Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at StubHub Center:
1. Defend that dirt surrounding Nathan Peterman.
I know Sean McDermott's "Defend our Dirt" slogan is a much broader reference that applies to games played at New Era Field, but the offensive line needs to provide exceptional protection for a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start.
Unlike his predecessor, Tyrod Taylor, Peterman is primarily a pocket passer. For him to succeed, he must have the tightest protection possible, which won't be easy against the Chargers. Edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have combined for 18 of the team's 29 sacks.
It's particularly important for the Bills' tackles -- Cordy Glenn (who is still dealing with foot and ankle issues) or rookie Dion Dawkins on the left and Jordan Mills on the right -- to maintain their blocks longer than usual because Peterman will likely look to step up and throw much more often than roll out and make plays on the run.
The Chargers also can be expected to utilize stunts and games designed to generate pressure from various spots on the line. Look for a decent amount to be aimed at the middle, challenging center Eric Wood and guards Richie Incognito and Vlad Ducasse to try to keep the front of the pocket from collapsing.
2. Kelvin Benjamin becomes a prominent part of the game plan.
In last Sunday's 47-10 loss against the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin had some early targets from Taylor … and then effectively vanished until Peterman entered the game.
That's hardly what McDermott or General Manager Brandon Beane had in mind when they gave third- and seventh-round draft picks to the Carolina Panthers to get him.
Benjamin was supposed to become an instant contributor, and Taylor's inability to take full advantage of his playmaking skills no doubt contributed to the quarterback's benching. Expect Benjamin to receive many more targets against the Chargers, because Peterman should be more willing to take the risk of putting the ball within the receiver's massive catch radius -- even when a defender is close.
The return of No. 2 receiver Zay Jones from an ankle injury should also help encourage the Chargers' pass coverage to be somewhat balanced.
3. LeSean McCoy has an overdue breakout game vs. the NFL's worst run defense.
The Chargers do a tremendous job of rushing the passer, but they're awful when it comes to trying to stop the run. They allow 4.7 yards per carry, and that should present a perfect opportunity for McCoy, who is averaging 3.8 yards per rush but has been a non-factor the past two games, to put up a big number on them.
McCoy seemed ready to exploit the New Orleans Saints' mediocre run defense last Sunday, but he never really had the chance as the Bills fell into too deep of a hole to stick with their ground game.
Besides McCoy being his usual explosive and elusive self, the Bills need their offensive line (especially the interior) to win physical battles that should be consistently won up front. They also are expecting the switch to Peterman to help with discouraging defenders from crowding the box as much as they were because of their lack of concern over Taylor beating them as a passer.
4. The run defense avoids being humiliated for a third game in a row.
It can't possibly happen again, can it? Another opponent just stomping all over the Bills' front seven and piling up hundreds of yards on the ground?
If that's the case, the Bills won't have a prayer of maintaining their inside track for a wild-card playoff spot.
Never mind the risk that going with a rookie quarterback poses to the team's chances of snapping that 17-year postseason drought. Nothing Peterman nor the rest of the offense does is going to make much difference if the Chargers and the remaining teams on the schedule run with anything approaching the same sort of ease the Saints and New York Jets had in the past two games.
It's time for the defensive linemen and linebackers to return to demonstrating, as they did earlier in the season, they can physically hold up when an offense decides to simply impose its will on them. One of the lowest points in the history of the Bills' defense was allowing the Saints to shred it for 298 yards and have a second-half sequence of 24 consecutive run plays, 10 of which came on a touchdown drive.
The Chargers' rushing attack, led by Melvin Gordon, ranks 26th in the league. Permitting it to dominate would only add to the unforgivable failure on the side of the ball McDermott was expected to make significantly better.
5. Avoid being scorched by Philip Rivers.
Rivers is a highly talented passer who is going to make plays, as evidenced by the fact he has thrown for 2,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, he's working his way back from concussion protocol and the Bills' pass rush can't allow him to feel any comfort as he drops back to throw.
That could be made difficult by the fact end Jerry Hughes has been limited during practice with shin and calf injuries. Fellow ends Shaq Lawson, Ryan Davis and Eddie Yarbrough must pick up the slack and generate heat as part of the Bills' defensive-line rotation.
The return of cornerback E.J. Gaines from a hamstring injury should help the secondary's overall efforts to apply tight coverage enough to help cause Rivers to hold onto the ball longer than he prefers.