Sunday, December 1, 2013

Four Point Stance: Falcons at Bills


The agreement between the Buffalo Bills and the Rogers Centre has been anything but reciprocal in its first five years, but a shot against the struggling Atlanta Falcons (2-9) may be a step toward evening the scales.

Since the deal's inception, Buffalo has come away with only one win north of the border. Despite a 23-0 win in 2011, the offense has averaged only 15 points per game and has struggled in the turnover department. A healthy roster and a defense that's already forced 20 turnovers may be exactly what the doctor ordered, however, particularly against an Atlanta squad that's dead last in its conference.

The Bills (4-7) will have all of their starting receivers available for the game, which they're hoping will open things up down field on offense and allow their dynamic run duo to establish themselves early on. That may solve the team's trouble getting into the end zone in Toronto, though the turnover issue will ultimately fall on rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to help resolve, who has done fairly well in that category thus far.

Atlanta has lost its last five games and allowed 30 points per game on average along the way, while the offense has struggled with their own turnover issues despite still being a threat through the air. A win by Buffalo here and some more help within the division will keep the team's playoff hopes alive for another week, while a win for the Falcons would be a step toward trying to save face following a 13-win season in 2012.

When the Bills have the ball:
As the points allowed suggest, Atlanta's defense hasn't been able to make stops in any facet of the game, surrendering an average of 381 yards of total offense. The Falcons' big problem area has been against the run, where their front seven has allowed 130 yards a game. With a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal, expect Manuel to take a couple shots deep early on, which should clear up some additional space for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to work with. Coach Doug Marrone told reporters earlier this week he'd like to see his young quarterback take some more risk in the passing game, and Atlanta's low interception totals make for an optimal situation for Manuel to air it out.

When the Falcons have the ball:
Quarterback Matt Ryan has been great at home and abysmal on the road, so a dome game at a neutral location may find the former Pro Bowler somewhere in the middle. Despite the team's woes, Ryan has continued to move the chains and created chances to score in the red zone. Problem is, they're not converting once they get there. Much of the lack of success can be tied to injuries, i.e. the loss of Julio Jones, lingering issues for Tony Gonzalez and Steven Jackson, and so on. Buffalo has been solid at shutting down opposing tight ends this season and Jackson has struggled to get back to full steam, so making Ryan's already one-dimensional offense even more dependent on him converting third-and-long situations will be the focus.

Turnovers. Buffalo has done a fine job at creating a turnover-fed atmosphere on defense, though its history in Toronto is hard to ignore. The team holds a minus-nine turnover differential at Rogers with the offense giving up at least two a game. The Atlanta defense is tied with the New York Jets for the fewest takeaways in the league, however, and hasn't forced a turnover in three games.

Atlanta holds a 6-4 record against Buffalo dating back to 1973 and have won the previous three contests. Ryan, with the help of wide receiver Roddy White, dismantled the Bills defense in their last meeting, throwing for three touchdowns en route to a 31-3 victory. The last time Buffalo defeated the Falcons was in 1995 with Jim Kelly at the helm.

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