What looked primed to be one of the most entertaining games on the Seahawks’ schedule entering 2020 should live up to the billing, as Seattle takes their 6-1 record—and nine-game winning streak in early kickoffs—to Buffalo to take on the 6-2 Bills. Though Buffalo and especially Josh Allen have cooled off in recent weeks, they are a well-coached, talented team and continue to sneak out victories as good teams do. While they host the Seahawks in Week 9, they’ll be hard-pressed to sneak out a win against one of the NFL’s most dangerous attacks.
What the Bills do well
Though they sit 25th in rushing offense by DVOA, I wanted to use this space to touch on Buffalo’s running game, for a couple of reasons. One, they haven’t done much else well over the past month. And two, they finally involved their best tailback more heavily a week ago.
Week 8 saw rookie Zack Moss top double-digit carries for the first time this season, pacing a Bills running game that appeared to be entirely revitalized. Moss’s physicality and ability to create north-south, paired with Devin Singletary’s elusiveness, is a superb combination.
Though Seattle’s stout running defense has passed nearly every test thus far, Buffalo presents an interesting challenge. With Moss, gap integrity and the ability of Jarran Reed and Poona Ford to hold up at the point of attack will be of crucial importance. Moss has shown a penchant for bailing on the designed hole if it isn’t immediately there—to take that away will negate his ability to churn out yardage at the end of runs. Singletary, meanwhile, will require a similar approach to defending the Vikings and 49ers; maintain balance, move laterally, and allow the linebackers to flow cleanly to him on the perimeter.
Further complicating the Bills’ running game is the presence of Allen. The scattershot quarterback has quickly proven to be an elite short-yardage ballcarrier, such is his combination of size and athleticism. Whether it’s on a 4th and short or goal-to-go, Allen is a huge threat to keep and glide through the line of scrimmage.
Buffalo’s running game has been uninspiring over the first half of the season, but Moss’s emergence and improved health along the offensive line could see a second-half surge.
Where the Bills can be exploited
Buffalo’s running game could soon come alive, but the Bills’ run defense has shown no signs of life. One of six teams to have already allowed over 1,000 yards on the ground this season, Buffalo has seemingly gotten worse as the season has progressed, with 672 yards allowed over the last month.
While the defensive line, including Ed Oliver, Quinton Jefferson, and Mario Addison, have been blown off the ball consistently, it’s the play of the Bills’ linebackers that’s especially concerning. Entering 2020, the pair of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano was seen as one of the league’s best. It’s been an entirely different story to start the season, however. Edmunds appears to be a shell of his self, slow to diagnose, weak in the tackle, and impossibly poor at getting off blocks. Milano, meanwhile, has been unable to stay on the field (and he will be out on Sunday), leading to snaps for A.J. Klein, who is entirely overmatched as a starter.
As a result of the poor play at the first- and second-level, not only have teams breezed through the line of scrimmage consistently, but have found little resistance from the ‘backers after doing so. Even if Seattle has to again lean on DeeJay Dallas in the running game, they could be in for a big day on the ground.
Who to know on the Bills
DK Metcalf will again experience the joy of being a number-one wideout on Sunday, as he looks primed to find himself across from lockdown corner Tre’Davious White on Sunday. White is one of, if not the, NFL’s best cornerback and should shadow the Seahawks’ star wide receiver. Even as we’ve seen Metcalf ascend to stardom, he has been stymied by sticky corners—the best example being Patrick Peterson, who has effectively shut Metcalf down through three meetings.
While White’s numbers are down in 2020, it’s partly a result of quarterbacks downright avoiding him. White’s been targeted an average of just under three times per game this season, a drop from 5.2 per game a year ago. Matched up against Metcalf, coming off a career-best day against the 49ers, White will attempt to keep those per-game targets low.
When the Bills run play-action, the safeties will be crucial
Allen’s greatest success as a passer, particularly this season, has come off play-action either downfield or across. When it works, it enables Allen to simply see it and throw, mitigating the amount of anticipation needed, which he lacks as a passer. Over the past two seasons, throwing off play-action has improved Allen’s yards per attempt by a full yard. According to the quarterback himself, throwing off play-action improves his otherwise shaky mechanics too.
With Allen really struggling lately, they will no doubt go back to heavy play fakes in order to try and get him back on track. Against Seattle, they’ll have good reason to. So far in 2020, the Seahawks are allowing 79.2 yards per game against play-action, which is 29th in the NFL. How Seattle defends receivers off the line will no doubt lead to Quinton Dunbar and Tre Flowers (with Shaquill Griffin likely out) getting into trailing positions against Stefon Diggs and Buffalo’s wide receivers. On crossing routes off play-action, that could lead to huge gains for the Bills’ offense. Jamal Adams, acting as a robber underneath, and Quandre Diggs, defending over the top, will be crucial to preventing explosive plays on Sunday.
While it’ll be the Seahawks’ cornerbacks seemingly getting exposed in these situations, it’ll be on the two safeties to prevent as much as possible.
Why the Seahawks will win
Regardless of one’s opinion of Seattle’s defense, at this point in the season, it has become abundantly clear: If you’re unable to keep up with the Seahawks’ offense, you will not beat them. That’s going to be the case on Sunday on what looks set to be a beautiful day in Orchard Park. And that’s good news for a Seattle defense with the right recipe to slow down Allen.
For all the (deserved) criticism Ken Norton Jr. has received this year, the way he has schemed up pressure, especially in recent weeks, deserves credit. Against the 49ers Norton called a variety of zone blitz looks, confusing first Jimmy Garoppolo and then Nick Mullens by shielding where the pressure was coming from, leading to several free rushes.
A repeat of that in Buffalo will have two marvelous impacts: it will allow the Seahawks to again create pressure at a higher rate than they otherwise have been, and it will confuse Allen. Even now, three years into his career, Allen’s struggles against zone compared to man are undeniable. His inability to effectively read and diagnose pre- and post-snap will be compounded by the pressure looks Seattle comes with, further confusing upstate New York’s Uncle Rico.
Even if it only leads to a handful of stalled drives, the Seahawks’ defense can do enough to allow Russell Wilson and a lethal offense to pull away, all the way to 7-1.