Here are my five takes for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos at New Era Field.
1. Keep up with the hurry-up.
It looks as if the Bills' offense opened up a new world for itself in the 37-20 victory against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. It utilized a hurry-up approach that had plenty to do with the team's highest point production of the season.
After nine games with a group that includes nine new starters, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll felt confident enough in the players' grasp of the scheme and their responsibilities – including adjustments that must be made just before the snap – to go at a faster pace. As a result, the Dolphins' defense was often kept off-balance and caught with either the wrong players on the field to handle matchups the Bills presented with their personnel groupings or, in one case on third down, 12 men, which resulted in a penalty for a first down.
Josh Allen wasn't the only one who thrived and found hurrying up to be better suited to his game, as a passer and runner, than going with the more methodical style of offense the Bills had been using. His receivers and linemen also made it clear they felt it was a breakthrough and want to do more of it.
Given the high level of talent and complex design of the Broncos' defense, it would seem to make perfect sense for Daboll to do everything possible to get it out of its comfort zone. That's particularly true with regard to edge rusher Von Miller, who will look to exploit the inexperience of rookie tackle Cody Ford. With Ty Nsekhe out with an ankle injury, he and Ford won't be able to do the alternating that allowed the Bills to incorporate Nsekhe's greater experience into the line.
2. Continue to loosen the reins on Josh Allen.
When Allen has the freedom to run the offense with fewer restrictions, he gives the type of performance he gave against the Dolphins – arguably the best since joining the Bills as a first-round draft pick last year.
Allen showed tremendous command. There was a more natural sense to how he performed, as he appeared to be feeling the flow the game and responding accordingly rather than always following directives coming through the headset in his helmet.
Allen has been taking a good deal of advice from Hall of Fame predecessor Jim Kelly, who would like to see the youngster be even more assertive with play selection and communication with his coaches. Kelly's rule of thumb, which he reiterated to Allen when the two sat down earlier in the week for an exclusive joint interview with WGRZ-TV and The Buffalo News, is, "If there ever comes a point in the game where the play is coming in late ... call your own play!"
3. Don't let the up-and-down Broncos run game find the up arrow.
The Broncos have a solid rushing attack with Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. But they haven't consistently found success. For instance, a week ago against the Minnesota Vikings, they averaged only 3.8 yards per carry on 33 attempts.
The Vikings have a strong defense. So do the Bills.
Whether the Bills can smother the Broncos' running game the way they stifled the Dolphins' is probably asking too much. Limiting Miami to a mere 23 yards on the ground had as much to do with the Dolphins' incompetence as it did with the Bills' defensive dominance. Still, it's a sign of the Bills' capability after some doubts raised by the rushing success of previous opponents.
4. Make the other quarterback named Allen experience the same pass-rush wrath Ryan Fitzpatrick felt last week.
Brandon Allen will be making only the third start of his NFL career and second on the road. This has the makings of an exceptionally long day for him.
For one thing, the Broncos' offensive line is terrible and also is dealing with injuries. For another, Allen will be challenged to cope with the din of an electrified crowd that is highly motivated by the increasing likelihood of the Bills reaching the playoffs.
Last Sunday, the Bills sacked Fitzpatrick seven times. Part of that was because the Dolphins' inability to run quickly rendered them one-dimensional. However, another reason was the sheer physical dominance of the Bills' defensive front, whose members routinely won their one-on-one battles.
5. Take full advantage of edge in special teams.
The Bills have had their special-teams issues, to be certain. Stephen Hauschka's reliability came into question after his missed field goals from 34 and 53 yards in a three-point loss against the Cleveland Browns. He came back strong a week later against the Dolphins, yet needs to remain in a groove for multiple games to calm concerns.
The kicking unit as a whole has performed much better, and holds a distinct advantage over the Broncos'. In fact, thanks largely to the free-agent signing of Andre Roberts, the Bills lead the NFL with an average kickoff return of 30.4 yards. Of their 15 kickoff returns this season, five have covered 30-plus yards, including Roberts' 44-yarder last Sunday.
The Broncos are near the bottom of the league in net punting average, which should be helpful to the Bills' field position.
Here is what you need to know for Sunday's game.
TV: CBS. Announcers: Kevin Harlan (play-by-play), Rich Gannon (analyst).
Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play-by-play), Eric Wood (color analyst).
Series history: The Bills lead the series, 20-16-1. The Bills are looking for their first 8-3 start since 1996.
Bills injury report: Out: OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), DB Siran Neal (concussion).
Broncos injury report: Questionable: G Dalton Risner (ankle), G Ron Leary (shoulder/neck), C Connor McGovern (back), T Ja'Wuan James (knee), TE Jeff Heuerman (knee), RB Phillip Lindsay (foot/wrist), WR Tim Patrick (shoulder), LB Justin Hollins (hamstring), LB Joe Jones (foot), NT Mike Purcell (ribs), S Will Parks (hand).
Point spread: The Bills are a 4-point favorite at footballLOCKS.com.
Did you know: If the Bills don't turn the ball over Sunday, they would have the first four-game stretch in franchise history with no turnovers.
Next: Have you figured out your Thanksgiving dining schedule yet? The Bills have prompted more than the typical debates on that subject with their 4:30 p.m. kickoff Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.