Four Bills Weaknesses the Broncos can Exploit in Week 12
Week 12's tilt is going to be a really tough matchup for the Denver Broncos as the 7-3 Buffalo Bills are perhaps the most complete opponent they will have faced all year. The Bills don’t have any glaring weaknesses like other teams the Broncos have faced.
Add in the fact that the Broncos are having to travel to the East Coast for an early start in this one, and things are looking even tougher. One could argue that Buffalo's passing offense isn’t great as they have a bottom-10 unit in that department, but they rely on their running game and thus haven't been put into many positions where they've had to pass often.
The Bills' eighth-ranked rushing attack is the focal point of the offense, and everything runs through their running game. When it is clicking, the Bills offense is hard to defend against.
Couple that rushing attack with the Buffalo's No. 3-ranked defense that is also No. 3 in points allowed per game and they become an even tougher matchup. However, the Bills' rushing defense is ranked 17th in the NFL, allowing just over 100 yards per game.
This isn’t an unbeatable Bills team. While Buffalo's weaknesses aren’t glaring, they do have vulnerabilities that the Broncos can exploit to help win a tough Conference game on the road. However, it is going to be a tough and physical matchup for the Broncos, requiring a complete game to even have a chance of walking out of Buffalo with a win.
What are those weaknesses the Broncos will have to exploit in order to win? Allow me to elucidate.
1. Josh Allen
Coming out of Wyoming, Allen wasn’t known for his accuracy, and in the NFL that hasn’t really changed. He can make some big throws with his arm, but also has some poorly-placed throws that can be easily be picked off by heads-up defenders.
When Allen isn’t under pressure, he is a bit more accurate — as most quarterbacks are. Even when kept clean, he boasts a 78.7 adjusted completion percentage, ranked 15th out of 29 qualifying quarterbacks, and has thrown three interceptions. He's been kept clean on 64.3% of his dropbacks so far this year. Denver will need to change that.
You see, when Allen is under pressure, his adjusted completion percentage is tied for 7th-worst in the NFL at 57.7, and he is also tied 7th-worst with four interceptions when under pressure. Additionally, his NFL passer rating is 7th-worst at 54.7. Just to put that into perspective, his passer rating when kept clean is 9th-worst at 97.7.
Play-action really helps him alleviate these issues, but of all his dropbacks, only 84 have been play-action. That is 7th-fewest in the NFL. Even so, he is tied with Baltimore's Lamar Jackson with a 64.9 completion percentage on play-action. Allen has also thrown five touchdowns to one interception, while boasting a passer rating of 102.7.
Now, we get to 'time in the pocket' stats, and this is coupled with another exploitable weakness. Allen averages 2.72 seconds to throw, and 3 seconds in the pocket. Those are 4th-longest and tied for the longest in the NFL. When he manages to get the ball out in under 2.5 seconds, he actually does decently well.
Allen has a 70.8 completion percentage, five touchdowns and only two interceptions with a pass rating of 92.6 in such scenarios. When he holds it for longer, however, the issues really start to appear.
Allen's completion percentage plummets to 52%, and while he has thrown eight touchdowns, he has thrown five interceptions with a rating of 80.2. He has also taken 20 sacks when he holds the ball, while having taken only two in under 2.5 seconds.
This is going to take everyone on the Broncos defense to really exploit this. The cornerbacks are going to have to force him to hold the ball with their coverage, as well as the linebackers and safeties, while the defensive front applies the pressure. If Denver can take away the running game, which is a must, and force Allen to hold onto the ball, they could walk out with the win, but the Broncos will have to sustain it for a full 60 minutes.
2. Young, Inexperienced OTs
This weakness helps with the one previously mentioned. The Bills have two young offensive tackles, and both are struggling this year in giving up pressures.
Buffalo's top backup, Ty Nsekhe, is out for the game with an injury, so it falls on Dion Dawkins and the rookie Cody Ford. Dawkins and Ford have given up a combined eight sacks and 34 total pressures.
They duo has struggled to protect their quarterback and give Allen plenty of time in a clean pocket to really work. Getting that pressure is going to fall on the Broncos' edge rushers (Von Miller, anyone?), who have a combined 67 pressures so far this season.
3. Sloppy Tackling
The Bills are one of the worst teams when it comes to tackling. According to Pro Football Focus, Buffalo has a team tackling grade of 47.6, which is 8th-worst in the NFL. This is something the Broncos can exploit, especially with the personnel they have.
Just in their front seven alone, the Bills have 49 missed tackles on the season. They are lead by LB Tremaine Edmunds, who has nine missed tackles, and DT Star Lotulelei, who has eight missed tackles. With Buffalo's defensive backs, Levi Wallace has missed 10 total tackles, with eight of them coming in the passing game.
If Denver can force more missed tackles, which is something they've been good at, they'll have chances for some big plays. If Denver can get big plays, they can put points on the board and against a team with a tough defense overall with a strong rushing attack, the Broncos have to be able to put points on the board quickly.
4. Three Susceptible Targets in Coverage
When looking at the Bills' passing coverage, there are three players in particular who stand out as struggling, exploitable pieces. Those three would be CB Levi Wallace, CB Taron Johnson, and LB Matt Milano. All three have been struggling this season in coverage.
With Wallace, he has allowed 45 of his 66 targets to be caught with four of them going for touchdowns. That has led to a 110.5 passer rating allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Johnson has allowed 18-of-26 catches, but only an 81.1 pass rating when targeted.
Milano struggling is leaving a weakness in the middle of the field in coverage. All but 10 of his 44 targets have been caught. He has only given up one touchdown, but a 96.7 passer rating when targeted. All three could be exploited by the Broncos and could lead to some good mismatches to be exploited.
The Step-Up Men
When a team can expose ways to exploit an opponent's weaknesses, it naturally reveals which players need to step up to get it done. Here are three players on both sides of the ball that the Broncos can use to attack those weaknesses. First. let’s start with the three on offense.
Tim Patrick, WR: Denver needs another receiver to really step up. Patrick is the closest thing the Broncos have to a true No. 2 receiver, but he isn’t overly dynamic and wins his reps one way every time. It's great that he wins, but this is a game where he can really step up and show more than just the limited receiver he has been throughout his young career. Patrick stepping up, especially with Courtland Sutton likely drawing the Bills' top cornerback, is a must. Patrick will have a favorable matchup, but last week, when Sutton was taken away, Patrick wasn’t able to come up and make the plays needed as the WR2 . His lack of dynamic ability really hurt the Broncos offense, especially in the clutch.
Noah Fant, TE: Having an athletic tight end is great for the Broncos, and is a facet that's been missing from the offense for a while. Fant will have a favorable matchup, which hopefully he can exploit consistently. While Fant is a great compliment to Sutton, Denver needs more help on offense. Even so, if Fant can demand more attention that could help open things up for Sutton and that maybe all the Broncos need.
Phillip Lindsay, RB: With how many tackles the Bills miss, Lindsay can have a really big day. One thing he does extremely well is forced missed tackles. Lindsay is tied for 15th in the NFL with 24 tackles avoided, which for his size, is tremendous. When the Bills are missing as many tackles upfront as they are, this bodes well for a dynamic RB like Lindsay.
Von Miller, OLB: While he doesn’t have a bunch of sacks, Miller has been doing a tremendous job getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Josh Allen can be tough to take down, but in this game, pressure may be just enough to force errant throws that the defense can take advantage of. Miller is third in the NFL in total hurries with 39, and I've already exposed how much worse Allen is when he's under pressure, and how bad the Bills' OTs have been.
Justin Simmons, S: If the upfront pressure is able to force some errant throws, we need to see Simmons take advantage of that. This Broncos defense has shown they can take the ball away, but need to see it more consistently. A lot will fall on Simmons being in the right position, something that has been an issue off and on this season. The threat of the deep passing game from Allen and the Bills is going to ask a lot of Simmons as well.
Malik Reed, OLB: Miller attacking from one side is dangerous, but if the Broncos can get Reed going and put pressure on Allen, things will fall in their favor. Reed is an undrafted rookie so he hasn’t really dominated this season, but he has been reliable in getting after the quarterback. With the weakness of the Bills' tackles, this is a game Reed could really emerge and the Broncos will need that.