1. Rediscover the running game.
The Buffalo Bills’ rushing attack was humming in two games coming out of the bye week, but it hit a pot hole Monday in New England. The Bills gained 94 yards on the ground, but required 30 carries to do it, an average of just 3.1 yards per attempt. The shotgun sweep from LeSean McCoy that looked so good against the Jets was largely bottled up by New England. With the ground game sputtering, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor attempted 36 passes, completing 20 of them. The Bills are now 0-3 when Taylor attempts at least 30 passes, and 5-0 when he doesn’t. Running the ball will be no easy task against the Chiefs, who rank fourth in the NFL against the rush and are coming off a dominant performance against the Chargers in Week 11, holding San Diego to just 52 yards on 25 carries. Nose tackle Dontari Poe and outside linebacker Tamba Hali had their best games of the season against the run, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was also a force with four “stops,” defined by PFF as preventing an offensive play from being successful (which means gaining 40 percent of the required yardage on first down, 60 percent on second down, and the entire required yardage on third or fourth downs). Despite the strong play from the Chiefs’ front seven, it’s abundantly clear the Bills need to establish the run to have success on offense.
2. Continue to bring the heat.
We finally saw the defense we expected to see all year from the Bills on Monday night against New England. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was consistently under duress – and let his offensive lineman hear about it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brady was pressured on 20 of his 40 drop backs, the most in the past seven years. He was hit 13 times, threw the ball way eight times and the Patriots’ offensive line committed six penalties. In classic Rex Ryan fashion, the Bills threatened pressure from every angle, leaving New England guessing as to where the rush was really coming from. Ryan pledged this week that’s the type of defense the Bills will play going forward. The Chiefs’ offensive line could be susceptible to the pass rush. Kansas City ranks 28th in Football Outsiders’ pass protection statistic, with an adjusted sack rate of 8.8 percent that measures sacks allowed (34) and intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt, adjusted for down, distance and opponent).
3. Find a way to flip field position.
In the Chiefs’ past three games, opponents have started at or inside their own 20-yard line 28 times on 36 possessions. The best drive start of the 36 for an opponent was at its own 38-yard line. For the season, Kansas City’s average drive start is second best in the NFL at the 31.32-yard line, according to Football Outsiders, while opponents are starting at the 23.18-yard line, which is third best. That net difference of 8.14 yards is second in the league. The Bills, meanwhile, have an average drive start of the 25.64-yard line, which is 24th in the league. Buffalo’s opponents are starting at the 28.02-yard line, which is 21st, giving them a net difference of minus-2.38 yards that’s 22nd in the NFL. Of course, the best way to flip the field is to …
4. Stop going three-and-out.
The biggest way to swing field position is to pick up some first downs. The Bills are the worst team in the AFC at doing that, and the third worst in the NFL. Buffalo averages just 18.1 first downs per game, with just San Francisco (15.8) and St. Louis (14.7) picking up less. Not surprisingly, then, the Bills are leading the lead in percentage of three-and-out drives. Buffalo has done that on 34 of 119 possessions, or 28.57 percent of the time. Kansas City plays a deliberate style that’s designed to grind out the clock. The Bills can force them away from that by staying on the field offensively.
5. The defensive rookie of the year race is on.
That player might be on the field, but which team will he be playing for? Bills cornerback Ronald Darby and Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters have both made strong cases for that award. Darby is the front-runner thanks to an NFL-leading 18 passes defensed, along with a pair of interceptions, but Peters can make a case with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and 14 passes defensed. The big difference between the two is that Darby has yet to allow a touchdown, according to PFF, while Peters has given up seven. Peters is expected to be matched up with Bills receiver Sammy Watkins, while Darby will play his half the field opposite Stephon Gilmore.
It comes down to this for the Bills -- a win Sunday improves their playoff chances to about 60 percent, according to sportsclubstats.com, while a loss drops them to less than 20 percent. Arrowhead Stadium isn’t the most welcoming of places for visiting teams, but the Bills should have familiarity with their opponent, being that this is the eighth straight year the teams have played. The Bills’ defense looks to be finding itself, so it’s on the offense to make enough plays to come away with a critical win. Taylor's performance against New England has left some uncertainty as to whether he can do that enough to win.
Chiefs 23, Bills 20