When the Bills run
RB Willis McGahee was shut down last week in New England. Look for him to rebound against Rams' run defense, which ranks 29th in NFL. Rams have speed on defense, particularly OLBs Tino Tinoisamoa and Tommy Polley. But Bills might be able to run sweeps with double-tight end formations. Off-tackle runs should be effective, especially on the right side where T Mike Williams has more than 100-pound advantage on Rams left end Leonard Little.
Rams gave up over 200 yards rushing last Sunday and allow NFL-worst 4.9 yards per carry. Physical teams often overwhelm front seven. Linebackers can be neutralized if defensive line doesn't hold gaps and occupy blockers. Rams SS Adam Archuleta plays like extra linebacker, and he'll be needed in run support. Rams haven't shown ability to stop anyone consistently, so another 100-yard day for McGahee is likely.
When the Rams run
RB Marshall Faulk isn't as dominant as he was a few years ago, but he's still a dangerous all-purpose weapon. Rookie Steven Jackson (5.2 yards per carry) has physical running style that is nice change of pace, and he helps keep Faulk fresh in latter part of games. Rams figure to run out of spread formations, which Patriots had great success with against Bills last Sunday.
Bills' run defense was uncharacteristically porous versus Patriots (208 yards). Rams will test Bills on the edges, which were particularly soft last Sunday. SS Lawyer Milloy likes to attack line of scrimmage, but he can't be too aggressive because of Rams' passing game. If DTs Sam Adams and Pat Williams whip Rams' interior blockers, Bills' front seven should be able to limit Rams' rushing attack.
When the Bills pass
QB Drew Bledsoe is coming off arguably the worst performance of his career. He can still make plays but needs support of a good running game. WR Eric Moulds accounts for more than 38 percent of Bills' completions. Bledsoe tends to lock in on Moulds, which is a tendency he must break. Bledsoe needs to get tight ends and running backs more involved in passing game.
Rams are nearly as bad defending pass as the run. Opposing offenses have 61.3 percent completion rate and 24 completions over 20 yards. Rams' three interceptions, all by CB Jerametrius Butler, are league low. Pressuring Bledsoe is Rams' best hope. Little (five sacks) has speed to give Mike Williams problems. Right DE Bryce Fisher (3.5 sacks), a former Bill, and DT Damione Lewis (three sacks) benefit from opponents' preoccupation with Little.
When the Rams pass
Coach Mike Martz has schemes to exploit any defense. Rams generate big plays through air as evidenced by their 32 completions of 20-plus yards. QB Marc Bulger is accurate passer with quick release. There may not be a better WR tandem in NFL than Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, who are lethal on deep-in route and post patterns. WRs Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis have great speed out of slot. Faulk is a matchup nightmare out of backfield.
Rams will attack rookie FS Rashad Baker, making first start, and second-year CB Terrence McGee. Bills' secondary must disrupt receivers' routes to upset rhythm of Rams' passing game, which relies on timing. Bulger has been sacked 25 times because of sporadic protection. Besides All-Pro LT Orlando Pace, Rams' O-line is average. Bills have to get heavy pressure on Bulger, who will light up scoreboard if given time to throw.
Bills have huge edge in return game. McGee (26.3 yards per return) has been a major weapon on kickoff returns, and Bills found a new threat on punt returns last week in Jonathan Smith. Rams rank 31st in kickoff coverage and 27th covering punts. Rams have NFL's worst average drive start after kickoff returns (23-yard line), which doesn't figure to get better against Bills' top-ranked kickoff coverage. Despite McDonald's breakaway speed, he averages a meager 4.2 yards on punt returns (last in NFL).
Both kicking games are solid. Bills P Brian Moorman is seventh in AFC with 43.5-yard average and has dropped 11 punts inside opposing 20-yard line. Rams 20-year veteran P Sean Landeta, 42, is second in NFC with 43.7-yard average. K Rian Lindell has made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts for Bills, while Jeff Wilkins is 11 of 14, including two from beyond 50 yards, for Rams.
Bills are happy to be home after being dominated at New England last Sunday night. Rams present stiff challenge, but Bills are different team in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Weather might not be as big a factor as it was in Bills' last three home games. That's good news to Rams, whose high-octane offense is built for dry, fast track. Like Bills, Rams aren't very good road team. They have lost 13 of last 20 games away from Edward Jones Dome.
Bills held Patriots to just two TDs in six trips in red zone last week and have allowed just nine TDs overall in 25 possessions inside 20-yard line (36 percent, second in NFL). Bills need a repeat performance against Rams, who have 16 TDs in 26 red-zone possessions. Bills' offense has labored in red zone (10 TDs in 26 possessions) but faces Rams team that yields TDs 56.7 percent of the time (17 of 30). Bills and Rams are near bottom of league in takeaways, but don't be surprised if game is decided by a crucial turnover.
Bills' offense wakes up from seasonlong slumber and outscores Rams, 27-21.