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Davis walkout means trouble for Bills secondary
The timing of Vontae Davis' bizarre retirement at halftime of the Buffalo Bills' Week 2 loss to the Chargers has left the team in a potentially difficult predicament heading into Sunday's game at Minnesota.
With Davis off the team, and two other cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Taron Johnson injured and carrying uncertain status this week, the Bills might have to rely on journeyman backup Lafayette Pitts to start opposite Tre'Davious White against one of the best passing teams in the NFL.
Other than Johnson and Gaines, the only other cornerback on the active roster is Ryan Lewis, who was signed to the practice squad three weeks ago. He was promoted to the 53-man roster Tuesday.
Gaines started Week 1 against Baltimore, then ceded to Davis in Week 2. In the second quarter, before Davis called it quits, Gaines sustained a dislocated elbow, which knocked him out for the rest of the day.
With Johnson already inactive due to a shoulder injury suffered at Baltimore, Pitts was the only other cornerback besides White.
If Gaines can't play in Minnesota, Pitts would likely start. He has dressed for 26 NFL games with the Bills, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, but has never started and for most of those games, he played primarily on special teams.
"I thought he did a really good job," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Pitts stepping in for Davis mid-game. "I think we were all really pleased with how he played considering the amount of snaps that he got during the course of the week. He's not one of those guys that get a lot of reps.
"He's giving the scout team a look and he's kind of a down the line type of guy when it comes to getting reps in practice. For him to step in and play as much as he did and as well as he did, kudos to him. That means he was paying attention to the game plan, even though he wasn't getting reps in practice, and taking care of business like a pro. So, he did a really good job."
That's all well and good, but Pitts lining up across from the likes of wide receivers Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen, and trying to prevent completions from Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins, seems like a recipe for disaster for the undermanned Buffalo defense.
Compounding matters for the Bills is their continued inability to generate meaningful pass-rush pressure. It was non-existent for the first game and a half, then started to come around in the second half of the 31-20 loss to the Chargers as Lorenzo Alexander and Jerry Hughes both had sacks.
"I think being able to put them in some predictable third-down situations, that helped a little bit," Frazier said when asked why the pass rush was better. "Just the fact that we found a way to win some one-on-ones. The rush that Lorenzo, had, Trent (Murphy) had a good rush as well, and Jerry winning his one-on-one. Jerry was consistently being in their backfield throughout, just a step late, maybe, in getting the sack, but he had some hurries throughout the game. For him to finally get the quarterback on the ground was good to see."
The Bills will need a whole lot more of that in a game where they are the biggest underdog in a September NFL game (currently 16.5 points) since the Chicago Bears faced that same number against the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. The Vikings are going to score points, and given the way the Buffalo offense has played, it's highly unlikely the Bills will be able to keep pace.
The Bills rank 32nd in yards per play (3.7), 31st in yards per game (223.0) and passing yards per game (139.5), 31st in sacks allowed per pass attempt, 31st in points, and 30st in first downs.
"We made some improvement in some areas (over Week 1)," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "We have a long way to go; have to continue to get better and grind at it and improve in all areas. That's' what we're going to do."
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 8-5. This will be the Bills' first visit to U.S. Bank Stadium. In their last game at Minnesota in 2010, the Bills were defeated 38-14. In the last meeting, held in Buffalo in 2014, the Bills prevailed 17-16 on a last-second touchdown reception by Sammy Watkins.