A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Bills.
On Sunday, the 2-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play their second consecutive road game, heading to Buffalo to take on the 3-2 Bills. It will be the 11th meeting between the two teams but just the second regular-season trip to Buffalo in Tampa Bay's 42-year history (more on the Bucs-Bills series history). Buffalo is coming off its bye week after a Week Five loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to that game, the Bills notched consecutive impressive victories over Denver and Atlanta.
For their own part, the Buccaneers are trying to snap a two-game losing streak and get back into the thick of a very competitive NFC South race. To do so, they will need to contain do-everything running back LeSean McCoy and try to avoid mistakes against Micah Hyde and Buffalo's ball-hawking secondary. Here's a closer look at the challenges the Buccaneers will face on Sunday when they take on the Bills at New Era Field.
Sean McDermott is the only first-year head coach on the Buccaneers' schedule this season. McDermott was named the 22nd head coach in Bills history in January, heading to Buffalo after six very strong years in the Buccaneers' division as the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator. His entire NFL career prior to joining the Panthers in 2009 had been spent in Philadelphia (1999-2008) where he gradually progressed from a scouting coordinator all the way to the Eagles' defensive coordinator position. He worked alongside current Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht for five years in Philly (2003-07) as Licht served as the team's assistant director of player personnel and vice president of player personnel.
Pictures of some of the Bills' top players.
McDermott replaced another head coach with a defensive background in Rex Ryan, though he imported a less complicated system that has helped get better results out of a talented Bills defense. In Carolina, McDermott ran a defense that finished in the NFL's top 10 in yards allowed four-years running from 2012-15. That Panthers defense finished sixth in both yards and points allowed in 2015 when Carolina ran up a 15-1 record and advanced to Super Bowl 50. From 2012-16, McDermott's defense in Carolina ranked first in the NFL in sacks (230) and second in takeaways (145).
Overall, McDermott is in his 19th season in the NFL. In his first 18 years, the teams he worked for made the playoffs 12 times, won nine division titles and advanced to two Super Bowls. As a defensive coordinator, he helped his teams compile a 74-52-1 record.
McCoy, who also encountered McDermott in Philadelphia, calls the Bills' new coach, "tough, honest and fair," while guard Richie Incognito describes him as "detail-oriented." When Buffalo was looking for a new leader in January, McDermott impressed the team with his leadership qualities and his determination.
A national-champion wrestler as a prep, McDermott played college football at William & Mary, where he was a teammate of current Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin. He originally made the William & Mary team as a walk-on but went on to earn all-conference honors at safety as a senior. McDermott's first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at his alma mater in 1998, a post he held for one season before joining the Eagles.
Buffalo's offense has yet to hit its stride in 2017 and is currently ranked 31st in net yards per game (271.6) and 27th in points per game (17.8). However, Buffalo has still been able to win three of five games because the Bills haven't hurt themselves (two turnovers, second-lowest in the NFL) and have performed better once entering the red zone.
The Bill's passing game has been particularly low-wattage, averaging 165.0 yards per game to rank 30th in the NFL. The team's leading pass-catcher among wideouts, Jordan Matthews, has 10 receptions for 162 yards; all of Buffalo's wide receivers combined have 24 receptions this year, or less than five per game.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a dual threat who has run 32 times for 121 yards this year, has been accurate (62.5% completion rate) but hasn't been able to push the ball downfield. His 6.7 yards per attempt ranks 22nd in the league and Buffalo's offense is 27th in completions of 20 or more yards. The Bills have gained four or more yards on only 44.2% of their first-down passes, which is the fifth-lowest percentage in the league, and that has led to tougher situations on second and third down. Buffalo has faced an average of 8.98 yards to go on second down, second-worst in the league, and while the team's third-down conversion rate 39.0 is almost exactly league-average, they have been far better on short attempts than long ones. Buffalo is tied for fifth in third-down conversion of less than four yards – an unsurprising occurrence for a team with a mobile quarterback and a strong running back – but 20th when the try is from six or more yards and 24th when it's 10 or more yards.
That aforementioned running back is McCoy, the ninth-year veteran who is in his third season in Buffalo. McCoy is not only the team's leading rusher (87 carries for 279 yards) but it's leading pass-catcher, with 27 receptions. McCoy remains a dynamic, do-it-all tailback but so far he hasn't broken free for many long gains. He is averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 7.0 yards per reception and has yet to score a touchdown in 2017. Still, McCoy has a career per-carry average of 4.7 yards and just last year he put up a career-best 5.4 yards per tote.
McCoy is joined in the backfield by former Panther Mike Tolbert, a 250-pound battering ram who generally gets a handful of carriers per game. Tolbert has run 37 times for 135 yards this year and has Buffalo's only rushing touchdown. Those backs run behind a line that is spearheaded by left guard Richie Incognito, a Pro Bowler in each of his first two seasons in Buffalo. Cordy Glenn is also a solid veteran presence at left tackle, though Taylor has been sacked 18 times this year. Overall, Buffalo ranks last in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play, allowing Taylor to be dropped on 11.7% of his dropbacks. According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo's line has been 25th-best in the NFL run-blocking and 32nd in pass-blocking so far this year. However, the team has been much more successful when running towards the right end of the opposing defensive line, which means McCoy has fared better behind the blocking of Incognito and Glenn. On the other side of the line, run-blocking issues have already lead the team to make a switch at right guard from John Miller to Vladimir Ducasse, at least in the team's most recent game.
Despite the team's average of 3.4 yards per carry, the Bills are still clearly committed to running the football. Buffalo has run on 50.6% of its plays, the second-highest percentage in the league and well above the NFL average of 41.9%. Buffalo is also the sixth-most likely team to run on first-and-10, doing so 59.3% of the time.
Taylor's favorite target after McCoy has been tight end Charles Clay, who has 20 receptions, a team-high 258 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Andre Holmes has also scored twice on just six catches, while rookie Zay Jones, a high second-round pick, has been limited to just five grabs. Earlier this week, the Bills signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson, who had been released by the Chicago Bears.
As noted earlier, the Bills have been more efficient on offense when getting closer to the goal line. That league-average third-down rate rises dramatically in the red zone to 58.3%, second-best in the entire league. Buffalo is also ninth in the NFL in "successful play" percentage in the red zone, at 47.5%. As such, the team has scored touchdowns on 58.3% of its incursions inside the 20, tied for ninth-best in the NFL. That lack of turnovers has helped; Taylor has thrown just two picks and the Bills have yet to lose a fumble.
While Buffalo's offense has done an excellent job in terms of ball security, the Bills' defense has made it difficult for opposing teams to do the same. Buffalo's eight interceptions on defense are fourth-highest in the NFL and its 10 total takeaways is tied for sixth. That combination has produced a plus-eight turnover differential for the Bills, second only to Jacksonville in the NFL. Also, Buffalo has yet to allow a point following a turnover this year.Safety Micah Hyde, a versatile player signed away from Green Bay this past offseason, has led the takeaway charge with four interceptions, most among all players and the most any Bill defender has recorded in the first five games of a season since 1992. Hyde played all over the secondary for the Packers but has settled in at strong safety for Buffalo and has 21 tackles to go with his rash of picks. He forms an impactful safety duo with another free-agent newcomer, former Cleveland Brown Jordan Poyer. Poyer already has two sacks, two interceptions, six passes defensed and a fumble recovery while ranking third on the team with 28 tackles.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday.
The rest of the Bills' secondary is talented, as well, which is reflected in their opponents' combined passer rating of 66.6, the second-best mark in the NFL. Buffalo has been a "bend-but-don't-break" defense against the pass, giving up 234.8 yards per game through the air (21st in the NFL) but a league-low two touchdown passes. Like their offense, the Bills' defense gets better when the ball approaches the goal line. Opposing offenses have averaged just 1.52 yards per play in the red zone, the second-lowest mark in the NFL, and have converted 21.4% of third-down tries in that area of the field, fourth-lowest in the league.
Like the safeties, the starting corners are new to the team, too: 2017 first-round pick Tre'Davious White joins E.J. Gaines, who was acquired in the trade that sent former first-round wideout Sammy Watkins t the Rams. White is off to a fast start with 22 tackles, one interception and a team-high 11 passes defensed. Gaines has missed a game due to injury but has broken up five passes, picked off one and forced two fumbles. Former Buccaneer Leonard Johnson is the primary nickel back.
Overall, the Buffalo defense has made opposing passers match the slow start of the Bills' own passing attack. Bills foes have completed 61.4% of their passes but are picking up just 6.6 yards per attempt. The secondary is squashing big plays, ranking eighth in gains of 10-plus yards allowed and 11th in passer rating allowed on throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air. The Bills also tackle well, as opposing pass-catchers have the seventh-lowest YAC (yards after catch) total in the league.
The Bills' linebacking corps has a little more Buffalo tenure, although weakside starter and second-leading tackler Ramon Humber just won a starting job this season. He plays next to middle linebacker Preston Brown, who has been starting ever since he was drafted in the third round in 2014. Brown has 38 tackles to Humber's 35, although 27 of Humber's stops have been solos and he leads the team with 14 tackles on running plays. The third linebacker is Lorenzo Alexander, a huge find for the Bills last year. Alexander has been in the NFL since 2006 but before 2016 he had made a total of 16 career starts and recorded 9.0 career sacks. Last year, he suddenly emerged as an every-game starter and one of the league's top sack artists, with 12.5. He has 2.0 more sacks already this season.
Those linebackers have helped the Bills hold opposing teams to just 87.6 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Only 33.8% of opposing first-down runs have gained four or more yards, the fifth-best mark among the league's 32 defenses. Perhaps that's why Buffalo opponents have only run on first-and-10 43.8% of the time, the fifth-lowest percentage in the league.
The defensive line is where Buffalo's defense has a lot of continuity. The defensive tackle duo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams has been the same since 2011, when Dareus was drafted in the first round. Williams has been a Bill his entire pro career, since 2006. Defensive end Jerry Hughes arrived in Buffalo in 2013 and has had 34 sacks since; his counterpart on the other end of the line is 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who has already matched his rookie-season total with 2.0 sacks this year. Overall, despite that experience and talent, the Bills haven't gotten to the quarterback at a high rate. They have 12 sacks as a team, which is tied for 21st in the NFL, and they rank 20th with a sacks-per-pass-play rate of 6.0%.
The Bills' kicking game has been solid. Long-time Seattle kicker Stephen Hauschka arrived in Buffalo this year and has been nearly perfect, making 11 of 12 field goal tries and all eight of his point-after attempts. Hauschka has also given the Bills a long-range weapon, as he has made all four of his tries from 50 yards and beyond this year. That has always been a strength of his, as he has made 20 of 28 attempts from that range in his career, including 11 of 11 in the last three seasons.
Colton Schmidt in his fourth year as the Bills' punter, during which he has put up good averages, 44.1 yards gross and 39.4 yards net per kick. This year, he stands at 45.9 and 39.9, averages that rank 15th and 24th in the NFL, respectively. He has dropped nine punts inside the 20 but has also hit four touchbacks. The Bills' cover team has helped by holding opposing return men to 5.9 yards per runback on 15 tries. The kickoff coverage unit hasn't been as stout, allowing an average of 26.2 yards per return, with a long of 61. The Bills are on the low end of the spectrum in terms of forcing touchbacks on kickoffs, as only 50 of their kicks have ended in that manner. Hauschka ranks 26th in the NFL in touchback percentage.
Wide receiver Brandon Tate has given the Bills a spark in the punt return game, averaging 12.0 yards per try to rank sixth in the NFL, with a long runback of 40 yards. Former draft pick Kaelin Clay, an excellent return man at Utah, is also in the mix, though he has had only a couple opportunities so far. Tate is also the primary kickoff returner, but he's had only four of those, at a clip of 20.3 yards per try.