ORCHARD PARK — For the second straight season, the Bills enter Week 3 with an unblemished record. This week Buffalo faces its toughest test to date as it welcomes the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams to Bills Stadium.
The Rams are coming off wins over two NFC East foes, as LA dispatched the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17 in Week 1 and beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 37-19 in Week 2. The Bills are coming off two wins over two lesser opponents and have plenty left to prove as they head into Week 3.
The Buffalo offense has been clicking on all cylinders, leading to quarterback Josh Allen putting up historic numbers through two games. But with a more formidable opponent coming to town, the Bills are about to encounter a much more difficult challenge than they faced with the Jets and Dolphins.
Here are a few things to watch for during Bills-Rams:
STATUS OF MILANO/EDMUNDS
Linebackers Matt Milano (hamstring) and Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder) are questionable for Buffalo’s tilt with LA after missing the team’s Week 2 win over Miami, but NFL Network’s Kim Jones has reported both will play this afternoon. Both were limited in practice for much of the week, while Milano was able to practice in full on Friday but Edmunds remained limited and in a red non-contact jersey. During Bills head coach Sean McDermott’s Friday morning press conference, he said the team wanted to take a good look at both LBs during the team’s final practice of the week before deciding on their status for Sunday.
Whether Milano and Edmunds are out there this afternoon could go a long way toward determining the game’s outcome. With the Rams possessing a dangerous aerial attack, one that features a talented tight end in Tyler Higbee, who caught three touchdown passes last week, having the Bills’ top linebacker duo in the lineup becomes even more critical.
Milano is one of the top coverage linebackers in the league. And Edmunds is no slouch in coverage either as both provide Buffalo with much more resistance in the passing game than the LB group they ran out a week ago. In the Bills’ loss to the Dolphins in Week 2, Bills linebackers allowed Miami tight end Mike Gesicki to go off for eight catches 130 yards and a touchdown. If Buffalo must go to its reserves once again, which now doesn’t seem likely, we could see Higbee explode for another huge game.
Milano’s and Edmunds’ presence is also essential when it comes to defending against the run. No team in the NFL runs it more than the Rams have through two games. Through Weeks 1 and 2, the Rams have run the ball 56.8 percent of the time, amassing a total of 344 yards on 79 total carries.
This week, with Higbee and a talented Rams backfield coming to town, things could get ugly for the Bills’ defense if Milano and or Edmunds miss their second straight game.
Fortunately for the Bills, according to Jones’ report, it seems as if both are ready to get back on the field.
BILLS’ DEFENSE VS. RAMS’ RUN GAME
The secret to success for Sean McVay’s offense since he arrived as head coach of the Rams has been running the football. Back when LA made their Super Bowl run, they had the best version of RB Todd Gurley, who ran rampant to the tune of 1,251 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns that year. Last season, when the Rams offense struggled, Gurley and the LA running game as a whole was a shell of itself. The Rams dropped from eighth in the league in rushing attempts in ’18 to 18th in the league in ’19. Likewise, LA went from third in the league in rushing yards in ’18 to 26th in the league in ’19.
This season the Rams’ rushing attack has been revamped, as LA has returned to prominence as the second-highest rushing team in the league through two weeks, while attempting the third-most rushing attempts.
Although the Rams backfield is a bit banged up as rookie RB Cam Akers is out with a rib injury for today’s matchup, still expect LA to run the ball and run it a lot against what is also a beat-up Bills’ defense. With Akers out, expect most of the work to go to RBs Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson.
Brown had a big day in Week 1 with 18 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns and followed up with 47 yards on 11 carries in Week 2. Henderson only had three carries for six yards in Week 1. But when Akers went down on Sunday, Henderson stepped in and went for 81 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The Rams have a deep backfield that should have ample opportunity against the Bills, who have done a great job defending against the run this season. Through two weeks, Buffalo has allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the league (151).
THE SINGLETARY SHOW
Running back Devin Singletary has split carries with Zack Moss during each of the Bills’ first two games, but with Moss out this week with a toe injury, it could be ‘The Devin Singletary Show’ this afternoon in Orchard Park.
The Bills have expressed in the past their preference of a split backfield. Still, Buffalo has also shown willingness to feed the hot hand - a prime example being Singletary’s production during the second half of last season.
After recording just 29 total touches in the first four games of an injury-plagued rookie year, Singletary exploded for 23 touches in Week 8 against the Washington Football Team, amassing 140 total yards and adding a rushing touchdown. The rest of the way, Singletary would record 16 touches or more in seven of his team’s next eight games.
The addition of Moss has certainly dialed back Singletary’s workload. Still, with the rookie ball carrier missing from the lineup this week, I expect to see a vintage (if you can call it that) performance from Singletary. It’s a good matchup for him, too, as the Rams’ defense is middle of the road against the run and just allowed Eagles RBs an average of 4.6 yards per tote on their way to 121 total yards and two rushing touchdowns last week.
ALLEN, DIGGS VS. JALEN RAMSEY
One of the league’s best receivers will go up against one of the league’s top cover corners, as Bills WR Stefon Diggs gets set to battle it out with Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey this afternoon at Bills Stadium.
Diggs is in a tie for the league lead in receiving yards with 239 after a 13 catch, 153-yard day against the Dolphins in Week 2. Ramsey didn’t allow a reception when the Eagles threw his way in Week 2, but in Week 1 he struggled at times. Per Pro Football Focus Ramsey allowed eight catches for 81 yards to Cowboys pass catchers as QB Dak Prescott racked up a 104.2 passer rating when throwing in Ramsey’s direction.
A few years ago, Ramsey referred to Allen as ‘trash’, but leading up to the two teams’ Week 3 matchup, he has reversed course and told the media he now believes the Bills’ quarterback is ‘talented’.
The rubber will meet the road this afternoon, as it’s unlikely the Bills will stray away from Ramsey, especially if he blankets Allen’s new favorite target, Diggs. Instead, expect the Bills to continue to take what the defense has been giving them as they have through the first two weeks of the season.
In ’18, during Ramsey’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Allen’s Bills beat Ramsey’s Jags, but Allen wasn’t nearly as involved in the gameplan as he is at this point of his career. In that win over Jacksonville during his rookie season, Allen threw the ball just 19 times, completing eight passes to go with a touchdown pass. Expect Allen’s numbers of attempts to at least double this time around as the Bills’ offense is in the midst of a transformation into becoming one of the most pass-heavy attacks in the NFL.
I believe we will have plenty of opportunities to see Allen, and Diggs go at it with Ramsey come 1 p.m.
By now, you know all the stats surrounding Allen’s torrid start to the ’20 season. Through two games, the Bills’ third-year gunslinger has been picking opposing defenses apart and has shown little sign of slowing down - except for when he fumbles.
Today, going up against the Rams’ defense led by Ramsey and All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Allen must be at his best if he hopes to continue his ascension toward becoming a franchise quarterback.
Allen has been excellent in two games this season. There is no question about it.
But there remain little things here and there that could come back to haunt you when playing against a solid team like the Rams.
The fumbles were the obvious concern after Week 1. Still, there have also been a few airmailed passes from Allen and other near interceptions, with the Bills lucky enough to come away unscathed as they sit at 2-0 heading into Week 3.
Allen can’t make those little mistakes today. If he puts the ball up for grabs at all, the Rams’ talented secondary, which is known to be one of the best in the league, will make him pay.
A big reason for Allen’s solid start, other than his progression as a passer, has been the protection his offensive line has provided him, as he has been pressured on just 16.5 of his dropbacks. Today, however, going up against Donald and a strong Rams’ front, Allen will be forced out of his comfort zone and will be required to make plays off-script, and that’s when he sometimes finds himself in trouble.