NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

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Bills Look To Rebound In Home Opener

The Bills had high hopes for the 2012 but many of those hopes came crashing down when they were routed on opening day by the Jets 48-28.  However as Bills fans know from experience, one game does not a season make.  After all this is the team that won their opener on the road against the Chiefs last year 41-7 on their way to a 5-2 start before the season came crashing down and they finished at 6-10.  Maybe they are trying reverse psychology this season?  Either way Bills fans are on edge after the big loss to the Jets and winning their home opener will go a long way in calming the fears of the masses, particularly with what could be the easiest road game on the schedule, at Cleveland, in Week 3.  Here are some things to look for in Week 2 for the Bills:

  • Mario Williams needs to produce for the Bills today

    Will the Bills d-line be able to put pressure on Matt Cassel?  The Bills had no pass rush to speak of in week 1 due to a strong performance by Mark Sanchez who made good, quick decisions.  The Bills CBs are talented but raw and will need to lean on the veteran defensive line to create pressure.  They didn’t do it last week and they absolutely must this week.  Mario Williams needs to show up or he’ll have a lot of people questioning the big investment made in him after only two games.

  • Which Ryan Fitzpatrick will show up for the Bills?  The bad Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up for the Bills last week, they need the good one this time around.  Fitzpatrick had a huge day in the season opener against the Chiefs last year, throwing for 208 yards and 4 TDs.  It will be a tough task without his top slot receiver David Nelson who was lost for the season in Week 1 after he tore his ACL.  The Chiefs do have a banged-up secondary (more on that in a second) so Fitzpatrick will have a chance to take advantage.
  • Will the Chiefs try to injure Stevie Johnson?  Last year Eric Berry was lost for the season after Stevie Johnson blocked him low in the Bills/Chiefs match-up last year on opening weekend.  Not only did Berry criticize Johnson for what he considered a cheap hit in the immediate aftermath but he also opined that their may have been a bounty on him after the Bounty Gate story broke out.  To me it sounds like a cock-eyed conspiracy theory and simple sour grapes from Berry but that hasn’t stopped him from obsessing over it.  The funny thing is that last week Fred Jackson was hit by Jets safety Laron Landry in a manner not all that dissimilar from the way Johnson hit Berry but when asked on Twitter if it was a dirty hit Jackson said it wasn’t and plays like that happen in football all the time.  I guess that’s what separates a guy like Freddie Jackson from a guy like Eric Berry.
  • Will T.J. Graham be ready to step up in for David Nelson?  Rookie receiver T.J. Graham was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  Coach Chan Gailey said that Graham was still picking up the offense.  I hope Graham really picked it up in the last 6 days because the injuries to Nelson and Jackson will force Graham to play early and often on Sunday.  He will likely play on the outside with starting receiver Donald Jones moved into the inside on 3-man sets.  If you hadn’t noticed by now, Gailey is rather fond of 3 and 4 receiver sets.  Hopefully Graham is ready to go because they will need him this week.  The Bills don’t figure to add another veteran receiver until at least Jackson returns to the lineup.
  • Marcell Dareus will be plating with a heavy heart today after the loss of his brother

    How will Marcell Dareus play after dealing with his personal tragedy?  While the national sports scene has been fixated on the Bills poor opening week performance the mood in Buffalo has been different.  The mood quickly changed in Orchard Park last week when Marcell Dareus learned that his brother was shot to death in Alabama on Sunday night.  Dareus comes into the home opener with a heavy heart.  The kid has been a leader in the Bills locker room since his first game as a pro last season.  It would be tough to lose a sibling under any circumstance but I can’t imagine going out and playing a game just 6 days afterwards.

Between the expectations coming into the season, the performance last week, the home crowd this week, and the team rallying around one of their leaders it will make for high emotion at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.  All eyes will be on the defense on Sunday as fans are ready to see the team’s investment both through the draft and free agency start to pay off.  Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under the microscope as well.  If he has another poor performance then fans and pundits will start talking about whether or not Tarvaris Jackson is a better starting option and I can tell you that neither Fitz nor the Bills mafia wants to have that conversation.  With the pressure on this is a must-win for the Bills.  Usually games in week 2 of the season aren’t must win but if the Bills don’t start winning now you have to question if they ever will, at least for this season.

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NFL Week 1 Review – Bills at Jets

After an off-season of hope this one was a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow.  The Bills were coming in with a wave of momentum and the Jets looked to be a mess on and off the field.  he Jets came to play and they shocked the Bills early, going up by 21 points in the 1st quarter en route to a 48-28 opening day win.  To many in Buffalo the bubble seems to have burst already.  Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were but the truth is that they have a heel of a lot of time to make up for it.  Here are some individual thoughts on the game:

  • Spiller ran past the Jets defense on the way to 169 yards on Sunday

    Regarding CJ Spiller, the lone bright spot for the Bills.  It looks as if CJ has finally figured out the tempo of the pro game.  If he continues to progress and improve as he has he could truly be an elite offensive weapon.  Earlier in his career Spiller was doing too much dancing and spending too much time finding the hole.  Spiller is shifty and quick.  Once he finds a hole he has to attack it.  That’s exactly what he’s started to do.  Between last week’s performance in relief of Fred Jackson and the last 5 games he started last year for the injured Jackson he is averaging just a hair under 7 yards a carry.  That’s a huge number for an NFL running back.  Spiller stills ahs some growing up to do but the Bills can win without Fred Jackson if they have to, provided other things go right.  Spiller will not be the problem.

  • Where is the new and improved defense?  Dave Wannstedt was hired to fix the Bills defense.  Clearly the Jets had an effective offensive game plan.  Use quick drops before the 4-man front can get to you and take advantage on the Bills young CBs who were playing 5-6 yards off of the receivers.  So where were the adjustments.  Despite Sanchez getting rid off the ball too quickly for the 4-man front to get to him the Bills brought extra guys only 4 times the entire game.  Stephon Gilmore has a reputation for being a physical corner yet he was giving the Jets receivers a cushion.  When you hire a coach with Super Bowl winning experience you except Super Bowl caliber coaching.  Wannstedt needs to bounce back this week against the Chiefs.
  • Sanchez excelled throwing the ball on Sunday

    Give credit where it’s due.  Mark Sanchez was ridiculed since the day the Jets acquired Tim Tebow.  He had a lot to prove.  The entire team did but Sanchez in particular.  And he put his money where his mouth is.  He shook off a very bad INT on the opening drive and played a great game.  He spread the ball around and threw the ball confidently.  For weeks we heard about a QB controversy leading up to week 1.  Entering week 2 there is no quarterback controversy.  This is Mark Sanchez’s team (for now).  The Jets locker room has become a happy place (for now).

  • Fitzpatrick was Jekyll on Sunday.  He still has the potential to be Hyde.  There is no way to mince words.  Ryan Fitzpatrick single-handedly put the Bills in a deep, early hole in the 1st quarter with two bad passes.  Then, while they still had a chance to come back in the 2nd half, Fitzpatrick gave up a pick-6 on the 1st drive.  He’s had bad days like this in the past.  Sometimes he’s bounced back, sometimes he hasn’t.  Losing David Nelson is a big blow but Donald Jones seems ready to step up and rookie T.J. Graham will get some important time early.  I said this last year but the Bills should really work tight end Scott Chandler more into the offensive game plan.  He’s a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers and safeties with his 6-7 frame.  And he catches pretty much everything.
  • The Bills offensive line is a good unit.  I know what that says about Fitzpatrick’s day but the truth is that Fitzpatrick’s mistakes weren’t because he had people in his face all game.  They opened up huge holes for C.J. Spiller.  The middle of the line is stout with center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.  Rookie Cordy Glenn held his own at left tackle.
  • Football isn’t everything.  Marcell Dareus had a bad day on Saturday in the Meadowlands but it pales in comparison to what him and his family are dealing with now.  On Sunday Marcell’s brother Simeon Gilmore was shot and killed in his native Alabama.  Gilmore was 20.  Obviously football seems very small in light of the tragedy and while Marcell is a big part of the Bills team I hope that he takes all the time that he needs to deal with this tragedy.  Condolences to the family of Simeon Gilmore.

The Bills open the home docket of their schedule this Sunday in Buffalo against the Chiefs.

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It’s Go Time

There probably isn’t a better weekend in America year in and year out the NFL’s opening Sunday.  Every team goes into that first week tied for 1st place.  Then teams spend the next 16 weeks trying to make the playoffs for a shot at the Lombardi trophy.  What makes the NFL so unique and exciting is that every game is an event.  There is a week of build up to the game and then the game itself.  It’s the only sport like this and that’s what makes it so popular.

Ready for liftoff…

If you are a Buffalo Bills fan, which I have been since I was 7 years old, today is a more exciting opening day than we’ve had for the better part of a decade.  It’s not just about the prospect of having a better team.  It’s not just that the Bills went out and spent big money on Mario Williams.  My fellow Red Sox fans can now relate to having to root for that unlikable team.  Well Bills fans have been doing that for over a decade.  Even their last playoff team was marred by a quarterback controversy between two unlikable guys.  The previous opening day starters before the current one, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards were, for the lack of a better term, a couple of stiffs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard educated man who looks like a lumberjack, is an easy guy to root for.  Picked in the 7th round of the 2005 draft he played for 2 teams before settling in Buffalo as the starter.

Starting receiver Stevie Johnson was a 7th round pick.  The other two starting receivers, David Nelson and Donald Jones, went undrafted.  Running back Fred Jackson was undrafted out of Division III Coe College.  His other stops before finally making it to the NFL included the Arena League and NFL Europe.  These are the type of guys that you love to root for as a sports fan.  Even the high draft picks like Marcell Dareus, Eric Wood,  C.J. Spiller, and Aaron Williams are likable players.  Good ‘ole southern boy Chan Gailey is a likable coach.  This team is different from the team in years passed.  Maybe it’s because the team has finally invested in keeping it’s own players.  Maybe they just finally “get it” up in Western New York.

Of course the games still need to be played but something can be said for hope.  In years passed Bills fans were excited by opening day but it was more blind faith that drove them.  Now there is finally substance to the hope in early September.

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Buffalo Bills Pre-Season Game 1 – 5 Things To Watch

The Bills kick off their preseason slate of games tonight when they host Robert Griffith III and the Washington Redskins.  It’s been a long off-season for Bills fans who were given hope in the wake of their late season collapse with the high profile free agent signing of star defensive end Mario Williams as well as a push to retain their own key players, a philosophy that had been lost on the organization in the decade prior.  The Bills will begin their push to return to the playoffs in earnest tonight with their first tune-up.  The starters will likely be on the field for roughly 12 plays before giving way to the backups who will be fighting for a roster spot.  Here are 5 things to watch in tonight’s game:

Rookie 2nd rounder Glenn will start at left tackle tonight

1. Who will be the left tackle?  This one will be interesting to watch tonight.  Both candidates for starting left tackle, rookie 2nd round pick Cordy Glenn and second year player Chris Hairston, will be in the starting lineup as incumbent starting right tackle Erik Pears is out with an injury.  In a perfect world the Bills will have Glenn as their starting left tackle and Hairston the starting right tackle in the long term but they still have the veteran Pears on the roster and both of the younger guys need to gain experience.  Glenn seems to have the edge so far at left tackle and he will get the chance to prove it with the start tonight.  Hairston played well in spurts last year but he did suffer several injuries.  Both guys will be going up against starting defensive ends at the beginning of the game which will help in evaluation.  Expect to see both guys at left tackle at certain points tonight with both the 1st and 2nd units.

2. Who will step up at wide receiver?  The Bills have two spots locked up at receiver – they have a bonafide #1 receiver in Stevie Johnson who just signed a 5-year extension in the off-season and a mainstay at slot receiver in David Nelson who has caught 92 balls over his first two seasons in the league.  Donald Jones is the #2 right now, as he was at the beginning of last season.  Jones is dependable enough when he’s healthy but he’s missed 9 games to injury over his first two seasons.  Of note to watch are two young receivers who will be jockeying for playing time – 3rd round pick T.J. Graham, a burner who can get behind a defense quickly, and 3rd year man Marcus Easley, who has yet to play a down in the NFL.  After losing his rookie season to a knee injury Easley had a good camp last year before hitting injured reserve right before the start of the season with a heart ailment.  Easley is purportedly back to 100% and is a big target with plus speed so any contribution from him will be an added bonus.  Veteran Derek Hagan, who showed good chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick late last season, also figures to be in the mix.  Nelson won’t play after tweaking his knee in camp last week so it should give some of the otehr guys some time with Fitz tonight.

Young has struggled in his attempt to become Fitz’s backup and may be playing for his job already in game 1

3. Will Vince Young make it to preseason week 2?  There has been rumblings out of training camp that the Bills coaching staff is already prepared to cut ties with quarterback Vince Young who has been slow to catch on to the Bills offense.  That says a lot about Young when you consider that the Bills thought so much about Young’s competition for back-up QB, Tyler Thigpen, that they let Ryan Fitzpatrick play the last 9 games of last season with cracked ribs rather than inserting Thigpen into the lineup.  It seems like a make-or-break game tonight for Young who will get to prove himself in game action before the Bills make any decision on him.  If I were Thigpen I wouldn’t rest in my laurels without Young as there is plenty of time to get someone else into practice and throw them into the competition if Young bows out this early.  Despite the reports of Young’s demise GM Buddy Nix told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche this morning that he expects the battle to go down to Week 4 of the preseason so we’ll see how it goes.

4. How will the defensive line’s second unit shape up?  We know about Mario-Kyle-Dareus-Anderson but what about the guys coming up behind them?  Chris Kelsay is an everyman who is as solid as any 3rd DE in the league.  Shawne Merriman can be a huge asset if he is healthy but he hasn’t been healthy in 4 years.  The keys to the 2nd unit are the two 3rd year men – Alex Carrington and Torell Troup.  Carrington has shown flashes in his first two years and if he continues to develop he can be molded into a Chris Canty-type player on this stacked defensive line.  Troup on the other hand has shown very little in his first two seasons  A lot of it is due to injury but again you’ve got to stay healthy to produce.  Troup played in the 4-3 in college and he said in the off-season that he would be more comfortable as an attacking d-tackle in Dave Wannstedt’s new 4-3.  Now is the time for him to show it.

2nd year man Williams has a leg up on the competition for 2nd CB spot

5. How will the cornerback unit shape up?  So far in training camp Stephon Gilmore has lived up to the hype and appears to be a lock for one of the starters jobs.  2nd year man Aaron Williams has been playing the #2 spot to mixed results, one day Gailey and Wannstedt will criticize his play and the next they will praise him.  He definitely played well as a rookie.  Leodis McKelvin has been working in the slot and that might be the best spot for him.  He struggles mightily against bigger receivers and gets beat along the sidelines often so the middle of the field might be the best place for him.  Terrence McGee is coming back from injury and looking to make one last run with the Bills in his 9th season with the team.  He will be pushed by youngsters Justin Rogers, who was a revelation as a 7th round pick last season, and Ron Brooks, who played behind two All-Americans at LSU.

That’s the 5 biggest things to look for in this game tonight.  There are of course larger issues such as how Wannstedt’s new 4-3 defense acclimates but that is something better reviewed over the long haul of the full preseason schedule rather than after 1 game.  The 1st game will really be about young guys jockeying for position and fringe roster players fighting to live another week.  It will be interesting to see how conservative RG3 is in his first NFL preseason game, particularly against the Bills’ revamped and revved-up defensive front.  One thing is for sure – it’s great to see some NFL action again after a long off-season.  Enjoy the game.

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