Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 48 hours, you’re probably aware at this point that Josh Allen will lead the team onto the field in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers in his first professional start.
After Nate Peterman (and pretty much everyone else in a Bills uniform) collapsed in spectacular fashion against Baltimore last week, the organization left themselves no other option than to allow Allen to take the reins. Too bad they didn’t have a veteran safety valve waiting in the wings in case Peterman was a complete disaster (cough…McCarron…cough).
For better or worse, the Bills will ride with their rookie signal caller for the remainder of the 2018 campaign. Optimists and skeptics alike will watch with anxious anticipation as a new era of Buffalo football commences this Sunday. The entire Beane-McDermott regime hinges on Allen’s eventual viability as a franchise quarterback.
Let’s take a look at what fans should closely observe on what could end up being a historic day in Bills lore.
Can Allen Stand the Heat?
Even without All-Pro defensive end Joey Bosa in the lineup, the Chargers defense is a force to be reckoned with. It’s a good thing the Bills don’t have a history of trotting rookie quarterbacks out against such a formidable front otherwise, fans would have a good reason to worry (see what I did there?).
As a unit that ranked third in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game last season, Los Angeles is one of the stingier groups Allen will face over the course of the next 15 weeks. Pair that with the fact that the Bills offensive line performed like scotch tape versus a leaky Hoover Dam last week, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Fortunately for Allen, he displayed impressive escapability in the pocket last week at Baltimore. He’ll need to utilize that skill early and often as Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn’s staff will almost certainly dial up some exotic blitz packages in an attempt to throw the first-year passer off his game. It’s a good thing the Wyoming product had a chance to see what it feels like to have the snot kicked out of him at the NFL level during his preseason start against Cincinnati last month. There’s a very real chance that he’ll be on a first-name basis with the turf at New Era Field after this one.
Expect the Bills to lean heavily on Lesean McCoy in this one. The Los Angeles defense was less than pedestrian in 2017, ranking near the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed per game posting an average of 131.1. The 30-year-old bell cow was held to just seven carries last week as the Bills played from behind for nearly the entire game.
Plugging Up the Defense
The Bills’ “new and improved” defensive front came out flat in their season debut. Joe Flacco carved them up at will, despite the fact that they did a pretty good job at stopping the run. A unit lauded as one of the top ball-hawking groups from a year ago left gargantuan gaps in coverage which allowed the Ravens receivers to catch balls uncontested.
For a team that invested almost all of their free agent budget into the defensive line, they did a pretty terrible job of getting to Flacco. The veteran signal-caller was only pressured a handful of times and sacked twice. This week they square off against another seasoned veteran in Phillip Rivers. Should they fail to disrupt the pocket for a second consecutive week, he’ll have no problem commissioning an air raid attack similar to what Flacco orchestrated last weekend.
At least the Chargers don’t have one of the best running backs in the league. Oh wait a minute, yes they do. Averaging just under five yards per carry in 2017, Melvin Gordon accumulated 1,124 yards on the ground. The Bills will need to repeat their performance against the Ravens in defending the rush, otherwise, the Chargers will rack up gaudy yardage numbers, forcing Allen to play from behind (a sub-optimal scenario, no?).
Most rational fans (sorry, just typing that out made me chuckle), realized that the quarterback position would be far from perfect this season. With a new offensive coordinator and a cast of unproven characters under center, growing pains were to be expected. That being said, there is absolutely no excuse for the embarrassingly bad performance put forth by the defense last week. If the Bills brass wants to avoid the ire of the fan base, their very talented, very expensive defense better show up in this one.
A Silver Lining
On paper, this matchup isn’t great for the boys in white. San Diego has an elite defense and a seasoned quarterback who has been known to make opposing defenses suffer when they present sloppy coverages, but it’s not all bad.
The biggest advantage that the Bills have is the fact that this contest is on their turf. Historically, west coast teams struggle on the road against foes in the eastern time zone. On top of that, the Buffalo faithful will surely be a raucous bunch for the team’s home opener which now has the added appeal of being Allen’s debut (as if they needed another reason to leave a wasteland of broken tables up and down Abbott Road).
Their best hope in this one will be to catch the Chargers napping. Over the next three weeks, Allen will be tested and to be quite honest, this is probably the most winnable contest in that stretch. If he and his squad can find a way to emerge victorious this week, it will make consecutive road matchups against the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers respectively, a little less daunting.
It’s flat-out embarrassing when an NFL team is a seven-point underdog on their own turf. While the Chargers are the obviously superior team, something tells me this one will be closer than people think. Assuming that the team is capable of putting last week’s disaster in the rearview, they could make a game out of it at the very least.
Chargers 23, Bills 20
Editor’s babble: Anthony certainly nailed this one. Defense better make a better showing or this game will be over by the end of the first quarter. My expectations are low, keep Josh Allen upright and hope Shady can find some holes. In fact, I’m more interested in how Allen handles the pressure than the score of the game. Thanks to Anthony for his solid contributions to our blog. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports. GO BILLS!