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Opponent Scout: Bills’ defense will pounce on Chiefs’ mistakes

This season, the Buffalo defense has arguably been the league’s best — especially at creating turnovers.

Washington Football Team v Buffalo Bills Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

In this weekly opponent scout series, I’ll break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect their matchup with the Chiefs.

Week 5 will feature one of the biggest AFC matchups so far this season. The Chiefs will be hosting the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football; a win for Kansas City would even the two teams’ records, giving the Chiefs the tiebreaker in playoff seeding.


Overview

The Bills are 3-1 on the season; they followed up their season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers with a three-game winning streak featuring a combined differential of 97 points.

Their offense has put up the second-most points in the league and the sixth-most yards. They’ve been able to lean on the ground game in every matchup — mainly because they’ve played in blowouts and haven’t needed to throw the ball at a high volume — topping 100 rushing yards in every game. But through the air, they average 6.7 yards per attempt — the NFL’s ninth-lowest mark. They rank 17th in offensive DVOA.

Defensively, they’ve been statistically dominant. They’ve allowed the fewest total points and total yards this season — while also forcing the most turnovers; the unit has 11 takeaways in the last three weeks. They’ve surrendered the league’s lowest yards per pass attempt. And by a wide margin, they rank first in defensive DVOA.

Offense

The Bills want to lean on Josh Allen to win them games with his arm — and he absolutely can. Last season, he was a legitimate MVP candidate. This year, he hasn’t been as spectacular.

Allen has only two interceptions this season. However, Pro Football Focus has tallied eight turnover-worthy plays he’s made. That’s the league’s second-most — behind two rookies and tied with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His completion percentage has also dipped from last year; he ranks 27th in that category among qualified quarterbacks. Last season, he ranked fourth.

His drop in accuracy this season has also affected the Bills’ ability to score in the red zone. They’ve been effective enough to lead the NFL in red-zone attempts, but have only converted 57% of them into touchdowns — the league’s 23rd-best percentage. He’s completing only 56% of his passes on red-zone plays.

While Allen’s struggles have been real, the offense has still managed to put up a lot of points by way of a strong rushing attack. Their running back duo of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss has combined to average 4.8 yards per carry, while Allen has averaged 14.3 yards on the six designed runs he’s had this year.

For the risks that Allen takes with his throws, they pay off more than they don’t. He has 11 Big Time Throws, a PFF statistic that subjectively categorizes a significant, accurate throw by the quarterback. He has the NFL’s fourth-most this season.

To complete those passes, he relies on one of the best trios of wide receivers in the league: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders. Even when Allen isn’t finding them right away, he knows how to extend plays — and those receivers have shown the ability to get open in the scramble drill and catch passes in tight windows.

Over the middle, tight end Dawson Knox has also been a consistent threat, catching 75% of his 20 targets and leading the team with four receiving touchdowns.

Defense

The defensive side of the ball has really benefitted from the lackluster opponents they’ve faced in recent weeks. They’ve played three backup quarterbacks — and Roethlisberger, who is currently playing like a backup.

Still, they’ve been able to get loads of pressure on those quarterbacks. Per Pro Football Reference, Buffalo has the NFL’s second-highest pressure percentage and highest hurried-throw percentage. They use creative blitz packages, utilizing both their linebackers and versatile defensive backs to create havoc on any down — not just third down.

They’re deep on the defensive line. In this year’s draft, they bolstered their defensive end group with their first two draft selections: Gregory Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham. Adding to a group with Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and A.J. Epenesa, Buffalo boasts depth on the edge — and they’ll need it. Rousseau missed Wednesday’s practice with a toe injury, while Addison missed for rest.

When defending the run, the Bills have allowed 3.2 yards per attempt — the fourth-lowest rate among NFL defenses. They’ve also seen the fifth-fewest attempts; over the last three weeks, they’ve gotten big leads on opponents, so teams have abandoned their running games.

Forcing teams to play from behind, the Bills’ defense has seen a lot of passes thrown their way — and has intercepted seven of them, which is second-most in the league. Their group of off-ball defenders includes plenty of ballhawks who look for takeaways and excel at attacking the ball in the air. They will pounce on every mistake an offense makes.

So far this season, four different Buffalo defensive backs — along with two linebackers — have a turnover. Safety Micah Hyde is the only player with more than one — although his second pick came by way of a tipped pass by linebacker A.J. Klein.

The bottom line

The Chiefs’ defense will have its hands full trying to contain Allen and his receiving corps; this season, they have not shown a consistent ability to cover receivers — and these pass catchers will absolutely take advantage. Kansas City can’t hope to shut them out, but they might take advantage of a few plays where Allen could give them a turnover opportunity.

On offense, the Chiefs will have to deal with random blitzes that could cause some problems in pass protection. When that happens, quarterback Patrick Mahomes needs to play it safe with his decisions; Buffalo’s defense doesn’t pass up takeaway opportunities. So to counter, Kansas City may once again have to rely on their ground game — which is where they found success against the Bills last season.