105.5 THE TEAM – 24 hours before kickoff the Bills enter Week 6 as an eight point favorite over the 49ers, and for good reason – San Francisco is a mess right now. Offensively they’re one of the worst units in the league. Defensively they can’t stop the run and making matters worse lost their best player, LB Navarro Bowman, for the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles.
Still, Rex Ryan and his players have spent the week talking about how they cannot overlook a weak 49ers team simply because they’re 1-4. Throwing a bit of a wrench into the mix is Chip Kelly finally turning the offense over to controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who Rex Ryan said was “tailor made” for Kelly’s high octane offense.
With a tough three-game stretch that features the Patriots, Seahawks and Bengals looming, Buffalo needs this game. Here’s three things they must do to get a win:
1) Run, run, run
This is one week where running the ball trumps being balanced on offense. The Bills rank third in the league in rushing yards per game (137.2) and first in yards per rush (5.17), while San Francisco’s miserable defense enters Sunday as the 31st ranked defense in stopping the run. On average they’re yielding 146.8 yards per game. The only team worse is Miami, Buffalo’s next opponent ironically enough. As a run happy team these next two games are the perfect storm for the Bills. Expect a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy and some designed runs for Tyrod Taylor, but this probably won’t be the week where we see an emphasis on Taylor’s arm. Fortunately, to win, it won’t have to be.
2) Stop Carlos Hyde
Hyde enters Sunday as the NFL’s 9th ranked back in terms of total rushing yards, posting 347 through five games. Also, his six rushing scores are tied with San Diego’s Melvin Gordon for best in the league. Those numbers are a bit deceiving because Hyde is only averaging 4 yards per carry and all his scores have come in the red zone. In fact five of his six touchdowns came on runs of eight yards or less, and the other was 11 yards. Hyde doesn’t necessarily posses that “big play ability” that a back like McCoy does for the Bills. He’s more of a run right at you type than an athletic, elusive type and it works for him. However it shouldn’t induce much fear in a Buffalo defense that is holding opponents under 100 yards per game. Keep Hyde out of the end zone and the Bills will be just fine.
The Bills should feel pretty comfortable deploying a strategy that involves shutting down Hyde and making Kaepernick beat them. Coming off of three off-season surgeries to his shoulder, thumb and knee respectively, the 28-year-old will make his first start for the 49ers since being benched midway through last season for Blaine Gabbert. Regardless of what you think about his kneeling during the anthem, on the field Kaepernick is surely an upgrade from Gabbert, who’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season. Since leading San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2012, Kaepernick has certainly regressed, but he possesses a unique skill set that Buffalo must be prepared for. Pre-shoulder surgery he had one of the stronger arms in the NFL. That combined with his dual threat ability made him one of the more difficult QBs to gameplan for. We’ll see if the arm strength has returned but he’s bound to make mistakes regardless, in his first start in nearly a year. The bigger issue is containing him. Surely Buffalo will look to bring pressure and when they do they have to keep Kaepernick from escaping the pocket.
Key Stat: It’s all about the red zone in Week 6. Through five games the Bills boast the 10th best red zone offense in terms of touchdowns scored. They’ve crossed the plane on 63.64% of their trips to the red zone. Conversely, their red zone defense is absolutely stifling. Buffalo has allowed just 6 touchdowns in 16 red zone opportunities this season, marks that place them second overall in that category. This week they’ll face a running back in Carlos Hyde who’s earned 75% of the 49ers red zone rushing attempts and scored a league best six touchdowns. Winning in the red zone will be crucial this week, on both sides of the ball.
Injury Report: The Bills listed DT Marcell Dareus as doubtful and despite missing the entire week of practice Rex Ryan wasn’t ready to declare him out, just yet. They’re taking their usual “wait and see” approach with him, but it’s unlikely he plays and honestly it’s counterintuitive to rush him back and risk further injury, for a game they’re capable of winning without him.
Off the list of questionable players, Cyrus Kouandjio finally got back on the practice field Friday in a limited role and Ryan said in a pinch he could probably play. Considering Buffalo has 12 offensive lineman on the 53-man roster they’re certainly not in a “pinch,” especially since Patrick Lewis (questionable with a knee) practiced all week.
Other questionable players include T Cordy Glenn (ankle), CB Corey White (shoulder), DT Corbin Bryant (ankle), P Colton Schmidt (quad), LB Zach Brown (ankle), S Aaron Williams (ankle) and TE Charles Clay (knee). Brown’s injury worth monitoring considering how valuable he’s been to the defense, but he’ll probably be playing.
Storyline to keep an eye on: Isn’t it obvious? For better or worse, all anyone cares about is what kind of reception Colin Kaepernick will receive from Bills fans. Several fans started a social media movement this week to get the crowd to sing the national anthem while Kaepernick and the offense are on the field. Whether that’s the route some fans go or not remains to be seen, but there’s likely to be some pushback. Earlier this week LeSean McCoy pleaded with fans to be “professional and respectful” of Kaepernick, adding that at the end of the day he’s a human being. More likely than not we’ll see a mixed bag of reactions because as we’ve seen publicly there are large groups of people on both sides of the topic.
My Prediction: I finally got on the board with my predictions last week, picking a win over the Rams after that bizarre 2-2 start to the season. I like my chances again this week. This is a game the Bills have no business losing. None. The 49ers biggest weakness on defense – stopping the run – is Buffalo’s strength. Offensively, Kaepernick presents a bit of a new challenge with his dual threat ability, but if the defense contains him and stops their best weapon, Hyde, they’ll be in good shape. Everyone in that locker room emphasized not overlooking a 1-4 team and I trust they won’t. San Francisco has surrendered 30 or more points in three of their last four games, they’ll do it again. Bills win four in a row for the first time since 2008, 35-17
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