Buffalo Week 2 Preview

 

                                                                           Week 2 Byrd Watch

On the Jairus Byrd front, not only is he dealing with a foot injury now, but he is also privately searching for a trade partner with his agent Eugene Parker. I will be the first to say that it is very easy for Bills fans to turn on Byrd and say that he is acting like a prima donna, however, you must understand that his $6.9 million dollar franchise tag is only large to those of us reading from home. For NFL standards, that’s still a lot of guaranteed money, however, when players like Dashon Goldson (who most believe is on par, if not slightly less of a safety than Byrd) are receiving contracts worth nearly $42 million dollars with $22 million guaranteed, it’s a different story. I think Buffalo’s best bet would be to either move Byrd before the deadline, or play hardball like the Chargers with Vincent Jackson. I would have no problem seeing Byrd sign with a contender after a strong 2013 campaign, had he been a class act and actually been on the field. However, his constant rants about needing to be 100% healthy and his animosity over his contract, his “secret” search for a trade partner, and his hold out made me change my mind about him. Buffalo can’t let a player push them around, or guys like Dareus or Spiller might employ the same tactics in the future. If Buffalo signs Byrd to a much bigger contract then he deserves, they will risk future free agents doing the same thing. And on the other hand, if Buffalo lets him walk for nothing, it will also demonstrate that players can play hardball with Buffalo and eventually win. Maybe I’m just bitter because I thought he was a high character guy, but here’s to hoping Byrd’s antics has cost him a ton in the free agent market, or that Buffalo can find a way to trade him to Jacksonville/Oakland/Cleveland and get something in return.

                                                                          GAME PREVIEW

What to look for

Shutting down Cam Newton?

This is much easier said than done. But if Buffalo wants a chance in this game they will have to limit Newton from big plays, especially rushing. Newton has a very limited receiving corps, so if Buffalo can find a way to pay close attention to both Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, they will force the Panthers to rely on receivers like Brandon Lafell and Ted Ginn.  Most importantly, Buffalo cannot allow Cam Newton to kill them by rushing for big gains on third downs. One of Buffalo’s biggest defensive flaw’s over the past few years was allowing rushing quarterbacks tons of open space on critical plays when they would bring a blitz and use man defense. If Buffalo wants to shut down Newton they will have to keep a linebacker spy on Newton, and hope they can limit his effectiveness. If I were Mike Pettine I would be challenging Deangelo Williams to beat us, not Cam Newton.

Tough Carolina Front?

Carolina has loaded up on their front seven in the past few years and finally look to have fortified a run defense. Gone are the days of constant 6 yard pickups rushing against the Panthers, especially with how well they looked a week ago against Seattle. Carolina has beefed up their front 7 with first round picks Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, have two of the most underrated defensive ends in the league in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, and have an all-pro in the making in Luke Keuchly. Buffalo will need to establish the running game if they want to have success on Sunday. Very simply, Nate Hackett wants to take the pressure off of Manuel and have CJ and Fred grind down the field. Hopefully Spiller can regain some of his 2012 swagger and be the running back we all expected to break out this year.

A healthy CJ?

Something was off last week. Spiller looked very indecisive, and was very content to take a one or two yard gain rather than test his speed by cutting to the outside. I think his time-share with Fred was more so a result of his play, rather than a game plan. I think Fred Jackson is one of the best backup running backs in football, hands down. However, if Buffalo wants to be successful this season; Spiller must be the elite back we saw at the end of 2012. Levitre leaving clearly plays into this, but Manuel is good enough to stop defenses from loading the box like they did last season when Fitzpatrick couldn’t hit anything longer than seven yards. Hopefully Spiller’s rust wears off, or he has a short memory with his fumble from last week, because he is way too good of a player to have such a small impact.

Manuel’s Progression

Just like any rookie quarterback, Manuel had his ups and downs last week. Fortunately for Bills fans, his ups drastically outweighed his downs; as he nearly led Buffalo to a victory over their bitter division rivals last Sunday. Imagine the fanfare he would have gained with a signature win against the Patriots in his rookie debut? On the negative side, Manuel was constantly off target in his short throws (slightly above, or below receivers), and didn’t take many shots down the field. This could be a result of the game plan, but the problem with this approach is Manuel is not an accurate enough quarterback to nickel and dime teams down the field. Buffalo’s most important player will be against a fairly weak secondary on Sunday, and if Buffalo plans to win they must take advantage of this. Working against Buffalo is their lack of options behind Johnson and Woods. At best, both Johnson and Woods are very solid number two receivers. If Chandler doesn’t step up to be the security blanket Manuel needs, he better hope Graham or Hogan can step up to fill this role.

                                                                       Key Matchups

1. Carolina front 7 vs. Buffalo’s offensive line

As stated above, Buffalo’s offensive line will have their work cut out for them against a very tough Panthers front 7. If Buffalo wants to win this game they will need to establish a running game and take some pressure of EJ in his second start. This will be a tough one, especially with the giant hole Buffalo employs at LG. Buffalo will need to take their shots deep, and not force Manuel to sit in the pocket. If Buffalo can run the ball effectively, and be successful on play-action, they will be able to limit this front 7. Odds are not in Buffalo’s favor in this matchup.

Advantage: Carolina

2. Leodis McKelvin vs. Steve Smith

Fact, Leodis McKelvin was a stud against New England week 1. If he can continue his solid play against an aging Steve Smith it will be one of the major factors in the outcome of this game. Steve Smith is really Cam Newton’s only elite option in the passing game. While Smith doesn’t have the same speed he once had many years ago, he is still a crafty veteran who will make big plays if you give him the opportunity. While Smith is proven to be very consistent, I’ll take the underdog here as I think McKelvin will be able to use his elite athleticism to adjust to the strong route running of Smith.

Advantage: McKelvin

3.EJ Manuel vs. Cam Newton

This game is really going to come down to Manuel vs. Newton. Whichever one of these QB’s makes the most plays will win the game. Although Manuel looked terrific in his first start against one of the best teams in football, he will need to lead this offense on Sunday, as Carolina will look to shut down Buffalo’s running game. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback, but he has proven to be more of a fantasy star than a clutch player. I expect Newton to put up solid numbers against Buffalo, especially in the running game. When it comes down to it, I think Newton will outplay Manuel on the stat sheet, but Manuel will be much more efficient where it counts. Carolina’s poor secondary will play a very large factor in this.

Advantage: Push

4. Nate Hackett vs. Rookie Jitters

Hackett was terrible in week 1. He was extremely conservative in his play calling, and failed to do anything with the lead in the 4th quarter. When he had the chance to bury the Patriots, he decided it was too much of a risk and ran the ball way to much. Manuel’s injury may have played a factor into his conservative play calling, but if he wants to win this weekend he will need to open up the playbook and use Buffalo’s speed to win this game. EJ will need to take his shots down field, Spiller will need to get much better running lanes, and Buffalo will need to use the read option plays they were setting up on Sunday (they handed to Spiller every time they ran this play, but it was set up). Buffalo employed Marrone and Hackett to bring an aggressive, up-tempo offense to Buffalo. Until Hackett can prove me wrong, I think he will learn the hard way that conservative offenses only work when you employ an elite defense.

Advantage: Jitters

                                                                 Final Prediction

Buffalo 24 Carolina 17

I like the Bills in this game. I’m not convinced Cam Newton has turned the corner to be more than a fantasy star, and Carolina still has many flaws on both offense and defense. Nate Hackett will hopefully open up the playbook against the Panthers and allow Manuel to be the athlete we drafted him to be. Also, look for Buffalo’s defense to step up big in this one. Brady is one of the best, if not the best, at eluding sacks by having lots of hot reads and great pressure awareness. Against any other team Buffalo would have had plenty of sacks last Sunday. If Buffalo’s front 7 can administer the same amount of effort against a much weaker Carolina offensive line, they should have a field day against Cam Newton.