If there is any good news following the Los Angeles Chargers sloppy and humiliating loss to the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs, it’s that it’s squarely in the rear-view mirror – and thank God for that. After a full week of practice, and hopefully a whole lot of film study, they’re headed to Buffalo for a Sunday tilt with Josh Allen and the hapless Bills.
As you probably know by now, the Bills lost to the Ravens by 44 points last week in a game that saw Sean McDermott’s defense allow the Ravens to convert 43% of their third downs while accumulating 24 first downs, 369 total yards, five passing plays of 20+ yards and 47points.
While I believe the Bills defense represents a favorable matchup for the Los Angeles offense, that doesn’t mean the matchup doesn’t come without its challenges. With that in mind, let’s take a look at my offensive game plan for Sunday’s game against the Bills…
Control Kyle Williams
It’s pretty clear Sean McDermott is trying to build the Buffalo defense in much the same way his group was built in Carolina – up the middle. Veteran defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei lead the unit, with rookie Harrison Phillips also playing a key role. While I think Lotulelei is nearing the end of the line as a productive interior player, Williams and Phillips were extremely disruptive against Baltimore and figure to pose stiff challenge for guards Dan Feeney and Michael Schofield.
The interior of the Chargers offensive line must play better against Williams and Phillips than they did against the interior of the Kansas City defensive line. That will almost certainly mean double-teaming Williams when he’s on the field. While I’m sure they’ll try to handle Phillips one-on-one as often as possible, it wouldn’t shock me to see him get double-teamed when Williams is resting. It could be a long day if they allow this tandem to short-circuit Melvin Gordon between the tackles and prevent Philip Rivers stop climbing the pocket.
The Buffalo defense is relatively young and extremely fast at the second and third levels. They cover a ton of ground and close quickly, but many of them are still learning to play at this level and can be manipulated with things like play-action, misdirection and motion. This is particularly true of 2018 first round pick Tremaine Edmunds, who is a freak athlete but is also short on instincts and can be baited out of position.
That’s why I’d expect to see the Chargers use a lot of play-action on early downs in anticipation of the Bills selling out to stop the run. With Travis Benjamin banged up and likely to either be limited or inactive, I’d also expect to see more of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler on the field together, with Ekeler in the slot and being put motion quite a bit in hopes of sucking Edmunds out of position. Edmunds wants to be aggressive and come down hill, so the Chargers may as well oblige him, invite him to come down hill, and throw behind him.
Run off tackle
While Kyle Williams and Harrison Phillips played well against Baltimore, I thought the Buffalo edge players struggled mightily against the run. The Ravens had success running off tackle, generating a great deal of push against a position group largely devoid of talent. And that group will be without former first round pick Shaq Lawson this week.
The key here is running quick hitting, down hill running plays that take advantage of the aggressiveness of players like Trent Murphy and Jerry Hughes. This approach should wear down a thin group of edge players and neutralize the speed of Tremaine Edmunds and his fellow linebackers. But don’t get too caught up in slow-developing gadget plays like jet sweeps and toss plays, as they give those linebackers a chance to recover and chase plays down with their speed.
Bunch formations, tight end screens and wheel routes
Buffalo Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier played a lot of zone at the second level last week in an effort to protect his young linebackers. This allowed Edmunds and Matt Milano to read and react on balls thrown in their area, but it also created a number of blown assignments when the Ravens attacked them with bunch formations and/or had their backs and tight ends run wheel routes underneath the receivers. These plays didn’t always go for monster gains, but they did help move the chains on a regular basis.
Look for the Chargers to add these wrinkles to their game plan. The Buffalo linebackers tend to give up on wheel routes when the backs and tight ends start out in the flat, and it’s too late for them to recover when the intended target turns up field. This feels like an especially good place to feature Austin Ekeler and it isn’t hard to see him turning a couple mid-range wheel routes into splash plays.
Own the deep middle
Joe Flacco and the Ravens really hurt the Bills secondary with a number of intermediate and deep in-breaking and post routes last week. The Buffalo corners couldn’t run with Willie Snead, John Brown and Michael Crabtree, and the safeties were often late to help. Flacco completed five passes for 20+ yards and may have left at least another six or seven on the field.
Look for the Chargers to lull the Bills to sleep. Ken Whisenhunt should start out with the easy throws – slants to Keenan Allen, a few dig routes to get Mike and Tyrell Williams going, and the aforementioned tight end screens and wheel routes. As the defense begins to creep up and overreact to the short throws in their area, he’ll sneak in the deep post routes. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Mike Williams make a meaningful contribution in this part of the game plan this week, as his skill set seems to align perfectly with the weaknesses of a depleted secondary.
Regardless of what happened against Kansas City last week, I do not anticipate the Bills posing much of a challenge for the Bolts on Sunday. I just don’t think they’re very good on either side of the ball and I expect the visitors to exploit a young and under-manned defense. As long as they control Kyle Williams and Harrison Phillips, manipulate the young linebackers with window dressing, run off tackle, employ bunch formations and attack the deep middle, they should move the ball well and put this game away early.
That’s my game plan, what’s yours? Let me have it in the comments section…