BY DAN BEGNOCHE
The Buffalo Bills (4-9) are looking to to avoid a fifth straight 10-loss season, and the first task in doing so is a Sunday afternoon visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9), who are riding a surprising three-game win streak.
Jacksonville has taken out the division foe Houston Texans twice in three weeks, the main reason behind the team's second half turnaround. The other part of that success has been the team's turnover rate, which has been pretty solid (+5) since its first win five weeks ago.
The opposite has been plaguing the turnover-happy Bills, who have posted a minus-three turnover rate in the same time frame. The team is still searching for some consistency from rookie E.J. Manuel, who has missed some opportune scoring chances while dealing with injuries and inconsistent performances from his receiving corps.
Manuel will face a Jags team giving up nearly 22 points a game despite the four wins in five weeks, while also allowing nearly 300 yards passing per game during that time.
When the Bills have the ball:
Establishing the run will be key, especially after an unusually weak outing last week against Tampa Bay. They'll be going up against a defense allowing more than 120 yards a game on the ground but that's been solid of late, holding opposing offenses to an average of 70 yards rushing per game in the last five. A big point of emphasis will also be the use of the team's speedsters, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham, which came under scrutiny this week. The two have combined for 34 receptions thus far, tallying four of the team's 13 receiving touchdowns while averaging 15.7 yards per catch.
When the Jaguars have the ball:
In the midst of an injury-plagued season, running back Maurice Jones-Drew finally cracked 100 rushing yards last week against the Texans. Repeating that shouldn't be too tough this week against the Bills' 26th-ranked run defense, which let third string Bucs back Bobby Rainey break off an 80-yard run last week en route to 127 total rushing yards. Quarterback Chad Henne will certainly see his fair share of pressure as well, which will likely raise his 25 percent hit rate. Buffalo's defensive efficiency will be contingent on the health of linebacker Kiko Alonzo, who's tops in the league's all-star voting for inside linebackers, second in overall tackles with 131 but questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury.
Key sacks. Buffalo has made a habit of getting to the quarterback, tallying 43 sacks so far, which leads the league. Jacksonville, however, is last in the league in sacks with 23. Nearly a third of the Jags' sacks have come in the last three weeks, though, while Buffalo has struggled of late to protect its young quarterback. A few sacks on crucial downs will mean the difference between touchdowns and field goals, between punts and scores, for both sides.
Buffalo has played the Jaguars only 11 times, going 6-5 in the process but losing two of the last three. A win Sunday would be the second straight for Buffalo, however, as the team took out a Henne-led offense 34-18 in December of last season. Running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for 203 total yards and a touchdown in that game, while Buffalo's defense held Henne to 202 yards in the air and only one touchdown.
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