and the chance to finally see Patrick Mahomes play a road playoff game.
Our thanks to Matthew Byham over at SB Nation’s Buffalo Rumblings! Go check out their coverage, as well as our five questions with them on the big game!