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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Week 13 Preview: 3 Key Matchups to Watch During Bills vs. 49ers

Roy k Miller Getty Images Jeffrey T. Barnes/ Associated Press

You wanted it, you got it! After months of pleading from the fanbase, the Bills finally gave in as the team will wear their aesthetically pleasing icy white facemasks along with their road white uniforms for the first time this season. In a Monday Night matchup with the Niners, Buffalo heads back to an unexpected location, one that is all too familiar with the Bills Mafia. After Santa Clara County issued a three week ban on contact sports, the San Francisco 49ers were left scrambling for a place to play their next two home games. Luckily for them, their division rival in Arizona generously offered their stadium as a temporary host for the time being. Last time the Bills played at State Farm Stadium in Arizona, just three weeks ago, it did not end very well for them. While fans may still have trouble looking at that field after such an emotionally scarring loss, the Bills are ready to prove that they have moved on. When asked whether the setting would affect the team’s concentration, Bills HC Sean McDermott adamantly shut that down, stating “No, we’re playing the 49ers.” Simple, but true. Despite their 5-6 record, this 49ers team is much tougher than the standings indicate and they deserve the Bills complete attention. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance last season, San Francisco has had unimaginably bad luck with injuries this season. The injury bug has claimed key starters including Nick Bosa, Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, Solomon Thomas, and more this season. An unfortunate break for sure, yet the Niners continue to hang tough. Much credit to San Francisco HC Kyle Shanahan and DC Robert Saleh who have managed to put their team in the best position to win each and every week. Anything can happen under the bright lights, so the Bills will need to put their best foot forward against a formidable opponent.

Key Matchups

1. Stefon Diggs vs. Richard Sherman

Anytime two superstar talents face off head-to-head, it is destined to be a must watch matchup. At the age of 32, Richard Sherman is still going strong as one of the league’s top corners. In his 10 year career, Sherman has accumulated 36 interceptions on his way to 3 Super Bowl appearances and 3 first team All-Pro honors. Sherman has missed most of the 2020 season after sustaining a calf injury that sidelined him for 11 weeks, yet he did not miss a beat when he returned last week, grabbing an interception in the first quarter. Stefon Diggs was relatively quiet last week as the Chargers defense held him without a catch in the first half. It was not until the second half when Josh Allen started feeding Diggs, getting him the ball 7 times for only 39 yards. Obviously, the Bills will hope to get their star receiver more involved this week against a talented 49ers defense. In Diggs’ last matchup with Sherman, the NFC Divisional Playoff Game, Diggs only had two catches in the game, one of them being directly against Sherman. In that play, Diggs showed off a masterful route running display, putting the veteran corner on skates for an easy 16 yard reception. The other catch ended up being a one-on-one matchup with Akhello Witherspoon in which Diggs ended up tracking back to the football for an impressive 41 yard touchdown. While the Vikings offense struggled for the majority of that game, Diggs proved that he has the ability to make big plays against the best of the best. If Josh Allen can find Diggs for one or two of those big plays on Monday, it could make a huge difference in the outcome of the game.

2. Bills Run Defense vs. 49ers RB Committee

San Francisco’s rushing attack has struggled in recent weeks, however, the talent in their backfield is too good to sleep on. The 49ers employ a “running back by committee” approach, splitting carries between speedy back Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jeff Wilson, and Jerick McKinnon. Like seemingly everywhere else on the roster, the Niners backfield has battled injuries this season, but they will finally have their full stable of running backs available this week for the first time in a very long time. It can be tough for any back to get into a rhythm when splitting carries, but it does allow San Francisco to keep all four players fresh throughout the course of the game, each of them being capable of breaking off a huge play at any given moment. Buffalo’s run defense has been up and down all season long depending on the matchup. Given San Francisco’s run-heavy approach, the Bills must key in on gap integrity if they want to limit the damage caused by their playmakers. If the Bills can contain the 49ers rushing attack and keep guys like Raheem Mostert from getting to the outside, it will put much more pressure on Nick Mullens to carry the offense, which would be ideal for Buffalo’s secondary.

3. Mario Addison vs. Trent Williams 

In recent weeks, the Bills defense has appeared to regain some of the form we are used to seeing from a Sean McDermott led defense. The unit has begun to force turnovers more consistently, unlocking the potential that was always there. Even with a backup QB in for the Niners, they still possess multiple playmakers such as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk that can cause troubles for this defense. The key to stopping that from happening is to rattle Nick Mullens. The Bills did an exceptional job of making rising star Justin Herbert uncomfortable all game last week, sacking him 3 times while only allowing him to complete 59 percent of his passes on 52 attempts. Clearly, the 49ers want to avoid having to throw nearly that much by establishing the run, but if the rushing attack fails as it has in recent weeks, they may be forced to throw more than they would like. Bills DC Leslie Frazier has done a good job dialing up pressure from a variety of players, such as reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week A.J. Klein and disruptive safety Jordan Poyer. Ideally, the Bills would like to generate even more pressure from their edge rushers. Veteran pass rushers Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes have done a fairly good job getting after the QB, and in fact, second round pick AJ Epenesa is starting to flash some production from the edge as of late. The Bills hope to continue increasing their production from that spot, but they may have a tough time doing so against the talented tackle pair of seven time Pro Bowler Trent Williams and third year starter Mike McGlinchey. This will be quite the test for the Bills edge rushers, especially when disrupting the QB plays such a vital role in the success of this defense. Mario Addison’s level of success against the star LT will certainly affect San Francisco’s overall production offensively.

This game is another clear example that the nation will continue to doubt the Bills, no matter how well they are playing, until they start winning big games consistently. One would imagine that a 8-3 division leader would be favored against a 5-6 team on a neutral field, yet the Niners are favored to win in Vegas and seem to be a popular pick amongst national media analysts. The Bills should take that personally, and there is no better stage to prove the doubters wrong than on the national stage of Monday Night Football.

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