Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Don't give the Niners any reason to feel confident. This is a bad team coming to town. It is up to the Bills to prevent the 49ers from finding early success and, therefore, even the slightest reason to believe that they can end their four-game losing streak against a superior opponent on the road.
The Bills need to start fast on offense. They must find those gaping holes through which LeSean McCoy and their other backs can spring for long gains against an awful run-stopping defense. Tyrod Taylor needs to connect with his receivers for big plays that should be open.
When a team like the Niners comes to town, you hit them hard right away and force them to play catch-up through the balance of the game. By building a fast lead, the Bills can continue with their aggressive approach defensively of applying pressure with dogs, blitzes and Rex Ryan's favorite: simulated blitzes that cause the quarterback to react to pressure that actually isn't coming.
2. Keep winning the turnover battle. The Bills rank second in the NFL in takeaways/giveaways at plus-nine. The 49ers are at plus-two.
The Bills' defensive opportunism is no accident. This group is more dialed-in on studying the opponent than ever. It's doing an excellent job of anticipating plays, in large part because players and coaches are investing greater time in familiarizing themselves with the other team.
Nickell Robey-Coleman knew exactly what was coming on his decisive pick-six against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday, because he recognized the route and remembered what he had seen in previous games against man-to-man coverage.
Like the Rams, the 49ers are an NFC West team the Bills don't often see, so that increases the importance of drilling deep into their tendencies. Much of that will come from going back to what Chip Kelly's offenses did in Philadelphia.
Despite the quarterback switch from Blaine Gabbert to Colin Kaepernick, the Niners' offense will function the same way. The Bills also can find ample video of Kaepernick's tendencies, including how he operated in Kelly's offense during the preseason.
With an infusion of smart, savvied players such as Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown, plus the coaching upgrade that Rob Ryan provides, the Bills' defense should have more success against Kelly's scheme than it had when it faced the Eagles late last season.
3. Keep pounding the ball. It's a formula that many would argue is outdated in the NFL, but it works for the Bills. They are a better offense and better team when they run effectively because (in theory, at least) it should help open up the passing game and also should give the defense additional rest between series.
Without Sammy Watkins, McCoy is their most dangerous offensive weapon by far and he needs to continue to be used to the fullest.
Now that he's healthy, McCoy is running with greater speed and explosiveness than he displayed for much of last season, while dealing with injuries and working in a system that not all of the players fully grasped. Since Anthony Lynn replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator, the Bills' running game has done a better job of taking advantage of interior openings.
The 49ers don't provide much more resistance than the Bills saw from a Rams defensive line missing three of its four starters.
4. Continue to get big production from Charles Clay. The Bills need someone to step up and become a game-breaker in the passing game. That someone has to be Clay.
He led the Bills with five receptions for 73 yards, an average of 14.6 yards per catch, against the Rams. Taylor is doing a better job of finding his tight end over the middle. And Clay is excelling at finding openings in coverage and gaining separation.
Without Watkins, the Bills simply don't have anyone to consistently stretch the defense. Opponents aren't fearful of getting beat by Robert Woods or Marquise Goodwin or anyone else in the receiving corps.
As long as the running game can remain strong enough for the Bills to draw defenders closer to the line, Clay is going to have chances to shake free. And the more catches he makes, the more coverage he will draw from the other receivers.
5. Special teams need to be special. Dan Carpenter keeps making extra-point attempts too much of an adventure. The Bills sent a fairly strong message his way by re-signing Marshall Morgan, with whom Carpenter competed in training camp, to their practice squad.
The Bills came up big by snuffing the Rams' fake punt late in the game, but that had more to do with Jeff Fisher's flawed strategy than brilliant playmaking on the Bills' part.
The Bills simply have to be sound, with Carpenter making the kicks he should make, Colton Schmidt remaining highly effective with punts, and the coverage units being on point.