The Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers are heading in different directions this year.
San Francisco (1-4) heads across the country to Orchard Park, New York, where the 49ers will meet the Buffalo Bills (3-2) for a 1 p.m. ET game at New Era Stadium. The game will be televised by Fox.
The 49ers have dropped four straight games following their surprising 28-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Rams on opening weekend. The Niners have struggled on offense in each of their four losses, getting outscored 140-83. San Francisco has not scored more than 30 in a game this season and is coming off a 33-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week where they managed just 286 total offensive yards and committed three turnovers.
San Francisco ranks 31st in the NFL with 170.0 passing yards a game and 18th in scoring at 22.2 points a contest. The 49ers have scored 14 offensive touchdowns this season.
Chris Chase of Fox Sports is reporting that 49ers head coach Chip Kelly has decided to bench Blane Gabbert in favor of Colin Kaepernick to attempt to kickstart their anemic offense. Gabbert has struggled immensely this season, possessing the second worst rating in the NFL (69.6). He also averages the fewest yards per passing attempt at 5.9 and is second to last in passing yards per game. In addition, Gabbert has thrown more interceptions (six) than touchdowns (five).
While Kaepernick will get the start this Sunday, there remain questions on how committed Kelly is to him. Dan Graziano of ESPN believes Christian Ponder will get the opportunity to start sometime this year.
Kaepernick was pretty successful as the Niners’ starter in his first three years, but he stunk up the joint in his nine games (eight starts) last season – completing 59.0 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards along with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Overall, the 28-year-old is 27-20-0 as a starter per Pro Football Reference.
Ponder has not played in a regular season NFL game since appearing in two games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. The 28-year-old has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 6,658 yards and 38 touchdowns along with 36 picks in played in 38 games – including 36 as a starter. Ponder has a career record as a starter of 14-21-1.
Buffalo (3-2) picked up its first win on the West Coast since 2004 with a 30-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday and has now won three straight games for the first time since 2011. More importantly, the Bills’ defense has been tremendous during the winning streak, and the offense has picked up its production.
1. The Bills will run for 150 or more yards.
Buffalo is averaging 178 rushing yards per game since Anthony Lynn took over as offensive coordinator, which is more than double what they averaged under former OC Greg Roman (75.5). The Bills will once again have their full core of running backs healthy as Reggie Bush saw his first action since Week 2. Mike Gillislee has run the ball well in his limited opportunities, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Rookie Jonathan Williams and fullback Jerome Felton are also on the roster.
LeSean McCoy leads the Bills’ rushing attack and is coming off a terrific game where he totaled a season-high 150 yards on the ground on 18 carries for an fantastic 8.3 yards per carry. The 28-year-old back has topped the century mark in two of the past three games and is averaging 89.5 rushing yards a game.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has not put up big numbers throwing the ball, but he is running the ball very efficiently– averaging over 33 yards on the ground on the season. Taylor has garnered 25 or more yards on the ground in each of the past four games.
San Francisco’s defense ranks 31st against the run, surrendering 146.6 yards on the ground per game. The 49ers have allowed a runner to reach the 100-yard plateau in each of the past four games, including 157 yards to David Johnson (Arizona) last Thursday. The Niners allow 4.66 yards per carry.
San Francisco is currently dealing with several injuries on the defensive side of the ball though 2016. First round draft pick DeForest Buckner (foot) and veteran nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (knee) may return to the lineup after sitting out the game against Arizona. Cornerback Chris Davis (knee), linebacker Tank Carradine (toe), and safety Jaquiski Tartt (stinger, quad) are the other players that may appear on the injury list. In addition, linebacker Navarro Bowman was placed on IR after Week 4 with an Achilles injury.
2. Buffalo will get pressure on the San Francisco quarterback and record at least two sacks, with Lorenzo Alexander being credited with half-a-sack or more.
The Bills have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL with 17 sacks and a 9.2 adjusted sack rate, which ranks fourth in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Buffalo has several strong pass rushers from the outside as well as the inside, including Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Adolphus Washington, Leger Douzable, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus — who was suspended the first four games of the season and is currently dealing with a hamstring injury.
“Well, they’re like any other [Buffalo Bills head coach] Rex Ryan defense,” Niners offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins said. ” They can pass rush you in a lot of different ways with a lot of different people. In their normal pass rush, they have a really effective, really good pass rusher in [Buffalo Bills LB] Jerry Hughes and then on the other end, they’ve got a guy that’s leading the league in sacks right now. So, they’ve got some individual guys that can rush the passer. They’ve got inside guys in [Buffalo Bills DT] Kyle Williams, who I was with for three years, who really understands how to get off and how to get to the pass rusher and I’m sure [Buffalo Bills DT] Marcell Dareus will be back. He’s a really good pass rusher. So, they’re able to generate it with different people, but in their base pass rush they have good people doing it.”
Alexander has been credited with at least a half sack in all five games and is coming off a three sack performance against the Rams. The 33-year-old linebacker leads the NFL with seven sacks while Hughes has four sacks, which is the 10th highest in the league.
San Francisco has given up 10 sacks, ranked 16th by Football Outsiders’ pass protection rankings. But 2016 first-round draft pick Josh Garnett will make his first career start at right guard. Garnett saw his first extensive action after replacing Andrew Tiller in the fourth quarter of the game against the Cardinals.
“Josh was OK,” Kelly said. “I think his first significant snaps. I think we had him in for 18 plays. He did some nice things at times, and then some other things that I’m sure he wants back, but that’ll come with time with him.”
3. Buffalo will win the turnover battle.
The Bills have done a fantastic job protecting the ball this season. They have turned the ball over just twice, with both being interceptions by Taylor. Taylor has not thrown an interception in the past two games and has a 1.3 percent interception rate (139 overall pass attempts).
Defensively, Buffalo has six interceptions and four fumble recoveries for a plus-eight turnover differential. Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman have two picks each.
San Francisco has turned the ball over seven times this season, six of them being interceptions. And Kaepernick’s biggest issue throughout his career is how inaccurate he is. Kaepernick has a career completion percentage of 59.9 percent and has not finished a season with a completion percentage over 60 percent since 2012. He doesn’t throw a ton of interceptions, as he has been picked off 26 times in 1,361 pass attempts.
The 49ers have created eight turnovers this year, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Niners have yet to generate much of a pass rush this season, recording eight sacks and ranking 26th in pass rush.
4. Neither Jeremy Kerley nor Carlos Hyde will surpass the century mark in total offense.
Kerley and Hyde have been the 49ers’ major offensive weapons this season. Hyde has reached the 100-yard mark on the ground once this season (versus Seattle) and is eighth in the league with 377 rushing yards (75.4 yards per game). The 26-year-old is not much of threat as a pass catcher, though he did have six receptions for 36 yards against the Rams. He has two 100-yard games of total offense this season.
Kerley has been the Niners’ go to receiver, leading the team in receptions (26), targets (46), and yards (304). The 27-year-old has caught 14 passes for 190 yards over the past two games, including eight for 102 against the Cards. He has four catches of 20 or more yards. Additionally, he has 64 yards after the catch and seven punt returns for 57 yards.
Buffalo’s defense has been outstanding during the winning streak, permitting less than 13 points over the past three games. The Bills have surrendered 354.2 yards per game this season, though they have limited their opponents to around 320 yards over the past three games.
Buffalo has some very good linebackers and cornerbacks — Gilmore and Ronald Darby. And the Bills have allowed just one runner and two receivers to post 100-yard games — one which was a tight end (New England’s Martellus Bennett).
5. Buffalo will move to 4-2 on the season.
The Bills are favored by seven points and given a 71 percent chance of winning the game by ESPN’s Football Power Index. This is the first match-up between the franchises since 2012.
San Francisco leads the series 6-5 and has won three-of-the-past four matchups. The Niners are 2-2 in Buffalo in the series. The Bills are 1-1 at home, while the 49ers are 0-2 on the road this year.
Buffalo is averaging 23.4 points this season, as they have topped the 30-point mark three times. The Bills also are surrendering the fifth fewest points with 17.4 points a contest.
[Featured Image by Jae C. Hong/ AP Photo]