For the visitors they have alternated wins and losses so far through four games this season, having defeated Indianapolis in week one, lost to the Patriots in week two, won at Miami in week three and lost last Sunday's home contest versus the Giants. At 2-2 Rex Ryan and his squad need a win to remain above .500 for the season.
Likewise, the Titans need a win to get back to .500 for the season and more importantly, to break a two-game losing streak the team currently owns. The Titans almost desperately want to end the streak and break the pattern that is following the same track as last season when the team won on opening day, only to ride a losing streak before getting their second and final win of the season in week six.
So what are the five keys for the Titans to win Sunday?
1) MARIOTA VS REX RYAN: Ryan has earned his strips in the NFL as a defensive coach who loves to blitz and disrupt offenses with different looks to try to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has played like anything but a rookie through his first three games, but he did struggle at times against the blitz in the loss to Cleveland, and Ryan hs most certainly seen that game film.
The Bills have one of the best front sevens in the NFL for Ryan to play with against Mariota, and how the rookie handles the pressure he is sure to see will be a key to winning for the Titans. Through four week, that defense has produced seven sacks, three fumble recoveries and six interceptions.
2) WIN THIRD DOWN: This season has seen the Titans defense improve on their ability to get off the field on third down. Buffalo's offense will possibly be without both LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams (injuries) as the team signed free-agent Boom Herron on Monday to fill the vacancy left by their absence. The Bills running game with McCoy and Williams ranked first in the AFC (128.3 yards per game) and sixth in the NFL through four games, but will they be able to produce at the same level with Herron?
The Bills passing game with quarterback Tyrod Taylor has thrown for 229.8 yards per game, but the Bills third down efficiency is just 35% through four games. The Titan defense must be able to win on first and second downs against the run and force Taylor into third and long situations where they have struggled this season.
Through three games, the Titans are atop the league in third down defense, allowing 11 first downs on 36 attempts (69.4 percent success rate) meaning the defense is getting off the field themselves. Expect Dick Lebeau to throw some wrinkles of his own at Taylor and the Bills offense on Sunday.
3) START FAST, STAY FAST: The Titans offense started fast in the opener against Tampa, but were sluggish in both losses that followed. In the two losses the Titans trailed 21-0 and 14-0 while only scoring 10 points combined in the two games. Playing from behind is not necessarily a strength of this team right now, though they had a big second half against Indy; Getting an early lead would be huge to put pressure on Buffalo and allow the young Titans to have the full playbook available offensively.
How they open against a strong Bills defense on Sunday will be key.
4) SHORT, QUICK PASSES: Buffalo's defense is allowing 376.6 yards per game and 23.0 points, meaning that even though they have a strong front seven, they can be scored on.
To do it the Titans must throw the football. The Bills are allowing 297.8 yards passing per game and only 78.5 rushing. The Titans must stick to the run for effect and hope to have some success, but the short passing game early one to tight ends in the middle of the field against the Bills linebackers looks to be the best way to attack them early.
If Mariota is efficient with quick passes early to move the football in the middle of the field it will force the safeties up for support and then there could be some shots over the top. Either way the purpose of controling the middle with short passes will force Buffalo out of their blitzes and hopefully open up things in the running game enough for it to at least be a factor that the Bills must defend as the game wears on.
5) HOME SWEET HOME: The Titans homefield was once a huge advantage, but it has gone the way of the wins in recent years. Against the Colts two weeks ago, the home crowd was sitting on G and waiting on O when the Titans offense finally got going. A quick start by the team would allow for a quick start by the fans as well and if they can be a factor early and often then the teams chances of winning improve.
While homefield is an advantage, it is a precarious one in this instance. If the Titans start slow and struggle it will be non-existant and won't matter. A fast start is the only way the crowd comes into play on Sunday.