Both teams have been ravaged by injuries this season and both teams are playing only for 2016 at this point. A Bills’ win over the Kellen Moore led Cowboys would help salvage a forgettable year against NFC East teams – a division Buffalo has gone 0-3 against so far this season. A loss though, means the Bills would go winless against arguably the worst division in football and lock them into a losing record for 2015 – the 10th one in 11 seasons. Here’s some musts for Buffalo to get a win against Dallas.
1) The Bills must stop the run
It’s a late Christmas present for Buffalo to have to face a Cowboys offense led by Kellen Moore. Rex Ryan may have complimented the four-year backup as a player who is better than advertised, but he’s still very raw and inexperienced in the NFL. Moore was handed the reigns for the first time just last week against the New York Jets – a game he went 15-for-25 passing for 158 yards, three interceptions and a single TD. It was his first action really of any kind since coming into the league out of Boise State in 2012. Sure, Buffalo’s defense has been extremely porous – as we saw last week against Washington – but facing a Cowboy’s passing attack that ranks 29th in the league in terms of total passing yards is far from intimidating.
That’s why they have to look to stop the run first and foremost. Behind a solid offensive line, Dallas has recorded 1,669 rushing yards so far this season – good enough for 10th overall in the league. That’s their bread and butter. They want to run to take some pressure of Moore – who’s making his first ever NFL start – and open up the passing attack. Buffalo needs to stop the run and try to force Moore into mistakes. Some added pressure won’t hurt either.
2) The Bills offense must find a way to be productive without LeSean McCoy
Over the last seven games McCoy has accounted for 146 touches and 760 yards both on the ground and through the air combined. He has been the workhorse of the offense, as was expected at the beginning of the season. He won’t be available for Week 16 though, so the question becomes where does that production come from. Enter running backs Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee. Williams is having a memorable rookie campaign but has been derailed on two separate occasions by a concussion and most recently a shoulder injury. He did play a few snaps last week, carrying the ball four times for 41 yards. His 6.0 yards per carry average this season is also very impressive. Then you have Gillislee who has made the most of his 14 carries, racking up 148 yards and two touchdowns since being signed off Buffalo’s practice quad about four weeks ago. Both these guys need to step up in the absence of McCoy – something they’ve each proven capable of doing.
On top of that Sammy Watkins needs to have another big day in the Bills passing game. TE Charles Clay won’t be suiting up Sunday and Buffalo just placed Watkins’ fellow wideout Robert Woods on the IR earlier this week. Tyrod Taylor’s arsenal is depleted, which likely means more shots to Sammy Watkins. Taylor hasn’t been afraid to throw the ball up to the second-year receiver and this week it’s likely he’ll look to him even more often. Where major keys are missing offensively – especially in regards to McCoy – Buffalo needs their other playmakers like Williams, Gillislee, Watkins and even Taylor to step up.
3) The Bills must come out with a better sense of urgency
The first half of that game in Washington was maybe the worst Buffalo has looked all season. It honestly seemed as though the players had quit – on Rex Ryan, on the season, on everything. Then in the second half they battled back and at least made the contest more respectable in an effort to pull off a not-so-easy comeback. Still, coming out flat and having to rally is something Buffalo has had to do numerous times this season. New England in Week Two is a perfect example. Had the Bills come out with more of a sense of urgency in several games, they may not be looking on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now. There is no looking back, obviously, at would could have gone differently, but what they can do is work to correct it the rest of the way, in the hopes of improvement in that area next season. Buffalo needs to come out with a sense of urgency in these final two games, see what setting the tone right from the outset does for their team and use it as the blueprint for next season. If they don’t it may tell us all we need to know about how much control Ryan actually does still have over his locker room.