Six Points: Bills vs. Titans
Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans return from the bye to face the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon in Nashville.
The Titans (1-3), who will play the next three in row at Nissan Stadium, will try to bounce back from their 35-33 defeat against Indianapolis in which the Colts rallied from a 27-14 deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Bills (2-2), in their first year under head coach Rex Ryan, are coming off a disappointing 24-10 loss at home to the New York Giants. Buffalo has lost the last five meetings with Tennessee.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Bills and the Titans.
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1. Make Marcus Mariota uncomfortable in the pocket
A combination of the Bills' great pass rush and Mariota's history of fumbling the ball can make this a very long day for the rookie. If the Bills are able to constantly get pressure on Mariota, they're bound to force him into making mistakes. He's only rushed five times this season for 25 yards so containing him in the pocket isn't a huge concern, but making him uncomfortable is key.
2. Utilize Percy Harvin in different ways
The Bills sorely missed Sammy Watkins last week, and in his absence, Harvin didn't have as big of an impact as expected. Harvin is a game-changer on offense and the Bills should utilize his skill set by getting him the ball frequently. He has the ability to run the ball out of the backfield and can take a screen pass to the house at any given moment. Buffalo needs to get him involved to have success through the air.
3. Attack the Titans' defense on the ground
The Titans' pass defense is strong, allowing just 194.7 yards per game through the air -- good for sixth best in the league. They haven't faced the most prolific of quarterbacks, but they did hold Andrew Luck to just 260 yards while completing just 18-of-30 passes. Even without LeSean McCoy, the Bills need to establish the run with Boobie Dixon early on to set up the play action and draw linebackers in on play fakes.
1. Take advantage of Buffalo's mistakes
The Bills lead the NFL in penalties. Through four games they've been penalized 13 times for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct or taunting, per ESPN's Mike Rodak. Last week Buffalo was called for 17 penalties for 135 yards. The Titans need to capitalize on the Bills' tendency toward undisciplined play and use it to their advantage by getting off the field on defense and finishing drives on offense.
2. Make Boobie Dixon nothing more than an interesting name
The Bills like to run the ball and they're good at it, averaging 121 yards a game. However, the team is expected to be without their top two running backs in LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, meaning Dixon will likely get the start. With all due respect to Dixon, who has gained net zero yards on eight attempts this season, while scoring one touchdown, this is a matchup the Titans defense should win. If the Titans can shut down Dixon and eliminate Buffalo's rushing attack, it will go a long way toward limiting the Bills' offense.
3. Smart throws only
The Bills are third in NFL in rushing yards allowed, giving up just 78.5 yards per game. That may make it hard for running backs Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster to get anything going and force Mariota to throw more. However, the opportunistic Buffalo defense is also tied for third in interceptions with six. Mariota has only been picked off twice, but both have led to touchdowns. The rookie needs to be both wise and accurate with his throws.