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What to watch for in 'MNF': Bills-Seahawks

Why so defensive?

Both the Bills and Seahawks, though well-equipped on the defensive side of the ball, have seen their offenses flounder in recent weeks. Sans Shady McCoy, Buffalo stumbled to back-to-back division losses with Tyrod Taylor leading the team in rushing and Walter Powell in receiving. Eek. Rex Ryan's Bills have bookended a four-game winning streak that saw McCoy enter the MVP conversation with a pair of two-game skids. Having already conceded the AFC East to the Patriots, the Bills will have to contend with a top-heavy AFC West for a wild-card spot in the AFC. With McCoy ready to return, Monday night's game is an opportunity for Buffalo to reestablish Anthony Lynn's ground-and-pound attack and get back on track.

Seattle's offense needs a shot in the arm, or at the very least, a nice evening at home. The Seahawks are undefeated at the CenturyLink Field this season, 9-1 at home in prime-time under Pete Carroll and 4-0 on Monday Night Football during that span. But a win over the Bills isn't a sure thing. All but two of Seattle's games this season have been decided by six points or fewer, and the Seahawks' offense is scaring next to no one these days; even the Saints held Seattle to 20 points.

Here's what to watch for when the Bills (4-4) attempt to bounce back against the Seahawks (4-2-1) on Monday Night Football:

  1. Russell Wilson is playing with his feet stuck in cement. The previously elusive quarterback has not looked himself after suffering what looked to be a serious knee injury in Week 3, and since then playing through ankle and pectoral injuries. In an unfortunate domino effect, his limited mobility is affecting his prowess through the air. Wilson has just 44 rushing yards this season, tied with Tom Brady (!) and Kirk Cousins, and has had four games with 0 pass TDs and 0 rush TDs -- prior to 2016, he'd had six such games in his four-year career. The Seahawks QB is on pace for career-lows in TD passes (13) and passer rating (94.3), and has led Seattle to just one offensive TD in two weeks. Though Wilson is rarely sacked (1.7 per game), Seattle's underwhelming offensive line is doing him no favors in the run game and on third-down. Will any of these downward trends change against a formidable Bills front seven that likes to get after the quarterback?
  1. If healthy, Buffalo's linebackers could wreak havoc in the Emerald City. The Bills are anchored on the edges of the box by Lorenzo Alexander, who has stumbled across a fountain of youth adjacent to Niagara Falls, and Jerry Hughes; they are tied for most sacks in the league by a teammate duo (13). Overall, Buffalo's defense is tops in the league in sacks and contributes to the Bills' third-ranked turnover differential (+8). Though Buffalo fleeced in consecutive weeks by Miami and New England, their back-to-back embarrassments could be attributed to outsized performances from Jay Ajayi and Brady. Buffalo will miss Marcell Dareus -- who returned from injury to record a sack against the Pats, but will sit out Monday night -- but if Alexander and Hughes (both questionable) saddle up, then Buffalo's defense will contend snap-for-snap with Seattle's stagnant offense.
  1. Will we see the return of the Bills' early-season rushing attack, or even a new and improved version of the ground-and-pound offense? Ryan said he is confident that McCoy will play Monday after sitting out more than a week with a hamstring injury, but there's no telling how many carries the back will get. Regardless of how much action Shady sees, the Bills will immediately become more dynamic and less obvious in their play-calling due entirely to McCoy's presence on the field. Mike Gillislee, who filled in admirably last week, can become a change-of-pace back. Buffalo's maligned receivers should see easier coverages. Most importantly, Taylor will be able to run with greater effectiveness. Taylor has already looked more like Russell Wilson than Wilson has this year, compiling a position-high 319 rushing yards and three rush TDs. If things don't go swell through the air against Seattle's veteran secondary, Taylor can be an even greater threat on the ground.
  1. No Kam Chancellor, no Michael Bennett, no problem. The strength of Seattle's defense in 2016 is in the second level. Bobby Wagner is having another Pro Bowl-caliber year, tied for fifth in the league with 72 combined tackles. Fellow linebacker K.J. Wright is playing up to his teammate's standard, boasting 58 combined tackles and two sacks on the season. But the real driving force of Seattle's defense this season has come from the outside pass rushers. Like Alexander and Hughes, defensive ends Cliff Avril and Frank Clark have also combined for 13 sacks and four forced fumbles -- Avril has come on as of late with 5.5 sacks in the last three weeks. Against a run-heavy team in Buffalo, it will be up to Seattle's leading linebackers to dictate the game's pace and its speed rushers to switch field position.
  1. Are we on the verge of a big Jimmy Graham game? The tight end has been stifled in more than half of Seattle's games this season and failed to muster an impassioned outing against his former team in New Orleans last week. But the Bills have surrendered big games to top tight ends this season, most notably a 109-yard day to Rob Gronkowski in Week 8. Graham is also a prime-time performer, averaging at least one touchdown per game in 18 night games. If Buffalo becomes more occupied with harassing Wilson in the pocket than playing accountable coverage, as Rex's teams are oft to do, look for Graham to pick up some chunk yardage in the middle of the field.
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