Buffalo has their defense to thank for a 2-1 start to the season. That unit ranks in the top 10 in most major categories but the thing they do best is keep teams off the scoreboard. The Bills have held opponents to a league-low 12.3 points per game so far this season, and have yielded just two touchdowns in three games. They are legit, as the kids would say these days. However, they have yet to face an offense quite like Atlanta’s. One that can light you up on the ground with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, or in the air with Matt Ryan under center and a surplus of receiving options, headlined by Julio Jones. This is arguably the best offense Buffalo will face all season and the first real test for their defense.
However, they have yet to face an offense quite like Atlanta’s. One that can light you up on the ground with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, or in the air with Matt Ryan under center and a surplus of receiving options headlined by Julio Jones. This is arguably the best offense Buffalo will face all season and the first real test for their defense.
Here are three things they must do to pull off the upset…
1) Create Multiple turnovers
Following that frustrating 9-3 loss to Carolina in Week 3, members of the Bills defense kept saying they needed to do more. That more was creating a few turnovers and they did just that in Week 3, picking off Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian twice in a 26-16 win. It’s a small sample size but the Bills are 2-0 this season when forcing a turnover. Conversely, four of the Falcons five losses last season came when Matt Ryan threw an interception. For what it’s worth Ryan did throw three last week and the Falcons barely eeked out a 30-26 win over Detroit after the referees questionably overturned a Golden Tate touchdown in the final seconds of the game. Normally that isn’t the case though. Counting that game Ryan is just 3-5 when throwing three or more interceptions and he’s 14-16 when throwing two or more. If you want to keep a prolific offense off the field and steal momentum, force turnovers. Good things should follow.
2) Keeping it close
The Falcons have held opposing rushing attacks to just 85 yards per game on average, which ranks ninth in the league. However, what’s interesting is that they rank 29th in rushing yards allowed per play, with opponents gaining 4.8 yards per attempt. What that suggests is that teams have had success running the ball against the Falcons, but end up falling behind by so much that they abandon the run game to try and keep up. Atlanta’s 34-23 win over Green Bay is a prime example of that. Atlanta took a 24-7 lead into the half, and the Packers had to pass their way out of it in the third and fourth quarters. We’ve seen the Bills offense struggle to get itself going early in games, which means it’s of the utmost importance that their defense keeps Atlanta from jumping out to a big lead early. Keeping Atlanta within striking distance plays right into the Bills hands as well. They want to run the football and LeSean McCoy is due for a big game. He’ll gladly take nearly five yards per carry. Another aspect of this is continuing to be efficient in the red zone and finish drives. The Bills are scoring touchdowns on more than 71-percent of their trips inside their opponent’s 20.
3) Takeaway Atlanta’s run game
Everyone talks about reigning MVP Matt Ryan and his freak of a wide receiver Julio Jones, but truthfully the Falcons offense goes as their rushing attack goes. As several Bills defenders pointed out this week, Atlanta thrives on using the run to set up the pass. Need proof? In 2016, the Falcons used play-action on 27-percent of the their offensive snaps, the highest mark in the league. And according to Pro Football Focus, Matt Ryan’s 11.3 yards per attempt on those plays led the league as well. Their offense loves running play-action and even with Kyle Shanahan out of the picture it remains a focal point. Additionally, over the last two seasons when running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman comined for more than 200 yards on the ground – as they did last week – the Falcons are a perfect 7-0. Stopping the run is essential to Buffalo shutting down Atlanta on Sunday.
Buffalo pulled off the upset over Denver last week to get to 2-1 and as stingy as their defense has been it hasn’t faced anything quite like this Falcons offense. This is where we learn just how real they are. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Bills defense keep things close for a period of time. However, with so many things to worry about – Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel on the outside and a rotation of running backs out of the backfield – eventually Atlanta is going to get theirs. The question then becomes: can the Bills offense keep pace? Even though the Falcons defense has proven susceptible to the run, Buffalo just hasn’t been consistent enough on offense. As a unit they’ve gone three-and-out on 44-percent of their drives; the third highest percentage in the NFL. Mark my words, if the Bills somehow pull off this upset, I won’t pick against them and their suffocating defense the rest of the season until they play New England. That’s a promise. They’ll make me a believer or Billeiver as some would say. But for now I can’t pick against the Falcons. Buffalo 21, Atlanta 30, as the Falcons cover the 8 point spread as well.
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