105.5 THE TEAM – Rex Ryan and many Bills players called tonight’s matchup with Seattle a “must-win,” for good reason. A victory over the Seahawks would make Buffalo 5-4 overall heading into the bye week, setting the tone for the second half of the season. It would also mean a perfect 4-0 record against the NFC West in 2016.
That feat is easier said than done, playing at CenturyLink Field against one of the NFL’s top defenses, in a nationally televised game.
Both teams have favorable matchups against the opposing offense, making this one – at least on paper – a low-scoring, defensive struggle.
With that in mind, here’s three things the Bills will have to do to come back east with a win…
1) Bring the pressure
To put it simply, the Seahawks offensive line is awful. Through eight weeks opponents have recorded 43 quarterback hits and while they have been able to keep Russell Wilson generally clean – only yielding 12 sacks – a lot of that has to do with Wilson’s mobility. With injuries to Wilson’s knee and ankle, even that is in question though. He’s notched a whopping 12 yards rushing over the last four games and hasn’t thrown a TD pass in three straight games. He’s clearly off his game. Smartly, Pete Carroll avoided putting a bigger target on his QB when asked by the Buffalo media about his limitations, replaying “oh, he’s getting closer.” He is believed to have made progress this week, however the Bills know he’s ailing, and one advantage they have is a pass rush that entering Week 9 was tied for the league lead in sacks (26). Upfront they’ll miss defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Corbin Bryant solidifying the middle of the D-line, but they have other pass rushers that can get the job done. Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes could each have huge games this week. Unleashing some heavy pressure to get the Seahawks offense out of sync could keep the Bills offense in striking distance.
2) Be aware of Christine Michael
570 yards is all the Seahawks have been able to amass on the ground through eight weeks this season. That ranks second to last in the NFL, and their 81.4 yards per game ranks 29th. Those figures are once again telling of just how bad their offensive line is. That said, Buffalo has been pretty soft against the run on defense this year, giving up over 118 yards per game to opponents. Making matters worse, they’ll be without run stoppers Marcell Dareus and Corbin Bryant in the middle of the D-line tonight, which could help open things up for Seattle’s top back Christine Michael. Behind his abysmal O-line he’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry and coming off a 40-yard, one touchdown performance against New Orleans. He also only has one 100-yard game this season, which came against San Francisco in Week 3. On the stat sheet Michael may not pose much of a threat, but with some injuries upfront for Buffalo he could become a bigger headache than they anticipated. The Bills have to be ready to stop the run tonight, forcing an injured Russell Wilson be the one to try and beat you.
3) Whether the storm on offense
Seattle’s defense is downright dominant and with the loudest atmosphere in football behind them, they make life very hard for opposing offenses. While the Bills led the league in rushing entering Week 9 (1,233 yards), the Seahawks defense ranks seventh in stopping the run, yielding just 89.7 yards per game. As a unit they’ve only allowed 10 running plays of 10 yards or more so far this season. For what it’s worth, in their last two contests they haven’t really fared as well though, allowing both the Cardinals and Saints each put up over 100 yards on the ground respectively.
The Seahawks also rank in the top 10 in pass defense, with opponents averaging 229.7 yards per game. It’s worth noting that for the second consecutive week they’ll be without the services of one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, DE Michael Bennett, as well as hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor for a fourth straight game. Perhaps that means there are some chinks in the armor that Buffalo can exploit. However, Seattle’s defense hasn’t seemed to miss much of beat without those guys. Moving the football won’t be easy, but if the Bills defense can keep it close, the offense will just have to weather the storm, find ways to attack Seattle and put together a few scoring drives.
Since 2012, the Seahawks are 30-5 at CenturyLink Field, not counting postseason contests. Three of those five losses came last season, when Seattle went 5-3 at home – they’re worst home record since 2011 when they went 4-4. From 2012-2014 though, they were 22-2 at home, which included a perfect 8-0 home record in 2012. They’re 3-0 at CenturyLink so far this season. Playing with that rumpus crowd – better known as the the 12th man – behind you, has it’s perks. The Bills enter Week 9 trying to pull off something only five teams have done over the last five seasons – win in Seattle. Good luck.
Already mentioned it, but DTs Marcell Dareus and Corbin Bryant are out. Joining them with that designation is WR Brandon Tate, who remains in the concussion protocol after a hit last week.
That hamstring injury LB Lorenzo Alexander is dealing with leaves him listed as questionable for Monday night, but all signs point to him playing. Same with LeSean McCoy. Ryan said he’s confident the Pro Bowl back will be ready to roll, although it would be wise to monitor his usage.
Also listed as questionable are TE Charles Clay (knee), RB Reggie Bush (groin), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), OLB Jerry Hughes (hand), LB Lerentee McCrae (knee) and WR Robert Woods (foot). Clay has been listed as questionable continually and played every game, so expect that trend to continue. Same with Glenn. For Hughes, he had the same injury last week and played.
Storyline to keep an eye on:
How effective will WR Percy Harvin be in his first game back from retirement? This Bills offense is desperate for a playmaker in the passing game right now and they’re hoping Harvin can be that spark. In theory, his knowledge of the playbook and chemistry with Tyrod Taylor should make for a smooth transition back into the NFL. For a guy that’s been plagued by injuries over the course of his career though, there’s certainly room for skepticism. As Ryan explained on Saturday, don’t expect Harvin to play an outrageous amount of snaps tonight. Still, his presence in the passing game is a necessity for the Bills, even in a limited role. We get our first glimpse at him tonight.
Over the course of the weekend, I’ve honestly gone back-and-forth on this. Both teams are banged up. Both teams have sub-par offenses. On defense, Seattle has obviously been a more dominant unit than Buffalo, but the fact that the Bills can get after the quarterback is hard to ignore, especially considering the Seahawks may have the worst offensive line in the league. If the Bills can stop the run – something they’ve struggled to do at times this season – and in turn force an injured Russell Wilson to beat them, they’ll be in the drivers seat to keep this thing close. Then it’s on the offense to scratch out enough points to get a win, which is the most difficult part to imagine happening at CenturyLink field on Monday night. That building is going to be electric and the Seahawks defense will feed off of it. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills somehow pulled this off. They average more points per game, are welcoming LeSean McCoy back to one of the top rushing attacks in the league, have owned the NFC West his season, and if the defense can keep it close anything could happen. I just have a hard time picking against Seattle at home, in prime-time. Seahawks win 20-16
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