- Caleb Holfoth
Buffalo Bills (8-3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (5-6) Preview
At this point last year the Buffalo Bills were 8-3. At first glance, you would look at their record in 2020 and balk at the idea that this team is much improved over 2019. However, the 2020 Buffalo Bills are light years ahead of where they were last season. Josh Allen has taken as large of a leap from year two to year three as we have seen from any quarterback over the past decade. After a shaky start, the Defense is beginning to show why it was ranked 2nd in overall defense last season. The addition of Stefon Diggs has elevated the Bills offense to one of the most lethal in the NFL. Perhaps the biggest improvement over last year is the jump the Bills have taken on special teams which have effectively kept them either winning or in games when the defense or offense have their typical Buffalo Blunders. The Bills take on the San Francisco 49ers in one of their 4 remaining primetime games this season.
The Bills have the offensive edge over the 49ers this week. Although the 49ers are starting to get their offensive weapons back the quarterback position has been what has held the 49ers back all year. Nick Mullens is making his 6th start of the year for the 49ers in place of Jimmy Garoppolo. If you watch 49ers games the drop-off from Garoppolo to Mullens does not often look like much however when you dig deeper you learn that since 2017 the 49ers are 22-8 with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at quarterback compared to 6-23 when any other quarterback starts. Last week the Bills attempted to run the ball more than usual and it paid off getting the 27-17 over the Los Angeles Chargers. While the running game was significantly better than most weeks it drew the Bills away from what they have become best at this year which is their passing attack with Josh Allen. This week Brian Daboll needs to not worry so much about the run/pass balance and more about doing what gets the Bills yards and first downs. In a game where Josh Allen is clearly the superior quarterback, Daboll and McDermott need to take advantage of that and go after the 49ers Defense. The conservative play calling of last week is what kept the Chargers in the game late. If not for a field goal by Tyler Bass the Chargers very well could have tied or even won the game in the 4th. Daboll needs to be as aggressive as he was the first four weeks of the season for the Bills offense to have a strong day against the Niners. Although the 49ers have a strong defense and linebacking core in particular there is no reason Daboll should shy away from what has made the Buffalo Bills so successful this season.
The Bills defense has had a resurgence the past couple of games and looked fantastic against the Los Angeles Chargers. Turning a corner from the earlier performances many players have stepped up their individual play leading to a stronger team effort. Tremaine Edmunds, Tre'Davious White, Jordan Poyer, and Ed Oliver are all starting to look like the franchise defensive players that led last year's 2nd ranked Defense. The potential return of Matt Milano this week could be huge for the Bills as well. One of the best cover linebackers in the NFL the Bills defense is significantly better when Milano plays. In Milano's absence, there were about 6 weeks of very rough A.J Klein play at linebacker. However, since Kleins 2 sack FF performance vs. Seattle Klein has played at an All-Pro level even earning AFC defensive player of the week honors in week 12. Even if Milano cannot play vs. the 49ers the recent play of A.J. Klein should have Bills fans confident in the defense going into this matchup. If there is one area to worry matchup wise it is that Buffalo has not been able to stop the run effectively. Although the 49ers only have the 17th best rushing attack this season their ability to run is one of the best in the NFL. Due to injuries and COVID-19, the 49ers have had to use 6 different running backs this season and have had to shuffle their offensive line multiple times. For most of the season, the Niners also have been without one or both of their most athletic receivers in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Ayuik who they use for screens and rushing. With Mullens at quarterback Sean McDermott with certainly be prepared for a run-heavy day from the Niners.
SPECIAL TEAMS The most undervalued job in football is special teams. At least it is to most of the NFL. Not Sean McDermott and the Bills, however. After getting off to a rough start Tyler Bass has been electric kicking for the Bills. 15-18 and 0 missed extra points the past 5 weeks which included a plethora of 50+ yard field goals has shown how valuable Tyler Bass can be. His length strength was showed off vs. the Chargers when the Bills had a false start on a kickoff. With the ball backed up 5 yards Bass kicked the ball 80 yards through the opposing uprights. On kickoffs, the Bills have done a great job of limiting returns. Punter Corey Bojorquez is having a career year averaging 49.9 yards per punt and has effectively flipped the field multiple times for the Bills. In the return game, the Bills have been one of the best in the NFL. With an average start position of their own 31-yard line, the Bills have gotten fantastic returns from Andre Roberts which has been able to give the Offense a jump start almost every drive. Last year the Bills Special Teams unit was by no means bad. However, this year there are many games especially of late where Heath Farwell's group has been a weapon for the Buffalo Bills.
Bills 27 49ers 20