HOT ROUTE! RED 7! RED 7! Dan Hannon previews this week’s Bills game in a different way, looking specifically at several different areas each week to keep in mind, as well as what the Bills have to do each week to bring home the win.
This week it will be very tough to ignore the raw emotion that will be pumping throughout the loud and sellout crowd at Ralph Wilson stadium. The Bills are 1-0 coming off one of their most impressive road wins in the last decade, Jim Kelly is cancer free, Terry and Kim Pegula just bought the Bills to make sure they stay in Buffalo, and oh yeah, it’s the home opener against the Dolphins.
It is the perfect storm for Bills fans and Bills players, so it will be up to Head Coach Doug Marrone and leaders of this team, like Fred Jackson and Kyle Williams, to try and harness the energy given off by the crowd in a positive manner and not get overzealous. Marrone told The Howard Simon Show on Friday that he is not worried at all about the psyche of his team and that he thinks the energy of the crowd this week will play a large role in the outcome of the game.
The game also has significant, albeit early, implications in the AFC East as the winner will remain undefeated. Miami in particular could be sitting pretty after today’s game, due to the fact that they took care of New England at home last week and now have the chance to move to 2-0 in the division just two weeks in. Buffalo was undefeated in the team’s two matchups in 2013, with the second being the team’s only shutout of last year, but quarterback EJ Manuel missed both of those games due to injury.
Matchup to Watch
Seantrel Henderson vs. Cameron Wake
It is no secret Cameron Wake is one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. He has averaged double digit sacks in his first five years in the league, and recorded two, both of which were strip sacks, in the season opener against New England. Wake has 6.5 sacks in 10 career games against the Bills, and will be lining up against rookie 7th-rounder Seantrel Henderson.
The health of tight end Lee Smith will be pivotal this week to provide double teams or at least chips to give Henderson some help. The presence of Wake may also call for the duties of Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon over CJ Spiller due to their superior pass blocking ability. It puts Offensive Coordinator Nathanial Hackett in a tough position since the team would like to ride Spiller as much as they can due to his electric playmaking ability. He was on the field for a little over 53% of snaps in the season opener versus the Bears, but that could be significantly less if more and more help is needed for Henderson. This could change the game plan significantly offensively.
While Henderson was not a train wreck in his first career start week one, he did have his fair share of troubles, getting beaten a few times where he would try and guess the defenders move as opposed to staying square and reading the opponent. The Bills have been high on Henderson since drafting him and plugging him in the starting lineup from the get go, and this will be another of several early season tests for him to battle through.
Position to Watch
Bills Running Backs
Although the playing time might be effected depending on how much help Henderson needs on Wake, the Buffalo Bills running backs should have glorious opportunities in both the running and passing game. Dannell Ellerbe, a pricey free agent pick up last offseason from the Ravens, is lost for the year after being placed on IR due to a hip injury suffered in week one versus New England. Another starting linebacker, Koa Misa, has been listed as doubtful due to an ankle injury suffered last week as well. Phillip Wheeler, their third starting linebacker who missed week one with a thumb injury, has been listed as probable. Chris McClain, a reserve linebacker, is listed as probable as well.
The Dolphins were so desperate they even signed former Bills 3rd-round pick Kelvin Sheppard. Any Bills fan will tell you they would love to see him on the field today. It is a great opportunity for CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson, who showed he still has some gas left in the tank, to use their skill sets to their advantage.
The running backs were not involved in the passing game much against the Bears, but screens and flares should be much more effective this week against slower linebackers and a less aggressive secondary than Chicago put forth. It will still be up to the guards, particularly RG Eric Pears who looked awful on screens last week, to get out in front and set up blocks on the outside.
Number to Keep in Mind
Knowshon Moreno had quite the debut for his new team, leading all of the NFL with 138 yards on the ground in Miami’s win over the Patriots. The team overall had 191 rushing yards (the Bills tallied 193 for the record) with Moreno being the main horse along with Lamar Miller.
The Bills revamped run defense under Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz allowed just 86 yards to Matt Forte and the Bears, but that was because Chicago stuck with the short and mid-range passing game to tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte. However, the defense did give up a 4.8 yards a carry, something that will need to be much better moving forward.
The addition of Brandon Spikes was quite evident in the run game as there was a clear presence in the middle of the field. While the suspension to WLB Nigel Bradham and injury to SLB Keith Rivers (who was playing out of position anyway), the Bears took advantage and continued to run stretch plays and short passes to their running backs. With Bradham back, it will be up to Preston Brown to step up his game from week one, where he was taken advantage of often, particularly in the passing game.
The Bills Will Win If
They get to Ryan Tannehill
While a lot is being paid attention to the Miami pass rush, people seem to be forgetting how much success the Bills defense had against Miami last year. In their two wins last year they were able to sack Tannehill 7 times, and flustered him enough in the second game to hold him to just 82 yards passing. In fact, in his four career games against Buffalo, in which he is 1-3, Tannehill has averaged just over 140 yard and only a 64.35 passer rating.
Mario Williams had his “welcome to Buffalo” moment last year in Miami when his strip sack on Tannehill flipped the whole game around. In week one the d-line had a quietly good game, with Marcel Dareus facing constant double teams, Kyle and Mario Williams combining for a sack, and the defense as a whole providing consistent pressure as the game went on. Jay Cutler is one of the best in the league at getting the ball out, holding the second best sack percentage in the NFL last season. However, the Bills did force him in to some bad throws that led to interceptions, particularly the Kyle Williams pick.
While Jim Schwartz’s defense is certainly more run defense oriented compared to last year’s defense under Mike Pettine, Schwartz did send CB Nickell Robey a few times last game, who was able to provide pressure even though he did not record a sack. Robey had a big year against the Dolphins last year with two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.
Emotion will be high and there is no room for a letdown. This could officially be the start of a new era for the Bills, but it still comes down to how EJ Manuel plays. Last week, when given time, he was able to look comfortable and make plays. If he continues to spread the wealth and keep everyone involved it will allow for Hackett to use much more of the playbook and the team will continue to grow as a unit.
On defense, look for heavy pressure from the line and it will be key to keep up with Mike Wallace, who the Dolphins love getting involved early and often. While McKelvin struggled last week versus the likes of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, he may be the best match up for the Bills because of his speed. Aaron Williams, if he plays, will need to provide some nice help over the top regardless of who is on Wallace.
Also look for some special teams spark, particularly the punt return game with McKelvin being inserted back into the role after Jackson fumbled one last week.
I tried my best to give an objective prediction free of emotion from this past week, but simply cannot find a way to convince myself the Bills do not win handily. The Bills start hot, and give a pretty dominating performance, in a 27-16 win to vault them into 1st place in the AFC East.