The Josh Allen era continues for Buffalo this Sunday on FOX as the Bills travel to Minnesota in a 12:00 matchup with the Vikings. All eyes will be on the rookie quarterback as he makes his second career start. While he fared better in his debut than many expected, he’ll be facing a much tougher challenge in the Vikings defense.
Buffalo comes into Minnesota as 16.5-point underdogs, which isn’t surprising considering the abysmal performance from the team on both side of the ball to start the season. Through 2 games the offense finds itself 31st in the league in both points and yards per game. And a defense that was supposed to be the bright spot of the team has been largely disappointing, giving up 39 points and over 350 yards of offense a game. All this has the Bills Mafia in full blown panic mode as they come to terms with just how ugly this rebuild is going to get.
There looks to be no respite from their anguish for Bills Mafia in Week 3. Allen will be facing a championship caliber defense that fell just one game short of reaching the Super Bowl last year. It’s a defense known for its aggressive pass rush and domination on the ground. Led by defensive end Everson Griffin, the Minnesota front four is an exceptional group and will be a huge test for the young quarterback. Luckily for the Bills it was announced Friday that Griffin would be ruled out of Sundays game while he nurses a knee injury.
Even without Griffin, the Minnesota front four should dominate a Bills offensive line in shambles. Buffalo is still looking to replace veteran-center Eric Wood, who was forced to retire in 2017 due to a neck injury, and left-tackle Cordy Glenn, who was traded to Cincinnati this offseason. These losses have been significant and have had a huge impact on the performance of the team. Because of this lack of talent on the offensive line, Buffalo hasn’t been able to protect whichever quarterback happens to be under center or open any holes in the run game. Through 2 games Bills running back LeSean McCoy has tallied only 61 yards, just 3 yards more than his quarterback Allen. And as a whole the team is averaging only 83 yards rushing a game.
This lack of a run game is especially concerning because it makes things even harder for the inexperienced Allen. It’s a tremendous help to have an effective rushing game that picks up decent chunks of yards on early downs to set up 3rd and short opportunities. This is what Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will ask of Allen- to convert those third and shorts. Crucial to this is the establishment of a running game. To make matters worse LeSean McCoy’s status in the game is questionable after sustaining cracked rib cartilage against the Chargers.
Should Allen be forced to throw the ball, he will be facing one of the league’s most talented defensive backfield units. Led by underrated free-safety Harrison Smith and lockdown corner Xavier Roads, the Minnesota secondary is not something Bills fans would like to see Allen facing so early in his career. The Vikings secondary won’t have much of a challenge on their hands. Besides facing a rookie quarterback, Buffalo’s receiving group is mediocre at best. Kelvin Benjamin, who Buffalo acquired in a trade last year, is the only Bills receiver whose caught over 50 passes in a season. He was brought in to open things up in the passing game, but he has been pretty much a nonfactor so far with the Bills.
The question remains whether the Bills defense is as bad as it has been playing to start the year. The answer will determine the rest of Buffalos season. Defense was the side of the ball that carried Buffalo to its first playoff birth in almost 2 decades in 2017. And it was supposed to be what kept the team competitive as it groomed a young quarterback this season, but so far that side of the ball has been tremendously disappointing.
Buffalo brought in Leslie Frazier over the offseason to serve as defensive coordinator and he has been calling the plays on defense. Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott said he took over play calling in the second half of Sundays game against the Chargers after the Bills gave up 28 points in the first half. With McDermott calling the plays Buffalo allowed only 3 points, but it remains up for debate whether this was due to his plays or a change in game plan from the Chargers. Whatever the case, McDermott said he and Frazier would be working together to make the defensive calls in Minnesota.
McDermott will need to regain some of that magic on defense that the Bills had last season if they are to keep this game from getting ugly. Minnesota brought in quarterback Kirk Cousins from Washington this offseason and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s accounted for over 600 through the air and 6 touchdowns in only 2 games with the Vikings.
The Buffalo secondary will have its hands full keeping Cousins from getting to open receivers. Minnesota presents tremendous matchup problems for an undermanned Bills secondary in receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Both are gamebreakers in the passing games whose unique skills sets complement each other very well.
If the Bills want to keep this one close the key will be their rushing defense. Buffalo has struggled to defend the run for a couple seasons now. It was awful last year, giving up over 120 yards on the ground a game. So far, it doesn’t look any better. Fortunately, they will be facing a Viking rushing attack that is still struggling to find its identity. Second-year running back Delvin Cook hasn’t found his way back to his 2017 form, which saw him emerging as a premier back until injuring his ACL in week 4. Cook has yet to gain over 50 yards on the ground and his has been ruled out of Sundays game after sustaining a hamstring injury against the Packers. Latavius Murray will look to pick up the slack with Cook out. Murray is much more of a traditional between the tackles runner and less of a speedster.
Buffalo should right the ship on defense and keep things close early, but ultimately Minnesota has too many weapons on offense. Look for the Vikings to pull ahead by multiple scores in the second half as Allen and the Buffalo offense struggle to move the ball. The Vikings win this one 30-16.
Win or loose, this game will ultimately be about the continued development of Allen. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to put him and the rest of the players in a position to succeed.