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5 questions with Buffalo Rumblings: “I could see it being very tight going into the fourth quarter”

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be hosting the Buffalo Bills in a REAL LIVE PLAYOFF GAME on Sunday and to get us prepared we’ve got Sean Murphy from Buffalo Rumblings ready to get us amped for the game.

1. How do y’all feel the team will come out of the gate with Sean McDermott at the helm? I think he screwed up benching Tyrod Taylor but how has this team responded to him lately? Is it a fractured locker room or is it one that has put that behind them?

Overall, the Bills have looked incredibly well-prepared this year. I don’t think that will be any different on Sunday. The team plays with very little panic, and has responded very well to McDermott’s “trust the process” mantra.

As for benching Taylor, it was a bad decision, but there was at least some rationale for it. Taylor was coming off an absolutely embarrassing performance at home against the New Orleans Saints (through three quarters, he was 9-of-18 for 56 yards and an interception), and McDermott clearly felt that there was need for a spark. Unfortunately, he handed the keys over to a fifth-round rookie in a road game against one of the league’s hottest teams, and we all know how that turned out (for what it’s worth, Nathan Peterman redeemed himself somewhat in the Snow Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts, somehow managing to complete 5-of-10 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown).

The locker room is as unified as I can remember it being since Chan Gailey was the Bills’ head coach. They seem to genuinely enjoy playing with each other, and they’ve been able to drown out a lot of outside negativity throughout the season, and there has been little to no drama, a welcome sight after the Ryan Brothers’ circus of the last few years. Nobody gave them a chance of being competitive at the beginning of the season, so to make the playoffs shows how mentally tough the group is.

Many teams would have mailed it in after the new front office and coaching staff made some of the moves it did (trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, then trading Marcell Dareus, then waffling on the most important position on the field in the middle of a playoff chase). From what I can tell, the locker room loves McDermott, and he has earned their trust.

2. Speaking of Tyrod Taylor, what’s the mood around Buffalo as to if he can be the long-term starter? What do you think personally?

I would be shocked, frankly, if Taylor is on the Bills’ roster next year. The team has already shown that it doesn’t have faith in him, and I fully expect that they’ll draft a quarterback early in round one, whether with one of their two first round picks or by packaging those picks to trade up for “their man.”

As for Taylor’s standing in the fan base, he is as polarizing a figure as there is. There is a contingent of fans who think he’s terrible and needs to be replaced yesterday, and there are those who think he hasn’t had a fair shake. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I like Taylor a little more than I should, I’ll admit it. I love his make-up and his story. He’s a hard-working, high-class guy who has been told for his whole professional career that he isn’t good enough, and all he’s done with Buffalo is put up numbers. He has sneaky-good arm strength, and his speed and elusiveness are elite. He has flashed at times, but he’s a low-volume, safe passer whose best asset in 2015 and 2016, the deep ball, has disappeared along with Sammy Watkins and Marquise Goodwin.

The problem is that he is what he is at this point—a phenomenal athlete who will make a few plays per game that almost no other players in the league can make, but he’ll follow that up by missing an eight-yard out so badly that the ball boy has to duck, then he’ll hold the ball too long and take maddening sacks when receivers are running open because he is afraid to throw into tight windows. That last point is both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Taylor won’t turn the ball over — he’s only thrown 16 interceptions over 1,236 attempts with the Bills — but his hesitancy to make a mistake leads him to leave plays on the field.

3. The Bills defense ranks in the bottom-third of the league in both stopping the run and pass. And you’re second-to-last in passing yards per game. No disrespect, but how did you all get to 9-7?

We are sixth overall in total rushing yards, though.

The total numbers are, to put it lightly, ugly. With as many yards as they’ve allowed, one would assume that they’d have allowed more points, though. They’re not good in that category, either (18th), but 135 of the 359 points they allowed came in an absolutely brutal three-game stretch at the beginning of November. Not coincidentally, the team committed 10 of its 16 turnovers in those three games, too. Buffalo held their opponents under twenty points nearly as many times (9) as Jacksonville did (10) this season. It’s a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that they employ, and it can be frustrating to watch, especially when the team doesn’t cause turnovers.

The passing yardage numbers are right in line with their number of passing attempts. Buffalo is 31st in passing attempts, and 31st in passing yardage.

Buffalo won games this year by not turning over the football, and by forcing opposing teams to turn the ball over. The Bills threw 10 interceptions (which is incredible, considering that Taylor only threw four in 420 attempts, Peterman threw five in one half, and Joe Webb even added one in a blizzard) and lost six fumbles. They had 18 interceptions defensively and recovered seven fumbles. When they win the turnover battle this season, they are 9-1. They also don’t allow many chunk plays, especially through the air. They were seventh in 20-yard pass plays allowed (42), and first in 40-yard pass plays allowed (3).

4. If you were the Jaguars offensive and defensive coordinators, how would you game plan against the Bills?

As a defensive coordinator, the goal against Buffalo is to make sure they are stuck in third-and-long situations all day. Then, play tight man coverage against the receivers. They gain close to zero separation with any sort of consistency, and if you can play man and keep Taylor from breaking contain, you’re in good shape. The key to keeping Buffalo in long third down situations is limiting the success of their running game, which could be easier if LeSean McCoy is unable to go. If the Bills can’t run it, Taylor has not shown the ability to win a game as a passer consistently, and some would say at all.

On offense, attacking the outsides is not a good idea. Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines have been outstanding, and Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer provide great coverage ability and solid tackling from the safety positions. The real weakness of Buffalo’s defense is up the middle. Kyle Williams is everyone’s favorite Bill, but he’s 34 years old and he can’t do it all himself. Amazingly, the Bills’ run defense imploded almost immediately after trading Dareus (sarcasm included). Covering tight ends has been an issue, and receivers can often gain favorable matchups out of the slot against the likes of nickel corner Leonard Johnson and linebackers like Lorenzo Alexander. Beat Buffalo in the middle of the field, working methodically and taking what they give you.

5. What are your thoughts on what happens Sunday? Do the Jaguars win comfortably? Do the Bills make it a game? What do you think happens?

I don’t think either team has the firepower to win this one running away. It really depends on which version of the two quarterbacks shows up. If “good Tyrod” plays, then Buffalo has a shot, especially if “bad Blake Bortles” forgets what color jersey his team is wearing. If “good Blake” plays and “bad Tyrod” rears his ugly head, then it’s the reverse.

I could see it being very tight going into the fourth quarter, something like 10-3 Jags, and then whichever defense forces the late turnover wins. If Buffalo does, I could see them winning 15-10. If not, Jacksonville moves on 17-3.