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 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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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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Despite growing pains the future is bright for the Bills defense

I know that many of the members of Bills nation don’t want to speak optimistically about the future right now, after all they’ve been doing it for the past 12 years, but maybe it’s time to put some rose colors on those glasses.  The bills defense has been dismal so far this year but thanks to what looks like a much needed and long overdue loaded draft class the future finally looks bright.

Let’s start with #3 overall pick Marcell Dareus.  The Alabama alum was quick to fit into the Bills hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense because Alabama ran an almost identical defense.  Dareus was blowing up offensive linemen for the first few weeks of the season.  It looked like he was going to make quite the formidable duo with Pro Bowl Nose Tackle Kyle Williams but big Kyle’s season ended after 6 games and Dareus was kicked inside to the Nose.  He’s been playing out of position, and has been the focal point of opposing offensive linemen, but Dareus is learning at the school of Hard Knocks and will be battle tested once Kyle Williams is ready to return to the line-up in 2012 and return to his natural DE position.  It was a no-brainer pick for the Bills back in April but one that should set the front line of the defense up for years to come.

Next up was the 2nd overall pick in round #2, Aaron Williams, a cornerback out of Texas.  I have to admit I love this kid.  I love his attitude and his personality but he’s had a tough year.  He’s been thrown into the lineup because of injuries, been carted off the field himself in a big game against the Patriots, and had to wait out the injury while the Bills struggled to stay in contention.  Williams returned to the lineup two weeks ago against the Dolphins to immediate significant playing time.  This past week Williams was matched up with former Super Bowl M.V.P. Santonio Holmes and his play was absolutely sterling.  He blanketed him for most of the day, including a nice pass break up in the end zone.  In the end Holmes had too much time to run around as Mark Sanchez ran around in the pocket with no pressure being put on him and Williams lost him in the end zone for the game winning touchdown.  You live and you learn but there is no doubt in my mind that Aaron Williams will be a player in this league.

The Bills went linebacker in the third round taking Kelvin Sheppard, a veteran of Les Miles’ defensive system at L.S.U.  Sheppard has brought energy to the field since day 1 with the Bills defense.  Sheppard quickly supplanted starter and captain Andra Davis in the lineup a month into the season and quickly made an impact, crushing Michael Vick and forcing and interception and ensuing touchdown by fellow middle linebacker Nick Barnett.  Sheppard has been prone to the big play, recording a safety against the Dolphins in Miami a few weeks ago.  I’d like to see the Bills blitz Sheppard more and that will come as the defense is filled out.  As it stands it looks like Buddy Nix and co. went 3 for 3 as far as opening day 2012 starters go for the defense at the top of the 2011 draft.

Nix didn’t quit there.  He added to his special teams by drafting safety Da’Norris Searcy out of North Carolina in Round 4 and Linebacker Chris White in round 6.  Searcy has started the last two games for injured captain George Wilson and has filled in admirably.  He may well be starter #4 in a few years time.  Overall it was an excellent job by Nix and his scouting staff.  This is a draft for the defense that the Bills have been sorely lacking for years.  You could probably go back to 2001, when Nate Clements and Aaron Schobel were both drafted in the first two rounds, to find this type of prospective long term production for the Bills.  If these guys can live up to their potential, 5-2 might not turn into 8-8 next time around.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

Thoughts on Bills/Redskins

So Week 8 is in the books, a week away from the official halfway point of the NFL season and the Bills are 5-2 and sitting pretty in a tie atop the AFC East.  Clearly the Bills are one of the surprise teams of the season, if not the surprise team.  The Bills had their annual home away from home game in Toronto on Sunday and for the first time in the four year venture came out on top by a score of 23-0.  Here are some thoughts on the game:

  • Let’s start with Marcell Dareus.  The man is a beast, plain and simple.  You can tell at this early stage in his career that he is going to be one of the best.  Not many guys can say that they can single handedly take over a game in only their 7th game as a pro.  Dareus did just that yesterday.  Even if it was against an inferior opponent in the Redskins Dareus was flat out dominant.  4 tackles, 2.5 sacks and constant pressure on the pocket all game.  If the Bills get more of this the defense will be one of the better ones in the league by the end of the year.
  • Speaking of the defense and their 9 sacks, give credit where credit is due – the Bills cornerbacks finally played a complete game and it showed up front.  Florence, McGee, and McKelvin are all above average cover men and their performances should show more than they have for the first 6 games.  A little pressure goes a long way but at the same time it’s hard to make a hot read with a guy like Dareus bearing down on you when the corners don’t let receivers get a clean break off of the line.  This unit is crucial to the success of the Bills in the second half of the season.
  • The Redskins run game was stopped cold thanks to a smothering defense, again led by Dareus.  It will be interesting to see if that carries over to the Jets game.  The Jets once vaunted run offense has been disappointing thus far this season and the Bills will be smelling blood after their dominant performance this week.
  • There is not much more that you can say about Fred Jackson that hasn’t already been said.  The guy is a bona-fide MVP candidate.  He may be the most complete back in the NFL right now.  That’s saying something for a guy who just turned 30 prior to the season.  He’s got 721 rushing yards and 353 receiving yards through 7 games, giving him a whooping 1,084 yards from scrimmage through the first 7.
  • The newly minted man Ryan Fitzpatrick showed a bit of rust early but brushed it off to to finish with a good day overall.  He was an efficient 21 for 27 for 262 yards, 2 TD, and INT and the team’s first lost fumble of the season.  He didn’t have to do too much and overcame some bad turnovers early.
  • People have been heaping praise on top of the Bills offensive line all year and yesterday’s game was a prime example of why.  They were missing both of their left tackles, Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.  They asked Andy Levitre, who has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player at left guard to kick out to left tackle and inserted back-up swing guard Chad Rinehart into the left guard position.  The unit didn’t miss a beat.  The Redskins recorded only two sacks, both in the 4th quarter when Fitzpatrick just held onto the ball rather than risk a bad pass.  This unit has been, and continues to be outstanding despite the malignation that is suffered in the preseason.
  • Nobody ever tell George Wilson that he isn’t one hell of a football player
  • Rian Lindell has become so automatic that you are shocked when he misses, so much so that there is not a doubt in your mind that he is going to hit the next one.
  • Again, kudos to Chan Gailey for being the exception to the rule once again and getting his team ready to play after the bye.  Teams are only 8-10 coming off of the bye this year.
  • Finally we must talk about a bit of karmic justice.  Two years ago, prior to the 2010 season, the Bills were at a breaking point.  They had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons at that point and had just run through a cavalcade of colossal disappointments at the quarterback and head coaching positions.  Owner Ralph Wilson had seemed to have had enough and showed an interest to opening up his wallet to a big name coach to come in and oversee the operation.  The team first turned to Mike Shanahan, who had been fired by the Broncos the year prior after a long and fruitful run in Denver.  Shanahan took an interview and then casually brushed the Bills off, waiting for Daniel Snyder to offer him the moon to come to Washington, where guys love to go when they want to get paid.  The Bills had to settle for an also-ran, Chan Gailey.  Well on Sunday that also-ran and his team handed Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his long and illustrious coaching career.  If that’s not a sign that the football gods are on their side, I don’t know what is.

It’s a big week ahead, the biggest game of the year to date takes place this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Jets come to town to take on the Bills.  This one will tell us a lot about where we will go from here.

Twitter @ErikVenskus