Three ...and Out by Sal Maiorana Rochester Democat & Chronicle
1. Can Thad Lewis give the Bills competent play at quarterback? This
is obviously the biggest question heading into the game because Lewis is such an
unknown with only one NFL game on his résumé. Undrafted out of Duke, he has
bounced around to four teams now, and there are myriad reasons why he hasn't
been able to find a regular gig. Lewis said the issue in his mind hasn't been
that he can't play at the NFL level, but rather a simple case of lack of
opportunity everywhere he's been. Well, he has a chance right in front of him to
prove some people wrong. He's not going to light it up against a solid
Cincinnati defense, but he's a cerebral player who can move around in the
pocket, extend plays, perhaps operate some read option, and he's well-suited to
complete the intermediate balls this Buffalo offense requires.
2. Will the Bills get a much-needed boost in the secondary? Jairus
Byrd will be back, and Stephon Gilmore is expected to play, though that still
might come down to a game-time decision. If both can play, and play like they
have in the past, the Bills' defense will be markedly improved. Cincinnati's
offense has been tough to figure, mainly because QB Andy Dalton is so
inconsistent and prone to mistakes. If the Bills can keep star WR A.J. Green in
check (and Gilmore would surely have something to do with that if he can play),
the Bengals will rely on TEs Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham for their chunk
plays in the pass game. That's where Byrd can have an impact in the middle of
the field: limiting their effectiveness. The defense has to have a big day
because Buffalo's offense will probably struggle to score.
3. How well will the Bills run the ball against the Bengals' stout front
seven? The pressure will be on the offensive line as it tries to open holes
for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. C Eric Wood and the LG rotation of Colin
Brown and Doug Legursky have a massive task in trying to move DT Geno Atkins and
NT Domata Peko out of the way, and even if they do, Cincinnati's LBs are
excellent, led by James Harrison, Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga. Running the
ball may be very difficult, and if the Bills can't run, that will dump more
responsibility on Lewis, and that's probably not a recipe for success.
... and Out
If this game were being played in Cincinnati, the prospects would not be good
for the Bills. Buffalo still can't be trusted away from home no matter who the
quarterback is, but at the Ralph, the Bills are almost always competitive, so
there's no reason to believe they won't be right in this one against the
inconsistent Bengals. Yes, Lewis is up against it as he makes his second career
start, but the thing is, EJ Manuel certainly wasn't setting the world on fire
before he got hurt - up one series, down the next. He was playing like a rookie,
and the drop-off to Lewis will not be as precipitous as some people fear. If
Lewis can avoid the killer mistake, and he gets help from the run game and the
defense, Buffalo will give Cincinnati all it can handle.
My pick: Bengals 20, Bills 14.
Combined Super Bowls won by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Pittsburgh's Ben
Roethisberger and New England's Tom Brady, the three QBs the Bengals have beaten
Quarterbacks who will have started a game at QB for the Bills since the 1996
retirement of Jim Kelly when Thad Lewis takes the field.
Sacks by Mario Williams, who reached that figure faster (5 games) than any
Bill in team history.
Talking points ...
Bengals QB Andy Dalton on the Bills' defense: "We've got to come out
and we've got to be sharp in our plan, be sharp in what we're doing, and we
can't turn the ball over. It's going to be a tough game for us on the road, but
we're going to come out and we're going to be ready to go."
Bengals CB Leon Hall on team's struggles against less talented QBs: "I
don't know what it is. I kind of look at it as, I can't tell you why, but
sometimes we don't play as well as we should in those situations. It's a letdown
on our part when you realize we didn't play as well as we should with the
outcome of that game. When you look at the film, it's hard to be proud of those
Bills Rankings ...
Points scored: 22.4 (19th)
Run offense: 152.6 (3rd)
Pass offense: 196.0 (28th)
Total offense: 348.6 (14th)
1st downs: 19.2 (T17th)
3rd down percent: 30.4 (28th)
Points allowed: 26.0 (20th)
Run defense: 116.0 (22nd)
Pass defense: 261.4 (18th)
Total defense: 377.4 (21st)
1st downs allowed: 21.0 (22nd)
3rd down percent: 39.8 (21st)