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Jay Skurski's Bills-Bucs scouting report: Buffalo's beleaguered passing game has a chance to right itself

The Buffalo Bills are nearly polar opposites when it comes to offense and defense.

The team’s average of 17.8 points per game ranks 27th in the NFL, while the defense is No. 1 in points against, at just 14.8 per game. Despite that discrepancy, coach Sean McDermott said he doesn’t worry about any chemistry issues that could creep up from defensive players growing impatient with their offensive counterparts.

“Not with this team,” McDermott said Wednesday prior to practice in preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Not with these guys, and that’s why the DNA is important and the guys that we bring on board is that they’re very unselfish. They put the team first.”

Here is how the Bills and Buccaneers match up:

When the Bills pass: It’s a matchup of weakness vs. weakness. Buffalo’s feeble passing attack ranks 30th in yards per game (165.0) and 26th with 5.4 yards per attempt. It should help that No. 1 wideout Jordan Matthews looks ready to return from a broken thumb. Tampa Bay’s pass rush is weak. The Bucs rank last in the league in both total sacks (six) and sacks per pass play (3.17 percent). They rank 31st in passing yards per game allowed (301.6) and 30th in passing yards per play. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in particular has struggled, with just one pass defensed on the season. EDGE: Bucs.

When the Bills run: LeSean McCoy said Wednesday “it’s time for myself to get going,” and few would disagree. McCoy ranks 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards through six weeks. Whether it be play design, teams loading the box or McCoy not making as many defenders miss as he did in past years, the running game’s struggles have been a major reason why the offense is sputtering. It figures to be tough going against Tampa Bay, which ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per carry against at 3.7. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the best in the league at his position, while linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander can fly to the ball. EDGE: Bucs.

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When the Buccaneers run: Doug Martin is off to a good start after sitting out a three-game suspension. Martin has 127 yards on 27 carries, an average of 4.7 yards per rush, in two games. According to ESPN, the Bucs are 8-0 when they run the ball 28 or more times and throw the ball 33 or fewer times since 2016. When they have to throw it 34 or more times, they’re 4-9. Buffalo’s rush defense is coming off a solid showing in Cincinnati, limiting the Bengals to just 2.4 yards per carry. Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson were excellent in that game. EDGE: Bills.

When the Buccaneers pass: Will he or won’t he? Obviously, that’s the looming question when it comes to Tampa Bay starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder last week. Expect Tampa Bay to take the decision right down to the wire, so that the Bills have to prepare for both Winston and Fitz. Both quarterbacks have a gunslinger mentality, though, so it shouldn’t be a huge change in the Bills’ defensive approach. Tampa Bay ranks second in passing yards per game, at just a shade under 300. With Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, whoever is at quarterback has no shortage of weapons. The Bills’ secondary should get both E.J. Gaines and Leonard Johnson back following the team’s bye. EDGE: Bills.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston practices Wednesday, but doesn't throw

Special teams: It likely won’t shock you to learn the Bucs are 24th in Football Outsiders’ special teams rankings, given their comical kicking woes. The team has turned to Patrick Murray after Nick Folk melted down in Week Five against the Buccaneers. The Bills are eighth in Football Outsiders’ rankings, fueled largely by kicker Stephen Hauschka’s terrific start to the season. Brandon Tate popped a long punt return against the Bengals, a promising sign since big plays have been lacking in the return game. The Bills are allowing an average of just 5.9 yards per punt return, which ranks in the top 10 of the NFL. EDGE: Bills.

Coaching: Bucs coach Dirk Koetter admitted he did a “horrible job” of getting his team ready to play in Week Six against Arizona, calling it “the worst first half of football I’ve ever seen in my life.” Koetter said he was “disappointed and embarrassed” by his team’s effort. Tampa Bay does turn it up late, averaging 9.2 points per game in the fourth quarter, but that has been too little, too late the last two weeks. At 2-3 and in last place in the NFC South, the Bucs have underachieved. The Bills, meanwhile, have overachieved in going 3-2 thus far. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s changes to the run game implemented over the bye week will be closely watched Sunday. EDGE: Bills.

Prediction: Bills 24, Bucs 17.

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