Dave Choate: I'm consistently surprised at how good Tyrod Taylor is, and how good he is at avoiding interceptions. Is he going to be the long-term solution at quarterback for the Bills, or will they be investing in a draft pick in the near future?
Jeff Hunter: Let me start by saying this: I have never seen a player whose on-field production produces as much polarization among fans as Taylor's does. Half of the fan base thinks he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league who is constantly dragged down by a league-worst receiving corps, and the other half is ready to throw Nathan Peterman in as soon as Taylor throws another pick. He's good when you consider the expectation of guys with his skill set, and he's excellent when you compare him to the dregs the Bills have had under center since Drew Bledsoe was run out of town 13 years ago, but up against the best quarterbacks in the league he's an average passer on his best days who relies on his legs to keep plays alive more than most and doesn't take risks. While that certainly helps avoid turnovers, there are too many instances where it doesn't result in points.
Given that the Bills have two picks in each of the first three rounds of next year's draft, there's a strong expectation that the Bills are picking a quarterback early, either with their own pick or earlier if they decide to trade up. Taylor's contract gives the Bills an out after this year with a dead cap hit of around $8 million, and even if they don't release or trade him the deal expires after next season. Neither current GM Brandon Beane nor former GM Doug Whaley ever seemed terribly interested in giving a firm commitment to Taylor long-term, and at the end of the day it's hard to ignore the fact that the Bills are only 17-15 with Taylor as the primary quarterback, and the playoff drought is at 17 seasons and counting.
Dave Choate: LeSean McCoy hasn't had his best year on paper, but he worries the hell out of me. How will the Bills utilize him against this #fast and #physical defense, and should we be more worried about him on the ground or through the air?
Jeff Hunter: After a monster game in the opener over the Jets, Shady has run for 30 yards on 26 carries in the last two games combined. A big part of that seems to be the offensive line, which has struggled in shifting to a zone-heavy blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. It seems like there are too many plays where McCoy has two or three defenders in his face as soon as he takes the handoff. If the running game is going to return to the top of the league, the line is going to need to play much better.
He has been an important part of the Bills' passing game, as Taylor's frequent check-downs (be they a result of covered receivers or missed reads) have McCoy leading the Bills with 18 receptions this year. When he has room, McCoy is still as dangerous as ever with the football in his hands, so if the Falcons can't keep him covered he'll kill them after the catch.
Dave Choate: The Falcons have been leaning on the run as heavily as they can when opposing defenses allow. Can the Falcons run on the Bills, and how would you recommend attacking that defensive front?
Jeff Hunter: Through three weeks, the Bills have the NFL's seventh-best rushing defense in allowing 75.3 yards per game. A big reason for that is their tackling; it was a HUGE issue for the Bills last year, but this season they've been great at bringing down runners on first contact and using the secondary (especially safety Jordan Poyer, who has been a revelation this year) to get to the runner in the backfield and slow him up, if not make a tackle for a loss.
They gave up 1111 to the Broncos, most of which came on a few big runs up the middle. Marcell Dareus missed the game with an ankle injury, and it's not clear yet whether he'll be good to go on Sunday. If he is, the Bills should be able to keep the Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman duo in check for the most part. If he can't, the Falcons' stellar interior offensive line should be able to neutralize Adolphus Washington and Cedric Thornton to gash a few big runs up the middle. Kyle Williams is still a great player on the interior, but he can only do so much by himself.
Dave Choate: I ask this every week, because I enjoy the answers: How will the Bills stop Julio Jones? Can they?
Jeff Hunter: The Bills "held" Demaryius Thomas to six catches for 98 yards last week by keeping the play in front of them and limiting his ability to do damage after the catch. There were a couple of plays where they played the pass perfectly, but Thomas just made a great play to come down with the ball. Rookie corner Tre'Davious White handled him about as well as can be expected, and I expect him to play Jones the same way. If the pass rush can get going and keep plays from developing downfield (something they've been pretty good at this year), I'd expect Jones to finish with a similar stat line to Thomas, maybe with a touchdown thrown in there.
Honestly, I'm (almost) more afraid of what Taylor Gabriel can do against the Bills. The secondary had a lot of trouble containing Emmanuel Sanders, who caught seven passes for 75 yards and had a 44-yard catch ruled incomplete on review. As I said, the secondary has done a phenomenal job when they keep the play in front of them, but if Gabriel can use his speed to break the coverage consistently the Bills will be in for a long day.
Dave Choate: What's your final score prediction, and your prediction for how the season will go for Buffalo?
Jeff Hunter: There was a lot of talk about the Bills being in tank mode, but the defense has quieted all of that talk through three games. If they can go into Atlanta and shut down the Falcons, you might start hearing talk about this team being a real playoff contender in the vein of the 2000 Ravens. That said, I don't expect that to happen. I had the Bills at 2-1 heading into this game before the season started, and I expected them to lose here. Give me the Falcons, 24-14.