Perry’s Preview: Buffalo Bills vs San Francisco 49ers

After this past Sunday’s surprising victory over the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 23-20, the San Francisco 49ers stand at 5-6 going into a pivotal matchup against the Buffalo Bills. Tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears for the 8th spot in the playoff hunt, the 49ers will likely need to win out the rest of the season if they even want a shot to sneak into the playoffs.

On paper, this game appears to be favored towards the Bills, as their offense, led by dynamic QB Josh Allen and stud WR Stefon Diggs, feature an explosive aerial attack that can blow the roof off of a defense in just one play. The Bills are averaging over 27 points per game on offense, while rushing for an average of 104 yards per game, and passing for 268 yards per game.

As for the 49ers defense, the group has been nothing short of stellar, as even with the injuries, they are performing at a top-10 level. According to Football Outsiders, the unit is rated as the 9th best defense via DVOA. Aside from this, they are allowing 23 points per game, good for 11th in the league. They are also allowing 108 rushing yards per game, and 206 passing yards per game!

Needless to say, the defense has been doing most of the heavy lifting for the 49ers, as the inconsistency of the offense has made the 49ers a tricky team to project.

The 49ers’ offense ranks 19th in DVOA, much of which can be accredited to injuries and faulty QB play. The Bills’ defense ranks at 16th via DVOA, which suggests that via analytics, this matchup should be fairly even. With the return of Brandon Aiyuk, his pairing alongside stud WR Deebo Samuel will put pressure on the Bills secondary.

It will be battle of wit between both Samuel (11 recs, 133 yards vs. Rams) and Aiyuk (back from COVID-19 list), against star CB Tre’Davious White (72.9 coverage grade, 2 INTs) and Levi Wallace (65.7 coverage grade, 1 INT).

The Bills defense is solid, but not world beaters. Kyle Shanahan should be licking his chops at a potential matchup against a defense that has its holes. In any event, With these numbers in mind, I am going to highlight my 3 keys to victory for the 49ers.

1. OL Play Will Be Key For the 49ers

Aside from QB, there hasn’t been a more inconsistent group on the team than the offensive line. According to PFF, the 49ers’ OL grades at a 63.0 as a pass-blocking unit, good for 22nd in the league, while their run-blocking grade is at a 75.4, which is 5th in the league. Pass-protection has been an issue for much of the season, as players such as T Mike McGlinchey (23 pressures allowed) Daniel Brunskill (21 pressures allowed) and Laken Tomlinson (20 pressures allowed) have made life difficult for both Jimmy Garoppolo (who’s on IR) and Nick Mullens. The Bills feature a pass-rush lead by athletic DT Ed Oliver (2 sacks, 29 pressures) and DE Jerry Hughes (5 sacks, 42 pressures). The team is averaging over 2.7 sacks per game, 9th in the NFL. To contain this, the 49ers may need to focus on a run-heavy approach. With Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. back healthy (28 carries, 83 yards, 1 TD combined vs. Rams) look for these two to ignite an offense and take pressure off of Nick Mullens, who has been sub-par this season with a 6-7 TD/INT, 1,642 passing yards.

2. Contain Josh Allen

This seems way easier said than done, but if the 49ers want a shot at winning, they have to deal with the one type of QB trait they have struggled with the past two seasons: mobility. Allen is very well-known for being able to make plays with his feet, as he’s ran the ball 81 times for 311 yards and 6 touchdowns. On top of his Mahomes-esque throwing strength, Allen has the capability to stretch the field both with his arms, and his legs. Brian Daboll, the Bills’ Offensive Coordinator, will call designed QB-run plays for Allen, which will put pressure on the DEs and LBs of the 49ers to either keep him from turning the corner, or scrambling up the middle for a large gain. Look for 49ers DC Robert Saleh to utilize men such as Fred Warner, Tarvarius Moore, and Jimmie Ward, to “SPY” on Allen and prevent big runs from happening.

3. Force Turnovers

Against the Rams, the 49ers were able to force the team to turn the ball over 4 times (2 INTS, 2 Forced Fumbles). 3 of the 4 turnovers came from QB Jared Goff. Much like Goff, Josh Allen is prone to turning the ball over on a consistent basis (8 INTS, 5 Fumbles Lost). Although Allen’s turnover rate has improved over his first 3 seasons, this doesn’t excuse him from who he can play as: A wildly inconsistent, passing machine that can cost his team victories, or lead the team to them. Allen is one of the most polarizing QBs in the league, as his traits as a player can put tremendous amounts of pressure on defenses. Which Allen will we see? Depends on the pass rush. If the 49ers can hit home via the pass rush, we could see a similar performance that we saw against the Rams. Lead by Kerry Hyder Jr. who has 7.5 sacks, the DL has been pressuring QBs at a below league-average rate, sacking QBs this season 20 times, with an adjusted sack rate of 5.8% via Football Outsiders. Josh Allen vs. pressure according to PFF: 9 TDs, 5 INTs, while being sacked 21 times. As for the Bills OL, the group is average, with an adjusted sack rate allowed of 6.7%, and 23 total sacks. Yes, this may be a ton of numbers, but understand that these numbers can predict and describe the events that may take place on Monday. To conclude, this 49ers DL vs Bills OL matchup has all the makings of being a good bout. If the 49ers can pressure Allen and force him to make errant throws/fumble the ball, it could be a sloppy day for the QB. However, if the front-4 fails to get after Allen, it may be a tough day for the 49ers’ secondary.

Lots of factors come into play when playing the Bills, but if the 49ers can focus on these 3 aspects of the game, they can come out with a victory.

For an early prediction, I’m going to ride with the 49ers. Coach Kyle Shanahan is at his best when his back is against the wall, and with everything on the line, I can’t see the team losing a key matchup that could shake up the NFC playoff picture. I’m going to roll with 49ers 34, Bills 31.

Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyRMPerry

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