Tue, 06 Dec 2022

6 things to watch for in Bills vs. Lions | Thanksgiving 2022

Buffalo Bills
24 Nov 2022, 22:15 GMT+10

Chris Brown 1 - Turkey Day numbers

The Lions are an annual participant on Thanksgiving. Thursday will be their 83rd game on Thanksgiving. For Buffalo it'll be their 11th, tied for eighth most all time.

Of late the Thanksgiving day game has not been kind to the Lions. They've lost five in a row on turkey day and seven straight against AFC teams. Winless in their last 10 games against AFC opponents, the Lions have dropped six in a row at home to AFC foes.

However, when it comes to matchups between the Bills and Lions on Thanksgiving, it's Detroit with the better record as the Lions are 2-0. Detroit last faced Buffalo on Thanksgiving in Week 13 of the 1994 season when the posted a 35-21 victory when QB Dave Krieg threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns to finish with a perfect passer rating (158.3).

Buffalo has been a frequent participant on Thanksgiving lately. This is the third time in the last four seasons the Bills are playing on turkey day, posting a 2-0 mark with wins at Dallas (2019) and at New Orleans (2021).

Josh Allen is 2-0 on Thanksgiving in his career with a completion percentage of almost 81 percent (80.8), six total touchdowns and a passer rating of 122. Additionally, he's 3-0 in Thursday games with an average margin of victory of 19 points in those games.

2 - Streaking Lions

After a 1-6 start to the season, the Lions are on a roll currently riding a three-game winning streak after wins over Green Bay, Chicago and the Giants. A key to their recent success has been their ability to force turnovers. Since Week 9, the Lions lead the league with a plus-six turnover differential.

The Lions were plus-one against Green Bay, plus-two against Chicago and plus-3 against the Giants thanks to six interceptions and a fumble recovery. That combined with just one giveaway of their own (INT) the past three games has been critical.

Lions' head coach Dan Campbell is hoping the trend continues this week.

"We desperately will need them," said Dan Campbell, of turnovers in their upcoming meeting with the Bills." We're going to need them and look, that's been part of the secret sauce for us. We are getting them and that means we're turning a corner because we are getting them out. And so, we've got to continue that trend and if we can put (Josh Allen) in a position to where he feels like he needs to get rid of the ball and we get our hands on it. We have to capitalize, so it's going to be big for us. It's been big for us."

That plus-six turnover margin has been instrumental in giving the Lions a net point differential of plus-20 on their three-game win streak thanks to the extra possessions. That's because it's also helped them reduce their league-worst points allowed average (28.2) by almost 10 points on their current streak. Since Week 9, they've given up just 19 points per game.

Buffalo is coming off just their second game this season without a giveaway in their win over Cleveland. Their other was in Week 2 against Tennessee.

3 - An offense to be respected

As prolific as Buffalo's offense has been for the better part of two-plus seasons, the Lions' offense has been near top five worthy in 2022, ranked sixth in total offense, sixth in yards per play and fourth in touchdowns per game. They also rank high in big-play ability, something that Bills head coach Sean McDermott is acutely aware of going into Thanksgiving.

"I mean, for most plays with 20 plus yards this season, they're top five," said McDermott. "For most 30-point games in the NFL, they're tops in the league. They're one of the top teams with most 25-plus yard pass plays this season. They're not sneaking up on anybody. They're a good football team."

To provide further context, Detroit is tied with Buffalo for third in the league with 224 points scored from inside their opponents' 30-yard line and they've scored their 224 points on 12 fewer possessions.

An ability to run the football (see below) and protect quarterback Jared Goff has been key components to their success. The Lions have allowed just 15 sacks this season, third fewest in the league.

4 - Run 'D' redux

Buffalo's defensive front is coming off a dominating performance against the run last week in their win over the Browns. For the fourth time this season, and first time in a month the Bills surrendered fewer than 90 yards on the ground as they held Nick Chubb to 19 yards, the lowest total of his career in any game in which he has 10 carries or more.

The Bills defense will need to have a repeat performance this week against Detroit's bruising back, Jamaal Williams. Williams is coming off a career-high three rushing touchdowns in last week's 31-18 win over the Giants.

"He's our leader," said Lions running backs coach Duce Staley of Williams. "Not just offensively, but our team leader. He gets a chance to break them down, he talks to them. He's out there when he's not feeling well, he still has juice, energy. Going through the drills, I mean he's just - he's everywhere. So, those guys they love him. They love him and they show it out there on the field."

Williams, who leads the league in scoring with 12 rushing touchdowns, has five games with at least two rushing touchdowns this season and is just the fourth player since 2000 with multiple rushing touchdowns in at least five of his team's first 10 games of a season.

Williams has rushed for 50 yards or more in nine consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this matchup for Buffalo's run defense is their propensity to deploy light boxes (6 defenders or less) in the run front. The Bills lead the league with light boxes on 73.5 percent of their snaps against opponent rushes, and yet they still rank eighth in the NFL against the run.

Detroit has had enormous success against light boxes this season averaging seven yards per carry versus such defensive fronts. Their +167 rushing yards over expected against light boxes also leads the league, as does their 5.2 yards after contact per carry.

5 - Red zone concerns

The Detroit offense, as mentioned above, has no trouble moving the football. And though converting consistently on third down has cropped up as an issue for Jared Goff and company at times, converting in the red zone has not.

In fact the Lions offense is one of the best in the league at reaching the end zone once they penetrate their opponents' 20-yard line. Their 38 red zone possessions this season are second only to Buffalo's 39, and Detroit has converted just over 71 percent of those possessions with a touchdown (27-38, 71.1%), which ranks fifth in the NFL.

And when the Lions take their red zone possessions and turn them into goal-to-go situations they are almost certain to reach the end zone. They score touchdowns in goal-to-go situations 87 percent of the time (20-23), which ranks third behind only Miami and Tennessee. Their 20 goal-to-go touchdowns rank second only to Kansas City's 22.

"They're just a physical team how they come off the ball on the O-line. They're a very physical team," said Ed Oliver, who tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with three last week. "They do a lot of gap scheme stuff, but very physical team. They're going to play you hard for all 60 minutes and you never can put them away because they just fight the whole time."

Buffalo's red zone defense has been pretty solid the last three weeks. They allowed touchdowns on just five of the last 13 red zone possessions by their opponents (38.4%). It's the Bills offense that will have to put in some work to match the success rate of the Lions offense.

Although Buffalo's offense ranks 23rd in red zone touchdown efficiency with a success rate of just over 51 percent (51.3%), they are facing a Lions red zone defense that has struggled all season and ranks 26th allowing touchdowns more than two thirds of the time (66.7%).

6 - Improving offensive diversity

Last season, Buffalo's run game caught fire the last month of the season and rolled up the second most rushing yards in the league over that span. Over the last four weeks, the Bills have put together their four most productive rushing performances. Not surprisingly, they've also put together their four-best yards per carry average performances as well with averages of 5.7, 6.1, 6.5 and 5.2. Receiver Stefon Diggs sees that as a good thing going forward for their offense.

"We've got a nice little three-headed monster," said Diggs of their running back contingent of James Cook, Nyheim Hines and Devin Singletary. "I feel like the running game offers another explosive part of our offense that we can turn to. When I said we had depth, I didn't just mean at the receiver position. We've got just so many talented guys. We all know what the run does with the passes, they kind of open them up a lot more.

"We're not one-dimensional. I feel like we're two-dimensional. We can throw the ball, we can pass the ball, we can run it with the quarterback. We can beat you in many different ways. So we hone in on not only be good at one thing. We can play left-handed."

"Our philosophy has always been we're going to do whatever it takes to win a football game that week and that's the only thing that matters," said offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. "We're going to focus on whatever we've got to do this week to win a football game, whether it's run to pass, pass to run, personnel groups, whatever it might be, I think that's what makes us difficult to defend at times is the fact we can be multiple. We can attack in different ways."

Detroit's run defense is giving up more than 150 yards on the ground per game (153.7), which ranks 31st in the NFL, and at a clip of 5.2 yards per rush, which ranks 30th.

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