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An early look at the Bills: Expect a big week from the 49ers rushing attack

San Francisco has plenty of statistical advantages in this game

San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers “host” the Buffalo Bills Monday night, where Sports Betting Dime has the Niners listed as 3-point “home” underdogs to Buffalo, but as of writing this, that number has already dipped to 2.5 at some spots. The game’s total is 48, so Vegas expects a score in the 26-23 range.

When the Bills have the ball

Buffalo’s offense is legit. The Bills are eighth in offensive DVOA while ranking sixth against the pass and 22nd against the run. Buffalo ranks fifth in EPA/play, third in success rate, fifth in dropback EPA, and third in dropback success rate. They’re 21st in rushing EPA and 17th in rushing success rate. Josh Allen is a bit of a roller coaster, but Allen is an MVP-caliber player when he is on.

Allen ranks seventh in DVOA, sixth in quarterback rating, and fourth in completion percentage over expectation. Allen is night and day from Jared Goff. He extends plays with his legs and will throw the ball down the field seemingly once a drive. The 49ers’ secondary must be ready to defend the entire field. Also, Buffalo calls designed QB runs for Allen. They did on the second offensive play last week, and Allen gained six yards.

Allen has attempted 32 throws beyond 20 yards this season. For comparison’s sake, Nick Mullens and Jimmy Garoppolo have combined for 23 deep attempts. Now, Allen will give you a chance to make a play on defense. He’s thrown four interceptions on those deep attempts and eight on the year. If you’ve watched the Bills play this season, you know that Allen has been fortunate to have a few interceptions dropped.

The Bills have a nice complementary receiver in Cole Beasley, an up and coming athletic tight end in Dawson Knox, oh and one of the best receivers in football in Stefon Diggs. There aren’t many cornerbacks who have stopped Digs this season. He’s catching 74% of his passes and has 945 yards for four touchdowns. Diggs has been a top-five receiver this season wins at every level of the field. Most of his targets come in the intermediate range and outside of the numbers, so it’ll be on Jason Verrett and Richard Sherman to slow down Diggs, who has five receptions over 20 yards this season.

Despite giving up a 61-yard run against the Rams, San Francisco remains a top-5 run defense in EPA this season. If the 49ers can force Allen to convert on third and long consistently, they’ll be fine. Running back, Devin Singletary isn’t putting fear in anyone’s eyes. Buffalo’s offensive line ranks 23rd in adjusted line yards. I say this as the Bills just ran for 172 yards on 30 attempts last week against the Chargers.

When the 49ers have the ball

Run it! The 49ers’ ground game has been subpar this season. That should change against the Bills. Teams have had no issue gashing Buffalo on the ground this season, and Los Angeles did so against Buffalo early in Week 12. The Bills have given up the fourth-most explosive running plays this season. If there was ever a time for the Niners to get their ground game going, this is the week. Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. should have a productive night.

You’re not going to confuse the Bills front with the Rams. Buffalo ranks 10th in adjusted line yards, 25th in “running back yards,” and are dead last in the league in second-level yards, which calculates yardage earned between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Tackling has been an issue for Buffalo this season. They have the fifth-most missed tackles this year. Before their bye against the Chargers, Buffalo missed 17, yes, 17 tackles against the Cardinals. Thankfully, making defenders miss is an area where the Niners excel.

We know pressure gives any quarterback issues, but that’s especially true with a backup quarterback. Buffalo ranks 8th in adjusted sack rate, 16th in QB knockdown percentage, and 22nd in pressure rate. So when they get there, they finish, but it’s not often the Bills generate pressure, which explains why opposing offenses haven’t had issues moving the ball on this defense.

The Bills rank 22nd in yards per drive, 27th in points per drive, 23rd in plays per drive, and 26th in drive success rate on defense. Hey, Kyle Shanahan, now is your time. I’m not going to pretend to have watched every game the Bills have played in, but in the games I’ve seen, it’s not as if the secondary has performed poorly. Watching last week’s game, their defense was all over the place. The 49ers pre-snap motion should create plenty of headaches for the Bills, and they do not have the team speed to match San Francisco’s.

I imagine the 49ers would be favored if Jimmy Garoppolo were healthy. We’ll get into more matchups as the week goes along, but my initial read on this game leads me to believe the Niners’ speed, ground game, and ability to limit the big play give San Francisco the advantage. The Bills are one of the best teams in the league on third down and have stars in Allen and Diggs that can trump most defenses. Monday night has the potential to be one of the more entertaining games of the season.