Written by John Sparaco
Excitement in Western New York is sky high following the Buffalo Bills’ dominant 31-10 win against the Rams in the City of Angels last Thursday night. Heading into their home opener on Monday night, schools in the area will be let out early to accommodate the next generation of fans.
“That’s how you create some Bills fans right there,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said after finding out that Orchard Park and Frontier schools plan to have a half day. He hopes to see them at Highmark Stadium screaming as loud as they can when the Bills’ defense is on the field.
Bills fans understood the assignment in Week 1, forcing the Rams to use a silent count on offense in their own stadium. After a turnover-laden first half, Buffalo ran away with the game in the final two quarters, outscoring Los Angeles by three touchdowns.
While Jay-Z, LeBron James and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were among those in the building, the biggest stars of the night were Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and Von Miller. The Allen-to-Diggs connection was as advertised, hooking up eight times for 122 yards and a 53-yard score over the head of superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey. On the opposite side of the ball, Miller stole the show, finishing with two sacks and three tackles for a loss in his Bills debut. Seemingly everyone around Miller benefited from his presence on the field, as the Bills’ defensive line pieced together one of their most complete efforts in years — seven sacks and 16 pressures without attempting a single blitz.
Throughout the game, Buffalo’s QB1 maniacally laughed his way through contact, displaying a stiff arm that earned him the Angry Run of the week on Kyle Brandt’s Good Morning Football segment. It was the fourth time Allen took home the awarded scepter in his career thus far. Only one NFL player has won it more times – Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry.
Buffalo welcomes “King Henry” and the Titans to Highmark Stadium for a heavyweight showdown on Monday Night Football in Week 2.
Contrasting momentum swings: While the Bills are coming off a dominant win against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Titans are unable to boast about their performance in Week 1. Tennessee dropped their opener in an upset loss to former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in his head coaching debut with the New York Giants. The G-Men, who lost 13 games last season, rallied from a 13-point deficit against last year’s top seed in the AFC to take a late 21-20 lead. The Titans had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, however, Randy Bullock missed the potential game winning kick.
Recent struggles against Tennessee: The Titans are no stranger to the Bills’ schedule. Both teams will meet for the fifth-consecutive season on Monday. While they have split the past four matchups, Buffalo has lost the last two in painful fashion. In 2020, the Titans bullied a red hot Bills team in a shocking 42-16 blowout. Last season, Tennessee escaped with a 34-31 victory after stopping Josh Allen on a fourth-down quarterback sneak near the goal line in the final seconds. The Bills will look to redeem themselves in their third-straight primetime matchup with the Titans. This time around, Tennessee is making their first trip to Orchard Park since 2018, when Stephen Hauschka nailed a game winner as time expired in a low scoring, 13-12 win for Buffalo. More likely than not, this upcoming game will result with more than 25 total points on the scoreboard.
Can the Bills limit turnovers?: If there were any negative takeaways from the Bills’ first game, it would be the mistakes offensively, especially in the first half. In the first quarter, a pass bounced off the hands of Isaiah McKenzie and into the possession of Rams defender Terrell Lewis for an interception. Early in the second quarter, rookie running back James Cook fumbled his first and only carry of the game. Late in the half, a rare errant throw by Josh Allen resulted in another interception, which led to a game-tying field goal. While it did not hurt them in the end, these turnovers added up to points for the Rams that kept them in the game longer than they probably should have. Zack Moss also fumbled late in the game, although the game was out of reach by then. Still, this will always be a point of emphasis for the coaching staff. If it does not get cleaned up, it can hurt them down the road and in this upcoming game.
Will the Bills punt?: New Bills punter Sam Martin did not get the chance to punt in his team debut last week. Oddly enough, this did not come as a huge surprise to those who follow the Bills closely. After last Thursday, they became the first team to have no punts three times in a four game regular season span since the league began tracking individual punts in 1939. Buffalo’s offensive efficiency is unprecedented, but will it become the norm?
Impact matchups to watch
Bills’ front seven vs. Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry has led the NFL in rushing in two of the past three seasons. Had he not suffered a Jones fracture in Week 8 last season, he likely would have three-peated. Prior to his injury, Henry was leading the league in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and was on pace to break the NFL rushing record.
What makes him so tough to stop? His size and playing style. Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing nearly 250 pounds, Henry is built more like a Mack Truck than a running back. Opposing defenders struggle to bring him down due to his pure physicality. Bills fans have not forgotten the stiff arm he layed on Josh Norman in 2020. Even if you have tried, the broadcast is guaranteed to remind you at some point during the game.
Last season, the Bills had no answer for Henry, who rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 20 attempts against them. This offseason, Buffalo beefed up their defensive line to help their ability to stop the run. However, Ed Oliver and Tim Settle both landed on the injury report after last week’s game, putting their availability for Monday in doubt. Buffalo will lean on their two largest interior defenders, former Titan DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips, who flourished with six pressures and 1.5 sacks in his return to the Bills, to slow down Henry. Having a future Hall of Famer in Von Miller on the edge certainly won’t hurt as well, but depleted depth in the interior is not ideal for Buffalo in this battle.
Bills’ air attack vs. Titans secondary
A major reason the Titans fell to the Giants was the excellent performance by Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown last week. Despite his success, do not expect the Bills to ground and pound their way through this one.
Opposing defenses do not have the luxury of solely honing in on stopping Stefon Diggs. Josh Allen has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, having the ability to spread the ball around to the likes of Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder among others. Even if they decide to focus on Diggs, the rest of the names can hurt you just as badly. One development worth noting: Davis is questionable to play after an ankle injury made him a late addition to the injury report on Saturday. He was limited in practice. If he is unable to go, it could lead to the debut of fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir, who flashed in preseason but was inactive last week.
Buffalo chose to air it out 47 times against Tennessee last time around Allen completed 35 of those passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, hitting nine different targets for receptions that night. His top three receivers — Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley, each finished with at least 88 yards. Allen is not afraid to spread the ball around.
Against a much weaker passing attack last week, the Titans had their share of struggles. Starting cornerback Kristian Fulton allowed four completions on four targets for 84 yards and a score. Fulton has been ruled out for Monday night. Ugo Amadi, Caleb Farley, and Roger McCreary will likely play a bulk of the snaps in his absence. Their secondary also forced just four incompletions the entire game. It is important to note that they do possess on of the league’s best safety duos in Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker.
If Allen showed anything with Ramsey last week, he isn’t afraid to test the league’s best. Perhaps wisely, Byard has carried a much different tune than Ramsey did entering last week.
“He has a rocket, a cannon,” Byard said when asked about Allen. “He can make any throw on the field. He has that personality, the swag. He feels like he’s the best player on the field when he goes out there. He’s one of the best players in the league. It’ll be a challenge.
How to watch
Kickoff is scheduled for Monday at 7:15 p.m. EST on ESPN. Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Dan Orlovsky will be on the call with Laura Rutledge reporting from the sidelines. The Bills will be wearing blue jerseys and blue pants, the same combo they sported last week. The weather forecast calls for rain and some wind, but most of it is currently expected to end a few hours before kickoff.