The Titans home matchup with the Bills today is big for a couple reasons. First, with the entire division tied at 2-2 after four games, Tennessee has been given the rare opportunity for a reset after a rough start. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still in a bit of a hole thanks to their 0-2 AFC South record, but at least their on level terms in the overall standings which, as always, remains the most important measure of a team.
The other reason for this game being of above average importance is the fact that the 3-1 Bills look like a potential wildcard contender early in the season. Yes, they’ve earned their three wins against the Jets, Giants, and Bengals, but two of those were road wins which are always tough to come across in the NFL, regardless of the level of competition. If the Titans were to lose this game, they’d have to be three games better than Buffalo over the final eleven games of the season to pass them for a potential wildcard spot. That’s a big ask, especially with the Titans remaining schedule.
All of that is obviously a long way down the road, but this is the type of game that can come back to haunt a team in December if they don’t take care of business in October. Here are the five matchups that I’m looking forward to seeing today.
Dean Pees and the Titans secondary versus Josh Allen
Dean Pees and this veteran Tennessee defensive backfield are outstanding at disguising coverages and throwing a ton of different looks at opposing quarterbacks. They tortured second year passer Baker Mayfield in Week 1 and now get a shot at another second year QB in Josh Allen who cleared the concussion protocol this week and is set to play today.
Allen passed for just 82 yards in the Bills win over the Titans last year, but he did score Buffalo’s lone touchdown with his legs. However, that was just his 4th career start. Now on start number 16, Allen is coming off a streak of 8 straight games with at least 200 passing yards that was snapped in the loss to the Patriots last week. He also averaged over 60 yards rushing per game during that 8 game stretch, including a pair of 100-yard rushing games. Make no mistake about it, Allen is dangerous with his elite athleticism and cannon arm.
He can also be dangerous to his own team though. His 18 interceptions since the start of last season rank 5th among all quarterbacks and his 13 fumbles over that same span also checks in at 5th. The Titans are doing a good job of forcing turnovers so far this season, ranking 11th in takeaways through four weeks. Look for Dean Pees to try and confuse Allen and force him into some costly mistakes today.
Titans edge rushers versus Bills tackles
The Bills are going to be starting Dion Dawkins at left tackle and rookie Cody Ford at right tackle today. Ford had been rotating with veteran free agent addition Ty Nsekhe over the first few weeks — much like the Titans rotated Jamil Douglas and Nate Davis at right guard last week — but with Nsekhe ruled out with an injury, this will be Ford’s game from start to finish.
It’s unclear whether or not Cameron Wake will be able to go after tweaking his hamstring in Atlanta, but the Titans should have opportunities to win off the edge against this Bills offensive line. Harold Landry will likely draw Dawkins on the left side of the Buffalo offense. Dawkins has allowed 3 sacks and 11 pressures so far this season and has been whistled for 5 penalties, tied for 3rd most among offensive tackles. Penalties were a problem for Dawkins last year too as he finished 3rd among tackles with 13 penalties. Landry had his first multi-sack game of his career last week and ranks among the top of the league in pressures through four weeks. He should have opportunities to get to Allen today.
On the other side, Wake versus Ford would be a huge mismatch in favor of the veteran if he can go. If he can’t, the Titans depth edge rushers Reggie Gilbert, Sharif Finch, and Kamalei Correa will try to take advantage of a young offensive lineman who has really struggled in pass protection early in the season.
Corey Davis and A.J. Brown versus Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace
This is a strength on strength matchup in this game. Davis and Brown broke out as a tandem last week, combining for 185 yards and 3 touchdowns with much of that damage coming in the first half before the Titans coasted to a win on the legs of Derrick Henry. Both Brown (1st) and Davis (10th) rank among the top ten in Next Gen Stats’ yards after catch above expected through four weeks and getting the ball in their hands seems like it should be a top priority for the Titans offense each and every week moving forward.
The Titans young duo will face a much stiffer test this week though as the Bills secondary ranks top five in completion percentage allowed, yards per attempt allowed, and interceptions through four weeks. Tre’Davious White allows the 2nd lowest passer rating for quarterbacks throwing into his coverage and Levi Wallace has allowed under 5.4 yards per attempt into his coverage.
The Bills don’t typically shadow receivers with their corners so the Titans will have a chance to get specific matchups if they want them throughout the game. To me, Davis versus White — who is very good, but sometimes struggles against taller receivers — and Brown versus Wallace — a longer corner who struggles a bit with play strength and top end speed — will represent the best scenario for Tennessee more often that not.
Taylor Lewan versus Jerry Hughes
Another strength on strength matchup. The Titans finally get their star left tackle back this week and it’s been a tough four weeks without him. It’s not that Dennis Kelly played poorly necessarily, it’s what the coaching staff felt they had to do to help Kelly survive on the blind side of Marcus Mariota. Now that Lewan is back, I would hope to see fewer blocking responsibilities for the tight ends and slot receiver Adam Humphries.
If there is any rust on 77, it’ll need to come off quickly as he is likely to draw the Bills best pass rusher in Jerry Hughes. Lewan left last year’s matchup against Buffalo with a foot injury and his absence had a huge impact as Hughes abused replacement Tyler Marz, including a pressure that forced what would have been a go ahead touchdown pass to sail out of the back of the end zone.
Hughes finished last season as PFF’s most productive edge rusher from an efficiency standpoint, narrowly edging out Cameron Wake. The Titans need Lewan to make an instant impact in this game.