Last week we saw the Buffalo Bills dismantle the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-15, while the Denver Broncos took care of the Carolina Panthers 32-27. This week the Bills and Broncos face off at Mile High in Denver. The playoff significance of this AFC matchup is very different for these two teams. The Bills are fighting for top spot in the AFC East, while the Broncos are all but eliminated from a post season showing in 2020. You can find a more detailed breakdown of the AFC East in my week 14 Bills/Steelers preview article. Before diving into this week’s expectations, let’s review what each team did on offence and defence last week.
Josh Allen played arguably his most technically complete game of the year, perhaps of his entire career, last week versus the Steelers. The raw numbers are not spectacular for Allen, but to watch the game told a completely different story. Firstly, here are the numbers and then I will breakdown what the line doesn’t tell you.
- Comp/Att: 24/43
- TD/Int: 2/1
- Passing Yards: 238
- Rush Yards: 28
The first two stats are truly a tale of two halves.
The Bills came out trying to establish the run but, as usual, it was nothing special. The pass attack at first was nothing special either. A big reason for this was that Cam Hayward and the Steelers’ pass rush were all over Allen. While the line did a decent job of protecting him from sacks, the Bills’ receivers didn’t do him any favours. Josh tried to link up with Gabe Davis, but he could not consistently bring in the ball.
Allen’s only interception of the day came in the first half as well. The play design was a deep shot to Cole Beasley down the left side line. Hayward broke through the O-line and hit Josh’s arm just as he released the ball, resulting in an incomplete follow-through on the toss and it came up several yards short. Mike Hilton made the catch, and Pittsburgh took over on downs. Throughout the half, the Steelers’ defenders brought pressure on almost every down. Josh finished the first half with 72 yards on 10 completions, an interception, and 17 rushing yards.
This was where Allen really shone. Fuelled by the pick six from Taron Johnson at the end of the first half, Josh came out dealing. He was calm in the pocket under pressure, and scrambled when needed. Allen took what the defence gave him and continually hit his receivers in stride. The game has clearly slowed down for Josh Allen, as he is able to read the defence, find his receiver and throw strikes whether in the pocket or on the run.
If ever there was a doubt as to whether or not Diggs could step up and take over a game when needed most, this was it. He started slow but by the middle of the second half he was toying the Steelers’ secondary. His outing on the day was as follows:
- Rec/Tgt: 10/14
- Rec yards: 130
- Rec TD: 1
- Rush att/yards: 1/1.0
Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs have connected all season long, but this was truly special. By the middle of the 3rd quarter Diggs had over 120 receiving yards, and a TD on 10 receptions. Again, the stats do not represent what Diggs did on film. The Steelers’ defence had no answer for Diggs on Sunday night. He consistently found space in the middle of the defensive coverage and chewed up yardage.
The Bills have consistently made an effort to incorporate this 6’2, 210 lbs rookie WR into the pass attack. He is big, with decent speed, and ok hands. He is especially effective in the end zone with one on one jump balls, where he can use his height and strength as an advantage over the defensive player trying to cover him. Davis caught a 13 yard TD in the left corner of the end zone on a pass from Josh Allen with perfect touch over the head of Steelers CB, Steven Nelson. Davis finished the night with a line of:
- Rec/Tgt: 3/8
- Rec yards: 19
- Rec TD: 1
It is perfectly clear that Davis is the third option in this offence, behind Diggs and Beasley. That being said, if he had better foot control along the sideline, like Diggs and Beasley, he would have had a better night. He came down out of bounds on a 36 yard toss that either of the aforementioned receivers would have most certainly caught in bounds.
There are not a lot of negative things to say about the Bills defence from last Sunday night. That is certainly a big change from the previous 12 games this year. Coming into the game the Steelers must have felt fairly confident that they would be able to effectively move the ball on the ground at will as the Bills run defence was near the bottom of the league. The pass defence was nothing special either, but the Bills managed to keep the opposition to a manageable score. Entering week 14, the biggest concern was most certainly the defence. That changed Sunday night:
- Passing yards allowed: 187
- Rushing yards allowed: 47
- Interceptions: 2
- Touch Downs given up: 2
- Defensive Touch Downs: 1
Some of the low numbers seen above were due to the Steelers inability to catch the ball. Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron dropped several easy completion passes that would have extended the Pittsburgh drive and possibly led to a more competitive game. Johnson was subsequently benched before half time and did not see the field again until late in the third quarter. Buffalo took advantage of their miscues over and again, including an interception return for a touchdown.
The Steelers were driving down the field and looking to extend their four point lead going into half time. Finally Pittsburgh were putting together a decent drive. With 1:02 left in the half, Big Ben and the Black and Gold pass attack were facing 2nd and 10 from their own 42. Before the snap the Bills jumped offside and made it 2nd and 5. The Steelers were lined up in a trips left formation with Roethlisberger in the gun. On the snap, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron, and Chase Claypool took off. Ebron and Claypool ran up field taking Wallace and Hyde with them, while JuJu ran a three yard out to the left sideline. Taron Johnson cut in front of JuJu and took it 47 yards to the house for the pick six. Tyler Bass would miss the subsequent extra point making it 9-7 Bills at halftime.
The Broncos faced off against the Carolina Panthers in week 14. The start of the game was slow but Denver picked up the pace in the second half. The first score of the game came off of an 83 yard punt return from Diontae Spencer early in the first quarter. Brandon McManus then missed the extra point. With just over a minute left in the half Drew Lock would connect with Nick Vannett for a two yard TD. The Broncos went into the locker room at halftime up 13-7.
Coming into the game Drew Lock had been heavily criticized for always trying to hit the home run ball instead of taking what the defence gave him. In week 14, Lock listened to his coaches and John Elway. He played the dink and dunk game when that was what the defence gave him. Those short passes drew the Panthers defence in and opened up the longer passes deep down field. The Denver playmakers like Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler did not disappoint. The two receivers combined for three TD’s. On the day Locks’ stat line was:
- Comp/Att: 21/27
- TD/Int: 4/2
- Passing Yards: 280
- Rush Yards: 4
Melvin Gordon had a decent outing on the ground, posting a 13/68 line, and caught three passes for 23 yards. The game itself was rather unimpressive on both sides of the ball for both teams. The take away from this performance from Lock was that he is capable of calming the inner gun slinger in him and play like a professional QB is expected to. The Broncos won the game 32-27.
Entering week 14 the Broncos were severely short-handed on defence. Broncos Cornerback, AJ Bouye was suspended prior to week 14 for P.E.D use. Two other cornerbacks (Bassey, and Callahan) were already on IR, leaving them in dire straights in the secondary. To make matters worse the Broncos also lost Dawson and Toliver in this game. With so many CB’s injured, it seemed like there might be too many injuries at the back end of the defence to contain the Panthers. However, despite the carnage, the defence held Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers offence in check. They finished the week with a respectable line of:
- Passing yards allowed: 283
- Rushing yards allowed: 125
- Interceptions: 0
- Touch Downs given up: 3
The caveat to this line is that the Panthers were also severely short-handed, but on offence. They were missing their Pro-Bowl running back Christian McCaffery, and stud wide receiver D.J. Moore. The defence contained Robby Anderson and Mike Davis as much as they could, but I am not sure the end result would have been the same if CMC and Moore were in the game.
What to Expect This Week
The Bills and Broncos game is a rare Saturday afternoon game. Kickoff will be at 4:30 EST. Coming into the week the Bills rank 5 in receiving TDs/18 in red zone scoring/25 in rushing TDs. The Broncos are 26th in both redzone scoring and receiving TD’s and 27th in rushing TD’s. Neither team has been particularly good converting rushing attempts into touchdowns on a consistent basis but the Bills are clearly up there with the best in the business through the air. The Bills and Broncos will each find ways to stretch the field. Both QB’s are good scramblers and have proven that they can extend plays long enough for the downfield plays to open up.
Do not expect Buffalo to mess around on the ground very much with such a depleted Broncos secondary. As for the Broncos I think they will try to take advantage of Melvin Gordon on the ground and hope that last week was just an anomaly for the Bills rush defence. Should the run game fail, the Broncos will be in some serious trouble, as Buffalo’s pass rush is starting to look more and more like the dominators we saw last season.
Broncos Key to Victory
Firstly, Drew Lock will have to remain calm in the pocket, and hope his wide receivers can beat Tre’ White and Mr Edmunds one on one. If he is flushed out and scrambles we have seen that he can be accurate on the run, but if they fall behind, can he keep the gun slinger contained under pressure? The only way the Broncos have a shot at winning this shootout is if he can do that.
The other question is, can the Broncos run game get going against Matt Milano and the Bills line backers? with both their starting tackles likely out this week, I am not so sure they can. However, in order to win, the Broncos will need a big game on the ground this week. They must keep Josh Allen’s elite passing attack off the field as much as possible.
Bills Key to Victory
This one is fairly simple. Buffalo wants to stretch the field as much as possible and test the weakened Broncos secondary. The Steelers pass rushers are much more talented and effective than Denvers starting front four. Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley need to be involved early and often. If the Bills can get out to an early lead in this one, it should pressure Drew Lock into trying to keep pace, and ultimately making vital mistakes down field.
- Josh Allen – 325 yards passing, 3 TD’s, 36 yards rushing, 1 rushing TD;
- Stefon Diggs – 8 receptions, 150 yards, 2 TD’s;
- Cole Beasley – 9 receptions, 85 yards, 1 TD;
- Gabe Davis – 3 receptions, 35 yards;
- Zack Moss – 13 carries, 65 yards, 1 rushing TD, 2 receptions for 13 yards.
- Drew Lock – 260 yards passing, 2 TD’s, 30 yards rushing, 2 interceptions;
- KJ Hamler – 3 receptions, 25 yards;
- Tim Patrick – 4 receptions, 60 yards, 1 TD
- Jerry Jeudy – 6 receptions, 86 yards
- Melvin Gordon – 12 carries, 60 yards, 1 rushing TD, 3 receptions for 16 yards.
The Bills and Broncos game will not be overly competitive, even though the score will be close. Buffalos’ offensive fire power will be too much to handle for the Broncos injury riddled defence. The Bills should win this game easily with a final score of 35-24.