WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2.
WHERE: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
SPREAD: Bills -6
BILLS ON OFFENSE: The Bills put forth yet another disappointing effort last week, limiting a surging C.J. Spiller's carries to 16 while allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw many tepid screen passes among his more than 30 attempts through the air. The play-calling was questionable enough to have receiver Stevie Johnson call out his coach, although he quickly backtracked on his comments.
Even so, one has to wonder why a back who averages 6.7 yards per carry and is 10th in the NFL in rushing with 830 is getting so few touches – he has about 100 fewer carries than the backs in the top three. Spiller, though, isn't one to do any questioning:
"I never go into a game with, ‘I want to touch it this amount of times.’ because you never how a game will turn out. So I understand the game situation. If we are running the ball successfully and we are up on those guys then of course we are going to run more. But at the same time if we are not, of course I understand we are going to have to pass it. I never really get in that mindset of I want to touch it 20 or 30 times."
Of course, the Jaguars aren't very discriminatory in who they surrender yards to. Their defense is 31st in the NFL, giving up an average of 410.5 yards per game. But they're particularly bad versus the run, giving up an average of 136 yards per game, good for 29th in the league.
The Jags did make a move to try and shore things up this week, claiming defensive end Jason Babin off waivers from Philadelphia (the Bills put in a claim for him, but the Jags got priority). The 32-year-old struggled but still managed 5.5 sacks for Philly.
Jacksonville's defensive woes won't matter much, though, if the offense can't get in sync. Fitz looked erratic as usual last week, badly misfiring even on simple screen passes and being largely unable to mount any serious threat in the fourth quarter with the game still there for the taking. Players and coaches alike keep insisting they can improve, but running back Fred Jackson said the offense should be further along by now:
"We know what is in the play book. We know what we have to do. It’s about being consistent and doing it. There are times that we are not doing things, not seeing things, we are all not on the same page. That’s the thing about offenses, when everybody is not on the same page you are not going to click well. We just have to eliminate that. We know that hopefully we can get that corrected going into the game this week."
If the play-callers and quarterback can get out of the way, the Bills could post one of their best offensive showings of the season Sunday. There is little the Jaguars do right on defense. Their 18 turnovers are second-worst in the NFL, and the 13 sacks they've generated are tied for last in the league. They also surrender 28 points per game, good for 28th in the league (the Bills, much to the delight of offense-lovers, rank right behind the Jags, giving up 29 points per game).
Linebackers Russell Allen (93) and former Bill Paul Posluszny (92) lead the Jags in tackles.
BILLS ON DEFENSE: The good news for the Bills' offense is it should not take many points to win. The Jags are even worse on offense than defense, averaging a league-worst 286.5 yards per game. They're near the bottom of the league in passing yards per game (205.1 yards, 26th in the NFL) rushing yards (81.4, 31st) and points (17.1, 29th).
That should help an improving Buffalo defense get even better. Mario Williams had three sacks last week, and he and the rest of the Bills' front seven should have easy pickings against Jacksonville, which has allowed 34 sacks already this year. Buffalo has surrendered only 86 and 60 rushing yards the past two weeks, meanwhile, while allowing an average of about 260 total yards over those two games.
Williams said the defense has focused on doing assigned jobs, which is now paying off:
"I think it is just one of those things that we are playing together better. Like I was saying, every game it is just about being in your gap, your responsibility and executing."
That doesn't much matter, though, if the defense can't get off the field. The Colts went 8-of-16 on third down last week, including several third-and-longs that prevented the offense from trying to mount a comeback.
The Bills may be catching a break in that a backup quarterback will be the one trying to convert those third downs … or maybe not. Chad Henne will start in place of Blaine Gabbert, but Henne (54-of-97, 830 yards, 7 TD, 2 INT) has outperformed the starter (162-of-278, 1,662 yards, 9 TD, 6 INT) and orchestrated last week's win over the Titans.
Maurice Jones-Drew leads Jacksonville's ground game with 414 yards on 86 carries. Justin Blackmon (38 catches, 538 yards) paces the receiving corps.
OUTLOOK: If the Bills are going to make any sort of unlikely playoff push, a convincing win over a clearly inferior opponent would be a good first step. But that win will have to come without as much support from the home crowd. Faced with three December home dates and another losing season, Bills fans have left 15,000 tickets unsold for Sunday's game.
A win Sunday won't boost sales for the coming weeks, but it is needed if coach Chan Gailey's goal of getting to 7-7 and taking their chances from there is going to happen.
"We did not expect or want to be where we are right now," Fitzpatrick said. "I feel like unfortunately there have been some games where we have not shown where we thought we would be or where we should be. That being said, we have a great opportunity with these last five games to go out and show that there has been progress that has been made and that we are a better team than we have shown in the first 11 games of the season."
A loss to the Jaguars would ensure the Bills' status as bottom-dwellers. They still may be a long way from the upper crust of the NFL, but they should be a step or two ahead of Jacksonville on Sunday. The Buffalo ground game – if Gailey will get out of its way and allow it to flourish – should have few issues chalking up big yards, and Jacksonville's offense is not even worthy of being called competent.
A win Sunday is largely just cosmetic. But it still should happen without any major opposition.
PREDICTION: Bills 31, Jaguars 17.
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