The Buffalo Bills head to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans on "Monday Night Football," looking for revenge and to avoid a trap.
After last week’s 38-20 beatdown of the Chiefs on "Sunday Night Football," the Bills (4-1), alongside the Chargers, are now the front-runners to win the AFC. Their offense is humming and their defense is among the best in the league five weeks in. They’re arguably the most complete, well-rounded team in the entire league. But Monday night’s game could prove to be another detour on the road to Buffalo’s first AFC title in a generation if they aren’t locked in, just like last season’s 42-16 whooping at the hands of these same Titans almost exactly one year ago. But this Bills team, with an even more improved Josh Allen and a dynamic set of skill position players, are better equipped to handle a Tennessee team still trying to smooth out their own wrinkles.
The Titans (3-2) knocked off Jacksonville last week with one of the most mundane 18-point wins you’ll find, especially following a road loss to the lowly Jets in overtime two weeks ago. The Titans are still a good team, I think, but have noticeable flaws, mainly their shaky offensive line and lackluster pass rush. A loss on Monday night wouldn’t be the end of the world, but a win would certainly go further in proving they belong in the conversation among the AFC’s top teams.
Monday Night Football: Buffalo (4-1) vs. Tennessee (3-2)
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 18 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Bills -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Allen, MVP candidate
Allen has gone from an unpolished, inaccurate, and raw quarterback to a full-blown NFL superstar. The jump in production from his first two seasons to last year was absolutely massive. Allen’s first two seasons as the Bills’ signal-caller he completed only 56 percent of his throws, posted a 78.2 rating, and had just 30 touchdown passes. Last year, his numbers exploded to a 69 percent completion rate, 107.2 rating, and 37 TD passes as he led Buffalo to their first AFC title game since 1994.
This year, Allen is proving that last season wasn’t a fluke. In fact, he’s getting better. Allen is currently in the top 10 in passing yards (1,370), touchdown throws (12), yards per attempt (12.2), and he’s only been sacked five times and thrown two interceptions. He proclaimed his case for early-season MVP with his brilliant performance last week against the Chiefs, throwing for 315 yards, three scores, and a 139.1 rating. He also led his team with 59 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The obvious throwing stats for Allen are impressive, but it’s the underlying numbers that prove his real growth as a complete player. First, he’s become a much better pocket passer. He’s making better decisions at a quicker pace, posting a 107.5 rating on throws from the pocket in less than 2.5 seconds.
Secondly, he’s finally developed accuracy with the long ball. He’s connecting on throws of at least 20 yards at a 50 percent clip. Two years ago, that number was just 25 percent. His air yards per attempt (9.9) are second in the league, his competed air yards (929) rank fourth, and his completed passes of 20-plus yards (24) are eighth overall.
Third, Allen is spreading the ball around to a deeper pool of receivers than he’s had before. Last year, Stefon Diggs (127 rec.) and Cole Beasley (89 rec.) combined for 53 percent of Allen’s completions. No one else on the Bills’ roster had more than 38 catches. While Diggs and Beasley still lead the way in terms of catches in 2021, Allen also is finding veteran journeyman Emmanuel Sanders (16.9 ypr, 4 TDs) and tight end Dawson Knox (14.5, 5).
Finally, we all know Allen can run. But this season he’s finally learned when and where to run for maximum effect, and in doing so, picking up more first downs on the ground. Allen has moved the sticks on 17 of his 35 designed run attempts this season, nine of which have come on 12 third-down carries.
Allen hasn’t just blossomed into a good NFL quarterback the last season and a half, he’s turned into a franchise player capable of impacting the game in so many different ways. Monday night, he faces a Titans defense that’s struggled against the pass for the last couple of seasons, allowing a 100.3 quarterback rating and 13.2 yards per reception (29th) this year.
2. Titans’ offensive line is offensive
The Titans’ front line has been an issue for some time now. It all started in Week 1 when $16-million left tackle Taylor Lewan was getting manhandled by every single Arizona Cardinals defender (particularly Chandler Jones who had five sacks), even diminutive (5-10) safety Budda Baker. Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times in that season-opening loss as the Titans’ offense was totally stagnant.
Three weeks later, the offensive line problems popped again, this time it was the entire right side of the line that was collapsing. Right tackle David Quessenberry and right guard Nate Davis combined to allow 20 pressures on Tannehill as the winless and hopeless Jets sacked him seven times in their overtime win, their first of the season.
Statistically, Tennessee has one of the worst offensive lines in the entire NFL. Their 20 sacks allowed are the most in the league, their 2.3 seconds of pocket time is third lowest, and they rank 22nd in protection rate. They’ve allowed Tannehill to get sacked 10 times in just the last two games alone.
And the lack of protection is killing the Tennessee passing game. Tannehill’s bad throw rate is up five points from last year to 18 percent and he’s only able to complete 42 percent of his throws while under pressure. As a team, the Titans rank 28th in expected points contributed by the passing game (11.32) and net yards per attempt (7.5), 26th in yards (221 per game), and 25th in touchdown passes (6).
With the Bills likely stacking the box to attempt slowing down Henry, the Titans’ offensive line will have to dig in against a Bills defense that ranks among the best in the league this season.
3. Bills’ D too much for Titans’ mediocre offense?
The Buffalo offense is the unit that is making headlines this season, and rightfully so, but championship teams are all about balance, and the Bills absolutely have struck the equilibrium. This defense is arguably the best in the NFL, ranking first in points allowed (12.8 per game), turnovers forced (15), and yards surrendered (251.8 per game).
When it comes to slowing down the Titans' offense, it’s all about stopping Henry, the NFL’s back-to-back rushing champ and current leader in the clubhouse. No other defensive unit has been able to do it thus far. But the Bills might just have the squad to at least keep King Henry in check. Might being the keyword. They’ve been magnificent against the run all year, landing in the top five in attempts (107), yards (78.4 per game), rushing touchdowns (1), and yards per carry (3.7).
Buffalo also has the front seven to expose this porous Titans’ offensive line. Despite blitzing on only 28.5 percent of snaps (28th), they get to quarterbacks with the best of them, as they sit in the top five in sacks (14), pressures (59), and hurries (28). And that pressure comes from all angles as Buffalo’s defense has seven players with at least one sack, led by linemen Gregory Rosseau (3) and Star Lotulelei (2). The pressure sets the tone for the rest of the air defense as the Bills lead the league in opposing quarterback rating (60.7) and yards per passing attempt (5.4) allowed.
A lot of this game comes down to who can control the line of scrimmage. On paper, the Bills have the advantage on both sides of the ball when it comes to line play. But I’m interested to see if this Titans offense, with a healthy A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in the lineup together for the first time in a couple of weeks, can jell when it comes to running and passing the ball. I’m just not sure the Tennessee offensive line can match up with Buffalo’s front seven. Give me the Bills in a close one.
Prediction: Bills 31, Titans 28
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.