Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
1. Pounce early on a tired, sore, mediocre team working on a short week of preparation. Yes, the Bills have more than enough injury issues of their own and yes, they, too, qualify has imminently mediocre.
But the Bills must take advantage of the fact they've had their bye to rest and heal while the Bengals played a tough, physical game in their loss against the New York Giants Monday night. The best way to do so is to come out with a high level of energy and strike quickly on offense and/or with a big defensive stop/turnover and/or with a high-impact play on special teams.
The Bengals have little going for them other than the fact they're playing at home. And there is reason to believe that won't prove to be too much of an advantage, considering the Bengals are 3-5-1 and haven't won a game since beating winless Cleveland on Oct. 23.
2. Find a way for the offensive line to at least pick up some of the slack left by Eric Wood's season-ending broken leg. The Bills will try to get by at center Ryan Groy, who struggled badly after Wood left the Seattle game on the back of a cart. The bottom line, however, is that they don't have anyone to replace Wood's talent, experience, knowledge or leadership.
It will be up to the four other offensive linemen to elevate their performances and capitalize on the fact the Bengals do a poor job of stopping the run. They allowed the Giants, who entered Monday night's game last in the NFL by averaging 68.2 yards per game on the ground, to gain 122 yards. The Bills rank second in the league with an average of 155 rushing yards per game, and they simply can't allow Wood's absence to cause that to greatly diminish.
The Bills have to do everything they can to create favorable down and distances in order to minimize the number of times they're in obvious passing situations and the Bengals can do the expected by blitzing up the middle.
3. Take advantage of the physical tendencies of the Bengals' defensive backs. The Bills' passing game finally showed some real signs of life against the Seattle Seahawks.
Tyrod Taylor was on point with his reads and mainly sharp with his throws, and his receivers – especially Robert Woods – did a superb job of running routes and finding openings in the Seahawks' secondary.
But another factor was the Seattle defensive backs playing their typically physical style by jamming receivers at the line to try to throw off the timing of their routes. Woods did a particularly good job of not allowing himself to be disrupted by that, shaking free into wide openings in the secondary, and he and the rest of Buffalo's pass-catchers need to do the same when the Bengals' DBs look to employ a similar tactic.
The Bengals will also likely draw a flag or two for defensive holding and/or pass interference.
4. Clamp down on A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. These days, the Bills don't "clamp down" on anyone in coverage.
But they have to come up with a solution to at least contain one or both of these game-breaking targets. Green's 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame and athleticism make him a nightmare for pretty much any cornerback, let alone the Bills' struggling duo of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby (who was benched during the Seattle game and could stay benched for this game in favor of Corey White).
The Bills will, for the most part, likely double-cover Green and take their chances by having linebackers and safeties take turns on Eifert. The key, of course, is not to let someone else – such as Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd – wind up having a massive day.
5. Pressure Andy Dalton into mistakes. When you lead the NFL in sacks, as the Bills do with 30, this should be a given.
Dalton has a way of panicking when he's feeling pass-rush heat, and you can expect Rex Ryan to bring the house early and often on third down. Dalton will force bad throws, as he did against the Giants, always believing he can heave the ball into the air and Green or Eifert or one of his other tall receivers will come down with it.
Believing the Bills will be effective with pressure assumes, of course, they don't allow the Bengals to run effectively. That shouldn't be too big of an assumption.