AFC East: Buffalo Bills

W2W4: Bills at Jets

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills (4-3) will look to string together back-to-back wins as they travel to face the New York Jets (1-6) on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for:

1. Addressing the backfield: By far the biggest story coming out of Western New York this week was a reshuffled backfield following injuries to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. As far as how the Bills will split carries, let's keep it simple: They know what they have in Anthony Dixon and he's been productive when called upon this season (5.1 yard average on 27 carries), so the Bills aren't suddenly going to turn away from him. Rather, expect Dixon to be the "lead" back and for Bryce Brown to work into the mix. If he shows well, he could get more carries; if he doesn't, he probably won't.

2. Getting ahead on scoreboard: The Bills' offense hasn't started a drive with a lead for their last 46 possessions, or since EJ Manuel was intercepted by J.J. Watt in the third quarter of Buffalo's Week 4 loss to the Houston Texans. That means Kyle Orton has gone under center either trailing or locked in a tied game. In general, that has created more of a dependence on the passing game, so if the Bills fall behind again Sunday it won't matter whether Dixon or Brown is receiving carries; what matters will again be Orton's ability to move the ball through the air.

3. Containing Harvin: The greatest challenge for Jim Schwartz and the Bills' defense will be to figure out what the Jets are doing with Percy Harvin, their new offensive chess piece. Even if he doesn't touch the ball, it would make sense for the Jets to use Harvin in as many formations and motions as they can. The big-play threat that Harvin poses might be enough to draw the Bills defense's attention away from other players. Something to consider, however: Schwartz, as coach of the Detroit Lions, coached seven times against Harvin when he played for the Minnesota Vikings. There's a level of familiarity there for Schwartz that could translate to a higher comfort level in scheming against Harvin.

Here's a deeper look at how Harvin has fared against Schwartz:

Harvin against Schwartz-coached defenses (seven games):
Receptions per game: 5.4
Receiving yards per game: 51.9
Yards after catch per reception: 5.8
Pass targets per routes run: 35.6 percent
Rushing yards per game: 17.6

Harvin against all other defenses (53 games):
Receptions per game: 5.0
Receiving yards per game: 58.3
Yards after catch per reception: 6.5
Pass targets per routes run: 33.7 percent
Rushing yards per game: 12.3

4. Finishing first half strong: After going winless in their final game before the bye week for more than a decade, the Bills snapped that skid last season with a 37-14 win over the Jets. Another win over New York could pull the Bills even in the AFC East again if the Patriots lose at home to the Chicago Bears. If the opposite happens, and the Bills drop to 4-4 while the Patriots improve to 6-2, the Bills will return from their bye week in a tough spot, effectively down three games in the division with eight remaining.
What's the best way to rank defenses?

Is it points allowed? Yards allowed? Turnovers forced? There isn't one right answer, but one of the better methods is to combine a group of statistics and create an index.

ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi's defensive index does just that, and the Buffalo Bills' defense is treated favorably, ranking second in the NFL behind the Detroit Lions.

Bruschi combines a defense's ranks in turnovers, third-down conversions, red-zone efficiency, points allowed per game and sacks to arrive at his index ranking.

One surprise on the list? The Seattle Seahawks' vaunted defense falling to dead last in the ranking.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For the second time in two months, Rex Ryan played reporter.

The New York Jets' coach popped his head into an interview room Wednesday during a conference call between the media and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Ryan joined the group and fired away.

"Sammy, I've got a question," Ryan said. "How did you help Seth Ryan out? How'd he do out there? And if you could really help him, you wouldn't play this game [on Sunday]. This sounds like Rex Ryan -- I know it does -- but this is a reporter."

Watkins laughed, but never really answered the questions.

The back story: Ryan's son, Seth, is a wide receiver at Clemson. Seth Ryan and Watkins were teammates last season, so it was only natural for the elder Ryan to pay close attention.

Earlier on the conference call, Watkins was asked by a reporter -- a real reporter -- about his relationship with Rex Ryan.

"I know Rex, I have seen him down there at Clemson a couple of times," Watkins said. "He’s a great guy, great coach, great dad and he’s always been funny with me at times, but he’s a great coach."

Ryan has a high regard for Watkins, comparing him to A.J. Green and Julio Jones.

"He's like he’s one of those guys that doesn’t come around very often," Ryan said.

You may recall Ryan pulled a role reversal in training camp. In mid-August, during the dog days of camp, Ryan sat with the reporters one day and fired questions at a grizzled beat reporter.

He loves coaching, but it sure seems like he has a hidden desire to be a sports writer.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown are seemingly at the center of the fantasy football universe this week.

Their precise usage in Sunday's game against the New York Jets remains an unknown, even to Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone.

"You know, I don't really know that yet," Marrone said Wednesday. "It's not like we sit down and we say that. We're going to look at practice and set the plan and see where it goes. A lot of times that's dictated by the things that go on in the game also, depending on what your plan is.

"I really can't say how we want to do it right now. Hopefully whatever way we do it is productive."

It will be the first appearance of the season for Brown, who has been a healthy scratch each of the first seven games, while Dixon could potentially make his second career start after running with the first team in practice Wednesday.

"I ran out there first today, but me and Bryce are gonna kinda do it together, as a combination," Dixon said Wednesday. "That's pretty much how we're going to get it down. We gonna compete this week and see who got feel for the plays that coach want to run, and then on Sunday we gonna go with it."

Dixon is known more as a bruising, short-yardage back but said he can has experience as a receiver. In 71 career games, Dixon has 12 catches, including three this season.

"I got a little experience," Dixon said. "My last year in San Francisco, I played a lot of fullback, and you play flanker when you play fullback in that offense. So you split out, all the little types of stuff like that."

Meanwhile, Marrone praised Dixon and Brown's abilities Wednesday.

"I know there's been a lot of talk about it, but I feel comfortable with the guys we have back there. I think Bryce Brown is a threat, either receiving, catching the football, doing all those things. He's a home-run threat from that standpoint," Marrone said. "And then we've seen Anthony a little bit and his style of running, running downhill.

"So I don't really think I'm as concerned maybe about that situation. They're two players, guys that have played. So they'll get in there and play."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For now, the Cyril Richardson experiment appears to be over for the Buffalo Bills.

The rookie fifth-round draft pick, who started the last four games at left guard after Chris Williams was lost for the season with a back injury, ran with the second team at the start of Wednesday's practice.

Kraig Urbik stepped in with the first team at left guard.

Urbik started all 16 games at right guard last season for the Bills and began training camp in that spot. However, several personnel shifts along the offensive line in the preseason resulted in Urbik losing his starting job.

It appears he'll now have another chance.

Buffalo Bills sign RB Phillip Tanner

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
With Fred Jackson (groin) and C.J. Spiller (broken collarbone) both injured in Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Buffalo Bills needed running back depth.

The Bills bolstered their backfield Tuesday by signing free agent Phillip Tanner, his agents announced on Twitter:

Tanner, 26, played in 39 games for the Dallas Cowboys from 2011-2013. He has averaged 2.7 yards on 56 career carries and has nine receptions. Tanner also contributed on special teams for the Cowboys.

The Bills have yet to make a corresponding roster move. One option is to move Spiller to injured reserve with a designation to return, which would keep him out until at least Week 16.

With Spiller expected to miss significant time and Jackson also out for possibly a month, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown will shoulder the load at running back, with Tanner now in the fold as a third option.

Tanner might not have been the Bills' first choice, however. ESPN NFL Nation Tennessee Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky reported Tuesday that the Titans signed running back Antonio Andrews off their practice squad after the Bills made him an offer to join their 53-man roster.

The Film Don't Lie: Bills

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the Buffalo Bills must fix:

The Bills' rushing defense, ranked first in the NFL entering Week 7, allowed the Minnesota Vikings to average 5.4 yards per carry in Sunday's 17-16 win.

Was that a fluke or should the Bills be concerned when they travel to face Chris Ivory and the New York Jets this weekend?

"I think one of the things, uncharacteristically, were the missed tackles," coach Doug Marrone said Monday. "We had about nine missed tackles [Sunday]. That’s a lot of yardage. That’s something we’ve been doing a good job of. We didn’t do that [Sunday]."

No, the Bills did not. The Vikings gained an average of 2.45 yards after contact, the fourth-best mark of any team in Week 7. For comparison, the Bills allowed an average of 1.58 yards after contact through the first six games of the season.

The Vikings had a pair of big runs in the game -- both from deep in their own territory -- that helped boost their average.

First was a 21-yard rumble by fullback Jerome Felton in the first quarter. The Vikings had "22" personnel on the field -- two tight ends and two running backs -- so the Bills countered with a "4-4" defensive look. Defensive end Jerry Hughes was unblocked on the weak side and got caught too far upfield, allowing Felton to cut back. Safety Aaron Williams then missed a tackle to add at least another 10 yards to the run.

Second was a 29-yard run by Jerick McKinnon in the third quarter. Minnesota had the same personnel and formation, and the Bills were still in their "4-4" look. This time, the Bills over-pursued to the weak side -- where Felton found his crease on the first play -- and McKinnon cut back to the strong side. Williams then missed another tackle to allow the bigger gain.

Williams is playing with an injured right wrist, so it's understandable why he would have trouble tackling. But the overaggression on both plays was troubling, as it wasn't a single player at fault.

It's not rocket science, but if the Bills are to get back to their stingy run defense Sunday in the Meadowlands, they'll need to have more discipline in playing their lanes.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The NFL world will soon get its formal introduction to Anthony Dixon.

A change-of-pace running back for the San Francisco 49ers for the past four seasons, Dixon signed with the Buffalo Bills last offseason and now will be thrust into the spotlight after C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were carted off with injuries in Buffalo's 17-16 win Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Dixon
AP Photo/Gary WiepertWith the Bills' top two running backs injured, Anthony Dixon said he's ready for an expanded role.
Spiller has a broken collarbone, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported, and is out for an “undetermined time,” Marrone said. Jackson will have further tests on his injured groin Monday but his body language as he was taken off the field suggested a more serious injury for the Bills' team captain.

"It's time to step up and be great," Dixon said after the game. "It's what I've been waiting for for a long time, getting that workhorse role and I just tried to take advantage."

Once Jackson went down in the first quarter, the Bills split the six plays on their next drive between Dixon and Spiller. Then Spiller -- after a 53-yard gain on his first carry of the game -- landed hard on his left shoulder and might miss significant time, if not the remainder of the season.

As the Bills' final healthy running back who dressed for the game, Dixon rushed nine times in the second half, gaining 31 yards. He finished the day with 51 yards on 13 carries.

His role will undoubtedly increase. Known for his special-teams prowess -- he blocked a punt earlier this season -- and as a short-yardage option, Dixon is out to prove he's more than that.

"I feel like I didn't really get labeled right coming out of college and high school. People tried to do something else with me, make me somebody that I really wasn't," Dixon said. "I've been a workhorse like that all my life. I've been making plays like that all my life."

How was Dixon being labeled?

"[They] put me in a short-yardage [situation], they were just making all these type of stuff -- I can't run routes, I don't got hands. So I'm looking at them, like, 'What?' I don't see what they see," he said. "But yeah, I'm ready now for that opportunity.

"They never gave me a chance to get this opportunity [in San Francisco]. That was one of the reasons why I had to get out of there. I was looking at this opportunity. I really wanted to get back in that workhorse role and I think I'm almost there."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After the Buffalo Bills' close loss to the then-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs last November, coach Doug Marrone memorably proclaimed that he would go home, hide away in frustration and not even pet his dog.

Despite the Bills' come-from-behind, 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings, I don't think Boudreaux -- the Marrone family dog -- will be getting much attention Sunday night.

This is a flawed Bills team that has gone from playing mistake-free football at the start of the season to stumbling its way through the first 59 minutes of Sunday's contest, patching up its self-inflicted wounds just in time to escape with a win.

Let's not confuse this brand of football with resiliency. Rather, all the Bills showed Sunday was an ability to create drama out of what should have been an ordinary victory over a struggling opponent. It might be exciting in October, but it's hardly a recipe that will allow Buffalo to taste success in January.

Marrone's demeanor at the podium -- you would need to double-check the box score to make sure the Bills actually won -- told the story after the game.

"I think when you go down to the wire like this, then you're not going to win as many as you need to to get there [to the playoffs]," Marrone said.

The Bills are 4-3 and managed to keep pace in the division with the New England Patriots (5-2), who won Thursday. Buffalo's schedule -- which includes two games against the New York Jets (1-6) over the next month -- is favorable.

It's just hard to see the Bills heading in the right direction given the way they've played the past month. The task of making the postseason will now be even harder after both members of Buffalo's two-headed rushing attack -- C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson -- were carted off with injuries Sunday.

Spiller has a broken collarbone, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported, and is out for an "undetermined time," Marrone said. Jackson will have an MRI on his injured groin Monday. If his body language while leaving the field is any indication, it might not be an easy injury for Jackson to brush off -- as he always seems to do.

The Bills are down to Anthony Dixon, a career backup who will have plenty to prove if he becomes the workhorse, and Bryce Brown, a low-mileage back dumped by the Philadelphia Eagles in an offseason trade who hasn't suited up once this season.

Spiller has been struggling lately and his playing time dipped to a season-low 12 snaps in last week's loss to the Patriots, but losing Jackson for any extended period would be a big blow. He'd proved to be a consistent, reliable presence in the all-too-inconsistent Bills offense, even leading the team in receptions entering Sunday's game.

Overcoming the absence of either or both of those backs will be difficult, but it's the Bills' slipping focus and mounting mistakes that are most alarming.

They turned over the ball to the Patriots three times last week, added four turnovers Sunday -- including two fumbles inside the red zone -- and have shown an uncanny knack for drawing flags in critical situations.

Even on their last-minute touchdown drive Sunday, which ended in a decisive 2-yard touchdown catch by Sammy Watkins, the Bills seemingly did their best to lose the game.

Tight end Scott Chandler let a ball slip through his hands, right tackle Seantrel Henderson drew a false-start penalty one breath after a fourth-and-20 conversion, and Kyle Orton committed an intentional grounding penalty once the Bills reached the red zone.

Had it not been for Chandler's 24-yard catch on fourth-and-20 or Watkins' touchdown grab with one second remaining, the Bills would be reeling, losers of four of their past five.

Count Marrone among those disturbed by the trend, one that threatens to turn the Bills' 4-3 start into a much less desirable finish.

"I would hate to be categorized as grumpy after a win, but I don't help myself here right now," Marrone said. "I know where I want to go with the team. I do. And I'm just fighting to lead this team to where I want to go.

"It's on myself. I'm going to be on the coaches and the coaches are going to be on [the players]."
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 17-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings:
  • Spiller
    After being carted off in the first half, running back C.J. Spiller was diagnosed with a broken collarbone, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. Spiller will have surgery Monday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan. Coach Doug Marrone said Spiller will be out "an undetermined time." He added that Fred Jackson, who was carted off with a groin injury, will need further tests.
  • Bryce Brown, acquired in an offseason trade, was inactive Sunday for the seventh time this season. There was more buzz about Brown last week after Spiller's continued struggles, and Marrone acknowledged Brown will now have a chance. "I have no problem bringing up Bryce. We talked about him last week -- which I hope wasn't a jinx," Marrone said, chuckling.
  • The Bills won this game, but you wouldn't know it. Marrone generally had a frustrated tone when speaking about the game, saying the Bills will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs if they play like they did Sunday. Many players were gone by the time reporters entered the locker room. One of those who did speak, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, acknowledged the Bills' poor play for long stretches Sunday but added, "They're all beautiful [wins] as far as I'm concerned. I don't think there's such a thing as an ugly win."

Mike Williams active for Buffalo Bills

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Mike Williams is active Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Williams, who was deactivated last week, might have benefited from a hamstring injury Thursday to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

Goodwin is among three injured Bills who will not play Sunday.

The final four Bills inactives are all healthy scratches, including running back Bryce Brown.

Here is the full list of Bills inactives:

WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring)
WR Marcus Easley (knee)
LB Ty Powell (ankle)
RB Bryce Brown
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
CB Ross Cockrell
S Kenny Ladler
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Welcome to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills (3-3) host the Minnesota Vikings (2-4) at 1 p.m. ET.

Weather conditions: There's a chill in the air this morning. The current temperature is 39 degrees with a wind chill of 33 degrees, with temperatures expected to rise only into the low 40s by kickoff. Skies will be cloudy but there is no chance of rain. Winds will be about 15 mph.

Four more inactives: With wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), special-teams ace Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Ty Powell (ankle) already declared out, the Bills will need four additional inactives. There are no players who are doubtful or questionable on the injury report, so expect those final four scratches to be healthy players. Meanwhile, wide receiver Mike Williams is expected to be active after being deactivated last Sunday. We'll monitor his playing time closely.

Van Miller honored: Longtime Bills broadcaster Van Miller will be inducted into the Bills' ring of honor in a halftime ceremony.

Hochuli gets the call: Ed Hochuli is today’s referee.

W2W4: Vikings at Bills

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills (3-3) look to bounce back at home when they host the Minnesota Vikings (2-4) on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for:

1. Bigger game than it seems: On paper, this is one of the NFL's duller games of the weekend, a matchup of two teams that have lost a combined seven of their past 10 games. But consider the implications for the Bills. They are entering a critical stretch of their schedule that is heavy on home contests against some of the NFL's bottom-tier teams. If Buffalo loses Sunday to the 2-4 Vikings, it will be 1-3 at home and effectively three games behind the Patriots in the AFC East, as the Patriots currently own the tiebreaker. The Bills then have to head on the road to a face a Jets team on extra rest after a close loss in New England. On the flip side, a Bills win would mean they are taking advantage of their schedule and are keeping pace with the Patriots. It's a big swing and an important game.

2. Shuffle at wide receiver: An injury Thursday to Marquise Goodwin changes the Bills' picture at wide receiver. While indications before Goodwin's injury were that Mike Williams would be inactive for a second consecutive game, that is expected to change with Goodwin ruled out Friday. The Bills' top three receivers should be Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan, with Mike Williams having the potential to see some playing time as a fourth receiver. It's not the ideal situation for Williams, who was a starter in the preseason, but his wish to see the field might now be granted.

3. Status quo at running back: The Bills have been the NFL's worst rushing team over the past two games, which prompted speculation that they could shake things up by giving Bryce Brown a chance in the backfield. Indications are that won't happen. Offensive coordinator Nate Hackett said Friday that he wants to continue "feeding" C.J. Spiller the ball, even after Spiller played a season-low 12 snaps last Sunday. The problem, according to Hackett and coach Doug Marrone, is that Spiller is trying to make too many big plays. The team wants him to "see three [yards], get three [yards]," or simply take what he can get on each play. It's hardly a new problem for Spiller, but the Bills still have patience with him.

4. Tightening up the defense: For a Bills' defense that had earned its share of praise through the first five games, that unit fell apart in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Patriots. It's hard to blame injuries; the Bills have a few banged-up players in Kyle Williams, Brandon Spikes, and Da'Norris Searcy, but were only missing one starter (Aaron Williams) in that game. Aaron Williams is probable to play Sunday, so the defense will be back to full strength for the first time this season. The Vikings allowed eight sacks last Sunday and have the NFL's worst Total QBR this season. If Buffalo's defense commits some of the same mistakes it did against New England, significant questions will be raised Monday.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The forgotten man along the Buffalo Bills' offensive line is trying something new.

Tackle Cyrus Kouandjio -- who has been mostly lost in a shuffle of linemen that has led to changes at three positions since training camp -- is now seeing time at guard in practice.

"We did move him in there, so he’s playing guard on the scout team and we’re working on developing him," coach Doug Marrone said Thursday. "I see him as one of the most improved from what you’ve seen in the preseason and what you’ve seen of him when you watched it. His movement skills right now, it’s truly been a 180 from what we saw in the preseason. I’m really excited about that."

Kouandjio was largely a disappointment in training camp, failing to compete with seventh-round round pick Seantrel Henderson for the starting right tackle job once Erik Pears moved to right guard.

The Alabama product, taken in the second round this year, said he received a wake-up call when he was inactive for the season opener.

"I had to sit down and watch my teammates go out there and have a good time. I felt like a spectator, I felt like I was in the crowd," he said. "I decided that's not who I am -- I decided to wake up and do something about it. I understand that there was a chance that I might fail, but I wasn't afraid of that."

Kouandjio says life is "easier" at guard, where he has to deal with less space than a tackle, who is often on an "island" against a pass-rusher.

"At guard you're not in space like you are at tackle. Playing tackle, you're usually by yourself," he said. "At guard, you can always get help from your left or your right, and the guy's just right there in front of you, so you ain't got to run around and try to catch the guy like out at tackle."

That actually runs counter to what coach Doug Marrone said last month when asked why Kouandjio wasn't being worked at guard.

"It’s much more difficult for anyone to go from an outside player to an inside player," Marrone said on Sept. 24. "It’s easier, not to say that it’s not difficult, to go from the inside to the outside. Any one of our inside guys can go outside. There’s a little bit more space. Everything happens quite quick, quick fast inside and sometimes the length and the build of how you are can affect your play on the inside."

Regardless, Kouandjio has been inactive for the first six games of the season and despite the Bills' struggles along some parts of their offensive line, that doesn't figure to change in the near future.

It will take time and development.

"If he keeps going the way he’s going, we can get a spot for him somewhere, just like a lot of other people," Marrone said Thursday.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin pulled up with a hamstring injury late in Thursday's practice and did not return.

Goodwin, who has battled several injuries in his young career with the Bills, was listed as a limited participant in practice. His status for Sunday's game will be released in the Bills' injury report Friday.

Here is Thursday's full injury report:

Did not participate:
WR Marcus Easley (knee)
LB Ty Powell (ankle)

Limited participation:
S Da’Norris Searcy (knee)
LB Brandon Spikes (ribs)
DT Kyle Williams (knee)
S Aaron Williams (wrist/neck)
WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring)

Full participation:
LS Garrison Sanborn (knee)