Buffalo Bills Week 2 Primer

The Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday in what will be the biggest home opener in Western New York in years.  It will be an emotionally charged day in Orchard Park as the Bills face their biggest rival, the Miami Dolphins.  Both teams are coming off of big opening weeks wins.  The Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots in Miami by a score of 33-20 and the Bills defeated the Chicago Bears at Soldier’s Field in overtime by a score of 23-20.  A win on Sunday will be huge for either team as they will jump ahead of the division with a 2-0 record.  The Dolphins had perhaps a more impressive victory last week but the Bills will be the ones with the home field advantage on Sundays.  Here is a look at what to watch for in this Week 2 match-up:

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

Bills QB E.J. Manuel

When the Bills have the ball:  The Bills slowed it down last week opposite the high-powered Bears offense but look for a quicker pace on Sunday.  The Dolphins suffered several key injuries in week 1 on defense and the Bills will try to exploit that by keeping the Dolphins on their toes.  The Patriots had some success against the Dolphins on the edges last week so look for the Bills to get creative with Sammy Watkins.  They’ll also try to pound the ball with the running backs to try and control the clock.  The Bills’ offensive line held their own last week against Chicago but will have a tough task with Cameron Wake and company on Sunday.  E.J. Manuel bucked his rookie year trend by passing for a 7.9 yards per pass average in week 1, over a yard better than the 6.4 yard average that he had during his rookie season.  Look for Manuel to take more shots down field with Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin.  If the Bills can protect Manuel they should be able to find success on offense against a depleted a Dolphins defense.

When the Dolphins have the ball:  The Dolphins got a big game out of former Broncos’ running back Knowshon Moreno on opening day.  They tired the Patriots’ defense out last week in the Miami heat and humidity but they won’t have the same opportunity this weekend in the cozy September Western New York atmosphere.  They’ll need to come up with a different game plan in Buffalo.  They are going to have to protect Ryan Tannehill like they did last week.  The Dolphins’ O-Line looked great against New England but will be facing 3 Pro Bowlers in Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus on Sunday.  If Tannehill is under heavy pressure all day it will force him into mistakes and give the Bills opportunities to score points off of turnovers.  Tannehill does not have a stellar track record away from Sun Life Stadium so if he wants to show that last Sunday wasn’t a red herring he’s going to have to show up big eventually in a tough road environment.  Sunday will be a perfect opportunity to do just that.  We’ll see if he can get it done on Sunday.

X-Factor for the Bills:  QB E.J. Manuel – Manuel could probably go one of three ways on Sunday.  He can exploit the injuries on the Miami defense and ride the emotional highs to a big time performance, he can lay an absolute egg and hurt the Bills’ chances of winning or he can be an effective game manager and do just enough that the defense and running game can take over the game.  He hasn’t had too many of the first type of games but if there ever was an opportunity for one in his young career it will be this Sunday. It could be the perfect storm for Manuel to have a break out game.  However if the Dolphins come to play on offense game manager Manuel will probably serve the Bills best.  How the game plays out early will dictate how many chances that they let Manuel take.  If the Dolphins struggle on offense early and the Bills’ defense can force some turnovers then Manuel may take some early shots to try and get in a rhythm.  If Manuel can get his confidence up early he can make a huge impact for the Bills and both this game and beyond.

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

Dolphins DE Cameron Wake

X-Factor for the Dolphins:  DE Cameron Wake – Wake can literally take over a game – just ask Tom Brady.  Wake was in Brady’s back pocket all day long last Sunday and severely hampered Brady’s production late in the game.  Expect Wake to spend most of the game at left defensive end opposite Bills’ rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson.  It’s a match-up that Wake can exploit and is a much better draw than Henderson’s counterpart, the severely underrated Cordy Glenn.  If Wake can get in Manuel’s back pocket all day like he did to Brady he could single-handedly force Manuel to lay the aforementioned egg.  If Wake is neutralized by the Bills’ offensive line then it could be a long game for an injured Miami defense.  Wake is that star of that defense and needs to set the pace.

Final Thoughts:  It’s going to be very tough for the Dolphins to take the Buffalo crowd out of the game.  It has all of the makings of an epic crowd this a Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The RD lot was already full on Saturday afternoon.  Ryan Tannehill will have to battle the crowd noise along with a stout Buffalo front line.  Both teams have a good amount of momentum heading into the game but this is just too good a set-up for a happy ending of the Bills’ story book week.  Maybe Ryan Tannehill puts it together but I don’t think it happens this week.  The Bills ride a week of momentum with a complete team victory and get to 2-0.

Final Score Prediction:  Buffalo Bills 31, Miami Dolphins 23

What Mike Pettine Will Bring To The Bills Defense

The Bills officially named former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same title on their own staff today.  New head coach Doug Marrone was aggressive in recruiting Pettine to leave the Jets for the Bills and Pettine will bring an aggressive defense along with him to Western New York.  Pettine spent 4 years under Rex Ryan in New York and before that worked on the staff in Baltimore.  He told the Bills media today that his defense won’t necessarily be married to one base scheme and they will move it around and disguise it as he sees fit.  As usually happens when there is a coaching staff change there will be roster changes.  Here’s a look at what you may be able to expect from Pettine’s defense in Buffalo next year:

  • Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    Expect to see Williams with his hand down most of the time

    There’s been a lot of talk about where Mario Williams will fit in to this new defense.  My guess is exactly where he did in the old one.  Expect to see Mario playing with his hand on the ground for most of his snaps.  Sure he will get up and move around once in a while but he did that last year as well (at least after his wrist was healthy).  Mario Williams will not be a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker.  He’s just not that type of player.  He’ll do fine where he is.

  • That being said I’ve heard the rumors about Mike DeVito jumping from the Jets to the Bills but I just don’t see where he fits.  Between Mario, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Alex Carrington I’m not sure where DeVito gets his snaps along that defensive front.  He’s a solid player and would probably be better served somewhere where he’d get more playing time.
  • Calvin Pace, on the other hand, would be a great addition to the defense.  He is getting a bit long in the tooth but the Bills defense is filled with young, inexperienced linebackers and a guy like Pace could be valuable with his experience in Pettine’s defense.
  • Please, Mike, no Bart Scott.  Thank you.
  • Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine's defense

    Gilmore will be expected to be lockdown in Pettine’s defense

    Stephon Gilmore better start watching some tape of Darelle Revis and the Jets defense because I think he will be thrust in that role right away in Pettine’s Buffalo D.  Despite being a rookie the #10 pick in last year’s draft was far and away the Bills’ most consistent CB last year and gained some valuable experience shadowing guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne during the season.  He’ll be leaned on heavily by Pettine to lock down one side of the field for the Bills defense.

  • It may be wise for the Bills to try and re-sign Leodis McKelvin and see if Pettine can resurrect his career much the way he and Rex Ryan did for Antonio Cromartie in New York.
  • The Bills should make re-signing Jairus Byrd their #1 priority in the off-season.  Byrd has turned himself into an aggressive safety over the past 2 seasons and one would think he’d thrive in an attacking type of defense.  I’d always liked to see what kind of player Byrd would be if he blitzed more and he could get that opportunity in the new Bills D.

It should be an interesting change next season from the passive Wannstedt defense to an attacking style that Pettine prefers.  The Bills certainly have had their defensive challenges over the past 3 seasons and Pettine will have a tall task on his hands to right the ship.  He’s got the credentials to do so and Marrone is banking on him doing exactly just that.  This was Marrone’s most important hire in his first year and the spotlight will be on Pettine.  I’m guessing by the speed in which he ran out of Rex Ryan’s shadow that may be exactly what he’s looking for.

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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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NFL Week 2 Review – Chiefs at Bills

Well, week 2 went a hell of a lot better than Week 1 did for the Bills.  Facing a near must-win situation already in Week 2 the Bills came out swinging and dominated the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.  The Bills really fed off of the home crowd to get to 1-1 going into a relatively tough stretch that takes them on the road for 3 games next month.  Here are some thoughts on the Bills’ 1st win of the season:

  • Cordy Glenn got downfield to block for C.J. Spiller

    Let’s talk about the best unit of the day for the Bills.  No, it wasn’t C.J. Spiller but rather the big guys in front of him.  The offensive line for the Bills had an outstanding day.  Cordy Glenn looked like a beast out there, running down the field and blocking for Spiller.  Eric Wood looks healthy and the unit as a whole looks very strong.  Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been sacked in the 1st two games and Spiller leads the league in rushing.  I’d say that they are off to a pretty good start.

  • C.J. Spiller gets it.  I know it’s like beating a dead horse by now but C.J. Spiller looks like a totally different player in year 3 than he did in years 1 and 2.  He said this week that he has given up trying to hit a home run on every run rather than taking what he is given.  He has slowed the game down and letting his blockers make the plays before he finishes them off.  There’s concern about his workload or whether or not he is playing over his head right now.  Spiller will only have to carry the bulk for a few more weeks however until Fred Jackson returns.  The Bills will likely rely heavily on the run game, particularly with the strong offensive line, throughout the late winter months.
  • Fitzpatrick looked just alright.  He didn’t make mistakes but he missed Scott Chandler badly twice when he was open.  He will definitely benefit from a run-first mentality.  As mediocre as he’s been he leads the league in passing TDs.
  • Kyle Williams looked like his old beastly self on Sunday

    The defensive line finally showed up.  Mario Williams’ day was another modest one on the stat sheet although he did get a fumble recovery.  His presence, along with that of fellow DE Mark Anderson, was certainly felt though as they collapsed the pocket and made Matt Cassel step up and play in front of the pocket.  That resulted in 5 sacks up the middle, 2 by Kyle Williams, 1 by Marcell Dareus, 1 by Alex Carrington and 1 by MLB Kelvin Sheppard.  Kyle Williams looked like his old, pre-injury self by collapsing the pocket and beating his man all day.  When this line is on it will be very tough to block.

  • Cordy Glenn wasn’t the only rookie with a great day.  Stephon Gilmore shook off a tough start after a rough game against the Jets in week 1.  Gilmore was targeted early and often and held his own against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jon Baldwin.  While it was a good showing the rookie can’t rest because teams will likely still key on him in the passing game.
  • The old man can still play.  The Bills had some cornerback troubles early on in the season but Terrence McGee came off the bench on Sunday to contribute with a strong game in pass coverage.  McGee is a great guy for the young guys to lean on but I think he proved that he can still play with his performance last week.  Of course it is easier to cover receivers when the defensive linemen are in the quarterbacks grill right off of the snap.
  • Leodis McKelvin ran back into the good graces of the Bills mafia on Sunday

    Leodis can’t cover but he can still contribute.  Leodis McKelvin has been a disappointment ever since he was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2008.  He has trouble locating the ball when it’s in the air and also has trouble making a play on it.  McKelvin was downgraded to 5th cornerback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but it didn’t get him down.  He returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.  McKelvin may not see much of the field on defense but if he keeps his head in the game he could be a key contributor to the special teams unit.

The Bills embark on a tough 4 game stretch this weekend when they head to Cleveland to face the Browns.  This is a pretty important game for the Bills.  The Browns are a beatable opponent but the Bills have lost 9 of the last 10 road games.  If the Bills want to be in the conversation in December they will need to win at least 2 of the next 4 games.  This one might be the easiest of the bunch.  Regardless the Bills will likely try to take the “one game at a time” approach and try to take care of business in Cleveland and then start preparing for the Patriots a week later.

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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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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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The Staggering Anatomy Of The Buffalo Bills Playoff Drought

With the trading deadline behind us and the stretch run ready to begin in baseball I can finally turn my attention to NFL training camp.  Next week will be the first week with live games as the pre-season schedule kicks off but the past few weeks have been all about training camp around the NFL.  Expectations have been set and they are quite high in the usual places like New England and Green Bay.  In Buffalo expectations have been heightened by the arrival of former #1 pick Mario Williams and the retention of several of their own key players.  It’s been 12 years since the Bills have been in the playoffs and breaking down the numbers shows exactly what this Buffalo Bills team is up against.

Jim Kelly, who was the last Bills starting QB to win a playoff game, has been in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame for a decade

The 12 year playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NFL, 3 seasons ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders who each have 9 year droughts.  They also have the 3rd longest active drought since a division title at 16.  I’m sure Bills fans wouldn’t mind seeing that record continue if the prior one is snapped this year with a wild card berth.  16 is also the number of years since their last playoff victory, a win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild card round of the 1995 playoffs.  They hold the 4th longest playoff drought in that category, which is pretty impressive since two of the teams ahead of them (Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals) were both in the playoffs last season.  If Bills fans want to aim higher than a simple playoff berth then they can beat these current active streaks as well – they are tied with the Chiefs for the 6th longest championship game appearance drought at 18 seasons (although 1 ahead of their rival Dolphins whose drought stands at 19).  They also have the 9th longest Super Bowl appearance drought, also at 18.  Surprisingly that is only the second shortest drought in the AFC East behind New England who is at 0.  The Dolphins have gone 27 years and the Jets 43 since their last Super Bowl appearances.  They are also one of 9 teams who existed at the advent of the Super Bowl that have yet to win it (Arizona, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tennessee/Houston).

Barring injury Brian Moorman will have played 192 games for the Bills without a playoff appearance by the end of the season

Then there are the individual players.  The Bills signed punter Brian Moorman as an undrafted free agent after the 2000 season, the 1st year of the Bills current playoff drought.  Moorman has played in all 176 of the Bills regular season games since then.  That is the most regular season games for an active player in the NFL to play on the same team without a playoff appearance.  That is also the 3rd longest active streak for most regular season games without a playoff appearance for any player in the NFL.  Of the two players ahead of Moorman on that list #1, linebacker Takeo Spikes, played 47 of his 203 career games with the Bills from 2003-2006 and #2, kicker Rian Lindell, has played the last 136 of his 180 career games with the Buffalo Bills.  He is one of 4 players on the Bills who has played more than 100 games without a playoff appearance along with Moorman, defensive end Chris Kelsay (138) and cornerback Terrence McGee (115).  And you can add the 16 games that they will play this year to their totals as they will obviously not secure a playoff berth before the end of this season.  Adding in those 16 games will put defensive tackle Kyle Williams 1 short of 100 games played without a playoff appearance.  Here’s hoping that game #99 is a charm for big Kyle.

The Bills finally seem to have the team that can get into the mix and put together a serious playoff run.  As you can see from above they have an uphill battle with history if they are going to climb that mountain.  There is a lot of bad history to eradicate and only 16 games to do it.  We’ll see if the 2012 version of the Buffalo Bills has what it takes to finally re-write that history.

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Bills Sign Vince Young

New Bills QB Vince Young

The Buffalo Bills signed Vince Young today meaning that they now have both the #1 and #3 picks of the 2006 NFL Draft on their team.  Vince Young will likely compete with Tyler Thigpen for the back-up quarterback spot.  If last year was any indication then Young shouldn’t have too much of a problem supplanting Thigpen as Fitzpatrick’s #2.  Last year Young saw action in 6 games for the Eagles, starting 3 of them.  He threw for 866 yards with 4 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  Thigpen only saw sporadic duty in Buffalo despite Fitzpatrick suffering through broken ribs for the entire second half of the season, throwing for 25 yards on only 8 pass attempts.  He threw no touchdowns and was intercepted once.  It was clear that the Bills staff did not have faith to put Thigpen in the game despite Fitzpatrick’s injury so an upgrade to the back-up quarterback position made sense.  Should Young be pressed into action Chain Gailey is the perfect coach to try and utilize his strengths and mask his weaknesses.  The Bills will probably be heavy on the Wildcat formation this year but I doubt that you seen Young in it too often since Brad Smith is getting paid twice as much a year to be the Wildcat QB.

The interesting thing to note as that Vince Young, the #3 overall pick in the 2006 draft, will now join fellow new Bill Mario Williams, the #1 overall pick in the 2006 draft.  Obviously Williams comes with far more fanfare and expectations at this point in their careers.  The Bills had the #8 pick in that draft and selected Ohio State safety Donte Whitner who now plays for the San Fransisco 49ers.  All but one of the Bills other 8 draft choices in that class are now out of the NFL.  The lone exception is Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams, selected 134th overall.

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Buddy Nix is changing the blueprint in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills announced a 5 year contract extension for WR Stevie Johnson today.  Johnson will get paid $36.25 million over the contract that will keep him in Buffalo through his 31st birthday.  Johnson’s 5 year agreement comes a few months after the Bills signed both QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and DT Kyle Williams to 6 year contract extensions.  They also signed starting RT Erik Pears, K Rian Lindell and LS Garrison Sanborn to 4-year extensions last month.  Last season they extended DE Chris Kelsay and SS George Wilson to multi-year deals as well.  Why is this news?  Because the Buffalo Bills have long been notorious for not keeping their players beyond their rookie contracts.

Fitzpatrick and Johnson will anchor the Bills offense for at least the next 5 seasons

Astoundingly the Bills have signed only 1 first round pick to a second contract since 1997.  That was WR Lee Evans who was traded to the Ravens two years into his 4 year extension.  11 players – RB Antowain Smith, CB Antoine Winfield, DE Erik Flowers, CB Nate Clements, T Mike Williams, RB Willis McGahee, QB J.P. Losman, SS Donte Whitner, DT John McCargo, RB Marshawn Lynch, and LB Aaron Maybin – were all cut, traded, or signed away in free agency after being drafted in the first round by the Bills.  Their track record hasn’t been too much better with players that were late round picks that they developed on their own either.  Late round gems like CB Jabari Greer and DT Pat Williams were lost in free agency.  T Jason Peters, a perennial Pro Bowler in Philadelphia now, was traded away when the Bills would not meet his salary demands.  Long story short is that this has been a franchise that has been spinning their wheels for over a decade.

That’s why Stevie Johnson’s re-signing was significant.  As mentioned before, Stevie is the 6th starting player re-signed by the Bills since Buddy Nix took over as GM in early 2010.  There were 6 starters in the Bills starting lineup last opening day with contracts expiring at the end of the year.  Only two, T Demetrius Bell and TE Scott Chandler, remain unsigned.  Buddy Nix said at his introductory press conference on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that he wanted to “draft ’em, develop ’em, and keep ’em here.”  So far he has been true to his word.

Williams' 6 year deal will pair him with fellow DT Marcell Dareus for the next half decade

For the first time in what seems like ages the Bills won’t enter draft weekend simply trying to fill the holes that they opened up by losing players in the off season.  It’s all about building depth, which is what good teams do on draft day.  It’s something that the Bills haven’t done in over a decade.  Now they can also go into the summer and start negotiating with the next batch of pending free agents which includes RB Fred Jackson, G Andy Levitre, and FS Jairus Byrd.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t keep their players.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t go the extra mile to build a winning team.  Will it finally start equating to wins in Buffalo?  Maybe, maybe not.  One thing that is certain is that they seem to be up there swinging and it’s definitely better to go down swinging then to go down looking.

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