San Diego travels over 2500 miles to Buffalo for a noon game against the 2-0 Bills for an early game this Sunday. Through the first two games, the Bills have capitalized on their opponents mistakes(5 turnovers, 6 sacks and a blocked kick) while only turning the ball over once themselves. The offense has been surprisingly good(8th most yards per play/6th most points per game/6th in DVOA) and E.J. Manuel has done a good job of running the offense without making critical mistakes.
There are plenty of good matchups on both sides of the ball and the Bills have no shortage of good players. I'll go through and highlight some players to watch and some matchups that San Diego will have to keep an eye on if they want to get a win on the road.
Speed At the Skill Position
The Bills are built like a track time. With E.J. Manuel, C.J. Spiller, Sammy Watkins, that's probably the fastest trio in the NFL. Spiller is a matchup problem, especially for the Chargers. They'll keep feeding him the ball and it'll go 2 yards, 1 yard, 3 yards, and all the sudden he'll break off a 40+ yarder. San Diego is going to have to carry over last weeks tackling(low number of missed tackles and only 1 poor angle) in order to slow down the speedster.
It's unknown as of today if Brandon Flowers is going to play Sunday. His status remains up in the air and that's unfortunate because he would be an ideal matchup for slot receiver Robert Woods, a very good route runner. But it goes back to speed here and Watkins gave the Dolphins secondary all kinds of fits. Watch him embarrass the corner to the bottom of the screen. He's been deadly on crossing routes where he can simply run away from the defender. Watch Watkins on an over route that's deep over the middle or a quick drag. His speed will be an issue for Shareece Wright while his strength an issue for Jason Verrett. Verrett will get his chances and if he can beat Watkins to the ball, he should be fine. That will definitely be one of the marquee matchups of the game.
Manuel will make mistakes. He got away with back to back throws in the 2nd quarter versus the Dolphins that could have easily been interceptions. As well as the first-week interception which was a pretty bad read on his part. If John Pagano can disguise his coverages while still being aggressive, this could be the game where San Diego's defensive backs come up with an interception. If Flowers plays, I think San Diego has the edge. If not, this goes to the Bills.
In the Trenches
On the offensive front, the Bills are 23rd in adjusted line yards. They haven't been good in the run blocking department. Up the middle, they have struggled to create holes. Up the middle, Kendall Reyes has struggled to beat blockers. Sean Lissemore has been what we expected up the middle, and Corey Liuget has been good. If you ask me, this game will be won on the edges. If Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram can keep Manuel jittery in the pocket and force him to miss throws, the Chargers will be fine on defense. Cordy Glenn and Seantrel Henderson are both athletic guys that are very good in the run game. Both are humongous men that could give the Chargers problems on the edge. This is where a player like Jarret Johnson comes into play and will be needed in the run game. Donald Butler will have to be much better than he's been. I've never bought into him as a "star," but we've seen his athleticism and I would like to see that on display more. He seems like he's thinking instead of playing. He's been nonexistent these 1st 2 games. Manti Te'o has played faster these 1st two games and will have to continue that against the speed of Buffalo.
Flipping sides, the Bills have the matchup advantage at every position aside from King Dunlap versus Jerry Hughes. D.J. Fluker won't face a speed rusher this week, but Mario Williams is an above average pass rusher who consistently gets pressure. With Hughes being a speed rusher, it'd be fine to let these guys just rush up the field and let Philip Rivers step up in the pocket, except the Bills are so strong up the middle. Marcell Dareus is more of a run stopper, while Kyle Williams is more of a pass rusher, but both are legit and Williams is probably the best of the four. Williams created some havoc last week.
Not to be outdone.
Johnnie Troutman will have his hands full. Expect a running back to help or a tight end to chip off the edge. This will be one of the best fronts the Chargers face all year. If they can slow down the edge rush, San Diego will have a fighting chance. If not, it'll be a long day for Rivers in the pocket.
Winning on the Perimeter
The Chargers were excellent at winning 1-on-1 matchups last year. Woodhead converted his short passes to 1st downs, Antonio Gates was the player of the week for the work he did against the Seahawks linebackers. Those matchups should be there again this week, but if San Diego wants to continue their success through the air, they'll have to win on the perimeter. The Bills have a very good secondary. On one side, Stephon Gilmore is a young, athletic, press-man corner who has all the skill in the world.
On the other side, Corey Graham is off to a great start to the season. Graham is used more of an off man zone corner. He loves to play aggressive and jump routes. He's being lauded as a "shut-down" corner by some really smart people, but I wouldn't go that far. The Dolphins could have scored twice on him. On this deep post, he was beat but the ball was horribly thrown. There was another post thrown his way in the red zone where the receiver had a step on him, but again, bailed out by a bad ball. Remember week 1, when Malcom Floyd just missed a touchdown on a deep post? That should be there this week. Buffalo's safeties tend to cheat up and vacate the deep middle of the field. Precision trumps athleticism and we know Keenan Allen is as precise as a route runner as it gets. Buffalo's corners, specifically Graham, gave up a few curls and this timing out route. If Rivers has time, he should be able to take advantage. That's a big if, though. I'd call this match-up a push.