On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills have the chance to return to a stage on which they have not performed in nearly three decades.
Exactly how long has it been?
The date was January 23, 1994. The Bills defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 30-13 at Rich Stadium in the 1993 AFC Championship Game. Buffalo would head to Super Bowl XXVIII and a return date with the Dallas Cowboys. While Bills Mafia would rather forget the outcome of said Super Bowl, there is a part of this fan base that is hoping for a bit of history repeating.
Of course, the road to Super Bowl LV in Tampa requires passage down a path few have trodden with success. The Kansas City Chiefs once again stand in the way of the Bills’ pursuit of a championship. This time, the Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl Champions; sporting an offense that is among the most explosive in recent NFL history.
Despite spending time in concussion protocol earlier this week, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is likely to be active. With receivers such as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce at his disposal, the high-powered, fast-paced Chiefs’ offense should be able to put significant points on the board, even with a fast and formidable Buffalo defense providing the opposition.
However, Bills Mafia should feel secure about their own explosive offense. Efficiency in the running game, stout protection along the offensive line and capable receivers making plays all over the field provide the ideal complement to the dynamic duo that has become quarterback Josh Allen and receiver Stefon Diggs.
Allen enters Sunday’s contest in the midst of his best season as a pro. The Bills’ young quarterback was statistically serviceable in last week’s 17-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens; throwing for 206 yards, and the game’s only offensive touchdown. Still, Allen’s star shone brightest in the practice of omission, rather than commission. He did not turn the ball over against a ball-hawking Ravens’ defense. Previously plagued by questionable decision making, Allen has adjusted his game quite nicely this season. His penchant to force his passes into tight windows has become more strategic, than haphazard. Although his supporting cast is given a great deal of credit for the improvement, Allen deserves the lion’s share of the praise. Several of his teammates and coaches have lauded the quarterback for studying, strategizing and working hard from the onset of last year’s offseason. As a result, Bills fans can feel confident in placing the ball in Josh’s capable hands, with the game on the line.
Despite his wealth of success thus far, Allen will be exorcising some demons on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. In their week six meeting against the Chiefs, he turned in a rather pedestrian performance. Playing through a left shoulder injury, as well as a stinging, sustained rainfall, Allen looked uncomfortable all night. The Chiefs held him to just 14-of-27 passing for only 122 yards. He threw two touchdowns and an interception, as well as adding eight rushes for 42 yards. With the conference championship on the line, Buffalo’s quarterback needs to be markedly better. No one knows that better than Josh Allen, himself.
Can You Diggs It?
The on-field relationship between Allen and receiver Stefon Diggs has been a match made in gridiron heaven. Perhaps the most glaring element missing from Buffalo’s offensive repertoire in 2019 was a receiver who can get open even when he is covered. Diggs has fit the bill quite nicely. The talented wideout leads the NFL in receptions and receiving yards in 2020. In fact, he has become the first player in franchise history to accomplish either feat. Diggs has continued to display his prowess in the playoffs, leading the league in receptions (14), receiving yards (234), and receiving touchdowns (2). Should Allen want to improve upon his Week Six performance against Kansas City, it is highly likely that he will look to establish Diggs as his ‘alpha’ receiver early and often. In the regular season, Diggs caught six passes for 46 yards, including a touchdown reception in the front corner of the end zone. However, Allen did miss Diggs on several deep, open routes. Should those opportunities present themselves on Sunday, Allen cannot afford to miss them.
Speaking of opportunities, there is a unique one that might end up paying dividends for the Bills in this contest. While the Chiefs defense is often overshadowed by its celebrated offense, they have a formidable defense; solid in all phases. HOwever, one area in which they have been vulnerable has been in the intermediate areas of the field, particularly when defending tight ends. Both the Las Vegas Raiders and the Carolina Panthers were able to exploit this crack in the Chiefs’ preventive unit this year for observable gain. This is significant for the Bills, who were without the services of Dawson Knox in Week Six. Now healthy, Knox possesses the ability to be a significant factor in this game. As indicated by Sean Murphy of Buffalo Rumblings, Knox is at his best when he finds space sitting down in soft zones, as well as utilizing flat combinations. To help neutralize the middle of the field, the Chiefs’ defense will attempt to take slot receiver Cole Beasley away underneath. This could leave Knox with some room to operate in some catch-and-run situations over the middle. Murphy also pointed out that Kansas City allowed 71 catches (4.4 per game) on 102 targets (6.4 per game) to tight ends during the regular season for a total of 852 yards (53.3 per game) and nine touchdowns. Last week, the Cleveland Browns’ tight ends combined for six catches and 75 yards on nine targets.
Could this be opportunity knocking for Dawson Knox?
It should be noted that Knox has never had more than four catches or more than 67 receiving yards in a game in his career. While he caught three touchdowns this season, Knox fell below expectations in his sophomore campaign. This would be an ideal time for a breakout
The task at hand is a tall one. The Kansas City Chiefs are widely being anointed as the next dynasty to dominate the NFL. The defending champs are playing in their home stadium, are battle tested and well-coached. Still, the Buffalo Bills’ have defied the odds more often than not in 2020. They too are well-coached, and are beginning to pass their tests on the battlefield, as well. The injury bug bit Buffalo hard in the first meeting between these two teams. They will be much healthier for this game. Buffalo’s defense will face its toughest challenge, in attempting to match speed and strategy with the Chiefs offense. However, the Bills’ key to victory lies within the play of Josh Allen. To do so, Allen must learn from his Week Six mistakes. Buffalo may take solace in the fact that, so far, it would seem that the postseason stage is not too bright for him. As such, Allen should take an aggressive approach to Sunday’s game, looking to exploit the intermediate middle of the field. That is where the Bills’ signal caller is at his best, as indicated by his passer rating 155.8 in this area of the field. Like his counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, Allen too has a great deal of formidable weapons upon which to rely on the offensive side of the ball.
If Josh Allen can quickly establish his presence Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, he might just be poised to set the table for a berth in Super Bowl LV.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots, the AFC EAST and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC