Following an emotional victory for the Buffalo Bills last weekend, they’ll face off with the San Diego Chargers (1-1) in what could be a huge measuring stick for the team going forward. The Chargers are coming off of a big win over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Both teams are looking to prove that they can contend for their respective division titles this season, so it’ll be a game that means a lot for both sides.
As I like to do each week, I’ll take a look at some player matchups, keys to the game and sleepers to watch that could determine the outcome of the game.
Chargers WR Keenan Allen vs. Bills CB Stephon Gilmore/Leodis McKelvin
Keenan Allen is quickly emerging as one of the premier “possession” receivers in the National Football League. With a skill-set similar to that of a Stevie Johnson/ Antonio Brown, the second-year receiver is Philip Rivers’ go-to wideout. With 10 catches for 92 yards on 15 targets through the first two games of the year, he’s a player that the Bills will have to focus on.
With the emergence of Corey Graham, who primarily plays to the left side of the defense (where he’ll see Malcom Floyd and possibly some Antonio Gates), Allen will primarily line up against Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin throughout the game.
Stephon Gilmore’s physicality at the line of scrimmage will prove to be a fun matchup to watch, as Allen has some nifty moves with the quickness to get inside leverage against opposing corners.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Bills LB Preston Brown, S Aaron Williams
Antonio Gates is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, still going strong with 13 receptions for 177 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games of the year. Gates presents a matchup advantage against any defense, and will surely be a player that Jim Schwartz does not want to beat his unit on Sunday.
The Bills have surrendered 15 receptions for 101 yards (6.7 yards-per-reception) and a touchdown to opposing tight ends Martellus Bennett and Charles Clay this season, which is pretty impressive considering how badly the position has beaten Buffalo defense’s over the past several years.
Throughout the first two games, Preston Brown has seen the majority of coverage snaps against tight ends, but Corey Graham, Aaron Williams, Duke Williams and Da’Norris Searcy have also held that responsibility. All in all, it will be a team effort on defense to try to shut down one of the all-time greats.
Bills WR Sammy Watkins Vs. Chargers CB Shareece Wright
Bills’ rookie phenom Sammy Watkins had his breakout game against the Dolphins, hauling in eight passes for 119 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets, while primarily lining up as the left “Flanker” receiver position. This week, Watkins, who stands 6’1” and weighs in at 212 lbs will battle with Shareece Wright, a 5’10” 182 lb corner who’s surrendered five receptions for 188 yards in his first two games.
Watkins is bigger, faster and stronger than Wright, who’s been nothing more than a below-average cornerback in the league throughout his career, so it could be a long day for the former USC product.
When The Bills Have The Ball
The Bills have ran a very balanced and efficient offense through the first two contests of the season, and that trend needs to continue this Sunday. The Chargers run a 2-4-5 as their primary defensive front, led by veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney, who’s already generated 11 quarterback pressures and a sack, along with All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, who’s made eight tackles (3 “stops”) and broke up two passes.
Buffalo’s offensive line will need to win at the line of scrimmage, especially throughout the interior that hasn’t looked too promising. Corey Liuget and Manti Te’o have shown flashes of run-stopping ability this season, but if the Bills can establish the run early on, it’ll open up the quick, horizontal passing game for EJ Manuel.
When The Chargers Have The Ball
The Chargers will be without starting running back Ryan Mathews this weekend, so Philip Rivers, a “gunslinger” that has looked very sharp in his first 18 games with Mike McCoy and former Bills QB Frank Reich coaching him, will likely turn the game into a shootout.
Against the Chicago Bears, the Bills were able to secure a victory, despite surrendering over 350 passing yards, due to the ability to generate a pass rush, stop the run and make the Bears one-dimensional, despite having a great running back in Matt Forte. Without Mathews, the Chargers are coming into the game with a passing mindset against the Bills’ 27th ranked pass defense.
Jim Schwartz’ “Bend-But-Don’t-Break” defense that has capitalized on big plays—pass deflections, quarterback pressures and crucial sacks, will need to play as fast and aggressive as it has against the Bears and Dolphins in order to ensure a win.
Chargers Sleeper To Watch: DT/DE Corey Liuget
Corey Liuget is an underrated interior defensive lineman that has been slowly developing as not only a solid run defender, but also a disruptive force against the pass from the one and five-technique defensive line positions. This season, he’s made seven tackles (4 Stops) and a sack, to go along with six quarterback pressures.
This week, he’ll be primarily lined up against Bills’ left guard Chris Williams, a player that has been the weakest link on Buffalo’s offensive line. Williams’ lack of technique, the ability to anchor and mobility deficiencies could allow Liuget to have a big impact on the game.
Prediction: Chargers 28- Bills 33