W2W4: Chargers at Bills

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills (2-0) will look to retain sole possession of first place in the AFC East when they host the San Diego Chargers (1-1) on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for:

1. Robert Woods' status: After coach Doug Marrone said Thursday that wide receiver Robert Woods wouldn't be able to play "right now," Woods' ankle apparently improved enough that he was able to practice Friday and is listed as probable for Sunday's game. On Thursday, fellow wideout Sammy Watkins said he hopes for him and Woods to become a top receiver duo in the mold of Julio Jones and Roddy White. That's telling, as Woods' role was in doubt less than a month ago. He's now clearly ahead of Mike Williams in the offense's hierarchy. Still, Williams may have a chance to change that if Woods' reps are limited Sunday because of his ankle injury.

2. Favorable matchups for Bills: There are a few statistical areas where the Bills could receive a break Sunday. The first is red zone offense, where the Bills rank 29th through two weeks but the Chargers have allowed touchdowns on four of five opponent trips this season. The second area is run defense. The Bills' defense has allowed 4.26 yards per carry, 15th-best in the NFL. However, the Chargers average a league-worst 2.51 yards per carry and will be without Ryan Mathews. If the Bills can have success in each of those phases, they'll be in good shape Sunday.

3. Chess match between Bills' defense, Chargers' offense: Meanwhile, there are some matchups that the Chargers can exploit. The Bills lost some athleticism at linebacker when Kiko Alonso suffered a season-ending injury and they could also be without Keith Rivers (doubtful, groin). Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown will be a likely combo at linebacker on passing downs. Expect the Chargers to send tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green over the middle and up the seam, challenging the Bills' linebackers. The Bills could counter by bringing a safety closer to the line of scrimmage, so keep an eye on Da'Norris Searcy and his alignment. If he creeps down into the box, the Chargers could turn to the outside and test the Bills' cornerbacks with wide receiver Keenan Allen.

4. Watching the weather: There is currently a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms Sunday. If heavy rain happens to move into the area during the game, I'd expect the Bills to have the advantage. They have a stronger running game than the Chargers and rely less on passing than any other team in the NFL.

Trump: I drove up Bills' price

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula paid an NFL-record $1.4 billion to buy the Buffalo Bills last week, another bidder in the process wants credit for the price tag.

Celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, who had been vocal throughout the summer-long sale process about his interest in buying the team, tweeted Friday that he helped drive up the final price.

Trump was the first bidder to publicly announce his intentions to bid, although by late July he said it would be "very, very unlikely" that he would become the next owner of the Bills.

Instead, a trust including Mary Wilson, the widow of Bills founder and former owner Ralph Wilson, reached an agreement to sell the team to the Pegulas last week.

The Pegulas were unanimously approved by the NFL's finance committee Wednesday. They can be approved as the next owners of the Bills by a vote during the NFL's next league meetings on Oct. 7-8.

(Read full post)

Last week, we examined a few advanced statistics where the Buffalo Bills have seen a marked difference since last season -- good or bad.

With another game to broaden the sample size, let's give those numbers a refresh, concluding with the special teams:

Stat: Average distance from goal after opponent punt return
2013: 70.0 yards (27th)
2014, through Week 1: 85.0 yards (fourth)
2014, through Week 2: 84.2 yards (second)

Analysis: Colton Schmidt's two strong weeks of punting are second only to his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, who cut the first-year punter in August. The Bills lead the NFL with 77.8 percent of their punts returned from inside the 20-yard line, while they rank third with 33.3 percent of punts landing inside the 10-yard line. There have been zero touchbacks through two weeks. Through two weeks last season, Shawn Powell had 33.3 percent of his punts land inside the 20-yard line and 8.3 percent inside the 10-yard line.

Stat: Average distance from goal after opponent kick return
2013: 76.8 (16th)
2014, through Week 1: 81.2 (7th)
2014, through Week 2: 80.1 (9th)

Analysis: Jordan Gay kicked off eight times Sunday, tied with the Washington Redskins for the most in the NFL. Five of those kickoffs went for touchbacks, a 62.5-percent rate that ranked 15th in Week 2. Gay's touchback rate for the season is 71.4 percent -- tied for seventh-best -- which is a significant improvement over the Bills' 41-percent rate last season. The Bills' decision to carry a kickoff specialist has paid off early.

Bills' Robert Woods listed as probable

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.

Woods returned to practice Friday and was a limited participant after missing Thursday's practice.

Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game after missing Friday's practice. Rivers, who has a groin injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.

Here is the Bills' full injury report:

S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee/did not participate)

LB Keith Rivers (groin/limited participation)

DT Stefan Charles (hip/limited)
G Chris Williams (back/limited)
WR Robert Woods (ankle/limited)
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs/full participation)
TE Lee Smith (toe/full participation)

Prediction: Bills will beat Chargers

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Coming off an emotional win against the Miami Dolphins in their home opener, it's natural to wonder if there will be a let-down factor as the Buffalo Bills host the San Diego Chargers this Sunday.

In this case, I think the Bills will be ready for the challenge.

There might be no better medicine for a stagnant Bills red-zone offense than a Chargers defense that has allowed four touchdowns in five opponent trips inside the 20-yard line this season. If the Bills can get more out of their offense and continue to hold strong on defense, this is a winnable game against a playoff team from last season.

My prediction: Bills 21, Chargers 20

Updating defensive stat changes for Bills

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Last week, we examined a few advanced statistics where the Buffalo Bills have seen a marked difference since last season -- good or bad.

With another game to broaden the sample size, let's give those numbers a refresh, continuing with the defense:

Stat: Disrupted drop-back percentage
2013: 21.6 percent (1st)
2014, through Week 1: 15.7 percent (14th)
2014, through Week 2: 18.9 percent (8th)

Analysis: This stat is calculated as a percentage of sacks, passes defended, interceptions, and batted balls over dropbacks. The Bills were able to disrupt Ryan Tannehill (21.8 percent) more than Jay Cutler (15.7 percent). More impressively, they did it with less blitzing. They sent five or more rushers on just 18.2 percent of plays, the sixth-lowest rate in the league in Week 2. In Week 2, the Bills' blitz rate was 25.5 percent, while it was 34.8 percent in Week 1.

Stat: Opponent first downs per pass attempt
2013: 30.3 percent (3rd)
2014, through Week 1: 38.3 percent (23rd)
2014, through Week 2: 35.7 percent (17th)

Analysis: This stat also improved since Week 1. The Bills allowed first downs on 32.7 percent of Tannehill pass attempts. The Dolphins had more success in the second half (36.8 percent) than the first half (18.2 percent), so part of that could be the Bills' defense loosening up as it had more of a lead. The pass defense isn't exactly where the Bills need it to be, but the early signs are encouraging. They'll face a test against Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and the rest of the San Diego Chargers' offense this Sunday.
Last week, we examined a few advanced statistics where the Buffalo Bills have seen a marked difference since last season -- good or bad.

With another game to broaden the sample size, let's give those numbers a refresh, starting with the offense:

Stat: Average yards per pass attempt
2013: 6.46 (28th)
2014, through Week 1: 7.86 (10th)
2014, through Week 2: 7.81 (9th)

Analysis: This held steady after another game. From a statistical standpoint, this has been one of the more striking differences for the Bills' offense this season. While the Bills have limited EJ Manuel's pass attempts -- he has the second-fewest in the NFL through two weeks -- that doesn't explain this stat. Instead, it points to better accuracy. Manuel has completed over 66 percent of his passes compared to 59 percent last season. Minimizing his incompletions (and interceptions) will help drive the average yardage per attempt up.

Stat: Average time in pocket
2013: 2.34 seconds (18th)
2014, through Week 1: 2.52 seconds (7th)
2014, through Week 2: 2.29 seconds (23rd)

Analysis: This was a steep drop but not necessarily bad news. Consider that the Denver Broncos rank 32nd with an average of 1.88 seconds. Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball as quickly as anyone and is often lined up in the shotgun, so the lower time isn't indicative of a lack of pass protection. Likewise, Manuel was lined up in the shotgun for 36 of the offense's plays Sunday and was getting rid of the ball quickly. The Bills' offensive line ranked ninth in the NFL in Week 2 by controlling the line of scrimmage on 53.4 percent of pass plays. The Dolphins' defensive line ranked 24th with a 46.6 percent control rate.

Sammy Watkins on 'nagging' rib injury

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- On the field, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins showed few ill-effects of a preseason rib injury during Sunday's 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.

 On the sidelines during that game, however, Watkins was visited several times by team medical staff and at one point was hunched over near the bench area after returning from play.

Watkins was listed as a full participant during practice this week and says his condition is improving.

"I'm feeling pretty good. Just day by day, it gets better," he said. "I just have to keep working and keep getting stronger."

After catching three passes in the season opener, Watkins had eight receptions for 117 yards last Sunday. Watkins missed only three snaps (of 57 total) in Week 1 and nine snaps (of 59 total) in Week 2.

The fourth overall pick didn't offer a time frame on when he may be back to full strength.

"I don't know how long. It's just a nagging injury," he said. "It's something that you can play with. Hopefully it stops. Whenever it stops, I'll be fine. But right now I just have to play through it."

Bills might be without WR Robert Woods

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- After injuring his ankle late in Wednesday’s practice, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods did not practice Thursday and might not play in Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers.

"Right now he wouldn’t be able to play," coach Doug Marrone said.

Woods has started the first two games of the season alongside rookie Sammy Watkins. He has five catches for 83 yards.

Watkins was more optimistic about Woods' status Thursday.

"I think he's fine. I think they just wanted to rest him today. He tweaked his ankle the other day," Watkins said. "He went through the walk-through [Thursday morning] pretty fine. But I think it was kind of sore a little bit, but he gonna be fine."

Meanwhile, the Bills added starting left guard Chris Williams to their injury report. He was limited.

"He went throughout the practice," Marrone said. "We just watched his reps."

Here is the Bills' full Thursday injury report:

Did not participate:
S Jonathan Meeks (neck/placed on injured reserve)
LB Randell Johnson (knee)
WR Woods (ankle)

Limited participation:
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DT Stefan Charles (hip)
G Williams (back)

Full participation:
WR Watkins (ribs)
TE Lee Smith (toe)

Inside Edge: Chargers-Bills

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18


ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for San Diego at Buffalo.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The San Diego Chargers will make one of their longest trips of the season when they travel Friday in advance of Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

For a surprising amount of the Chargers' coaches and staff members, it will be a homecoming.

Here is a list of some notable Buffalo and Western New York ties for the Chargers:

GM Tom Telesco -- One of the NFL's newest general managers, Telesco was named to his current position last season. He grew up in Hamburg, New York, attended St. Francis High School and was a training camp intern for the Bills from 1991-1994.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich -- Well-known for his role in the "Comeback Game" against the Houston Oilers in the 1993 playoffs, Reich was a third-round pick of the Bills in 1985 and was a member of the Bills for 10 seasons.

Tight ends coach Pete Metzelaars -- Considered the best tight end in Bills history, he is a member of the team's 50th anniversary squad and also coached the Bills' tight ends in 2012.

Quarterbacks coach Nick Sirianni -- A native of Jamestown, New York, Sirianni played at Southwestern High School, where his brother Jay currently is the coach.

Offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris -- Under former head coach Chan Gailey, D'Alessandris coached the Bills' offensive line from 2010-2012.

Bills' Robert Woods not practicing

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) was not on the field at the start of Thursday's practice.

Woods was added to the injury report Wednesday as having limited participation with an ankle injury.

The second-round pick has started each of the first two games this season, catching five passes for 83 yards. If Woods cannot play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, expect Mike Williams to start alongside Sammy Watkins.

The Bills will practice once more Friday before releasing Woods' status (probable, questionable, doubtful or out) for Sunday's game.

In addition to Woods, linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) was not seen at the start of Thursday's practice. He did not participate Wednesday.

2014 NFL Rookie Rankings

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

I had a lot of fun doing the rookie rankings last year. I've always kept a close eye on first-year players just because I'm curious to see what happens after spending so many months (years, really) evaluating them at the college level. It's also a great reminder of how, particularly early in a career, fit and opportunity to play can far outweigh talent. You can be a stud, but if the guy in front of you is better, you wait. If he's hurt, maybe you're seeing 70 snaps. So now I find myself going through every game a couple of times late into Monday and Tuesday night with a close eye on rookies.

So we're clear here, I'll keep around last year's parameters. Remember, I've hit reset on these guys as far as future value -- this is all about production.

• It's not just the week. This is measure for all games, not just last Sunday.
• Total snap count matters. Staying on the field is a measure of value. Simple as that.
• Positional value matters. But overall performance and impact on the team matter more.
• Wins matter. Contributing to a winner means more than piling up reps on a bad team.
• Relative value matters. I ask: Would this player be a starter on most teams? (I think that hurts QBs some.)

With that said, let's dive in for the 2014 rookie class. I'll update these every two weeks. It's a small sample so far, so I imagine we'll see big changes.

1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo

I didn't like how much Buffalo gave up for the right to draft Watkins in a draft loaded with WR talent, but it's not like I was ever down on the player (as you can see). So far Watkins has been really good

Panthers, Bills can sustain success

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18

After two games, only seven NFL teams still stand undefeated. Some of these teams are not a surprise. Pretty much every observer went into the season expecting Denver, Cincinnati and Philadelphia to compete once again for playoff spots. Seeing those teams start 2-0 isn't really news to many people.

On the other hand, Carolina and Arizona looked like prime candidates for regression this year; Carolina primarily due to personnel losses and Arizona due to injuries and age. Elsewhere, Buffalo hasn't been to the playoffs in more than a decade, and Houston had the worst record in the league last year. Yet all of these teams have also started 2-0.

The question now is sustainability. Which of these four teams is most likely to carry its hot start to a place in the postseason? Based on a breakdown of each, I've picked out two surprise teams that could keep things going.

Here's a look at each of the surprise 2-0 teams (Denver, Cincy and Philly are excluded) along with each club's odds of making the playoffs both now and in the preseason (according to the Football Outsiders playoff odds report).

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Chargers vs. Bills preview

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Few teams in the NFL are as hot as the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, who will meet Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills are off to a surprising 2-0 start and sit alone atop the AFC East. They've turned the ball over just once and have limited opposing offenses to less than 16 points per game. Add in strong special-teams contributions -- Buffalo players won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after both games this season -- and the Bills have found a recipe for winning.

Meanwhile, the Chargers (1-1) are hanging tough in the AFC West. With their 30-21 victory last week, they became one of just four teams to take down the Seattle Seahawks since the start of last season. Quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates are still the centerpiece of a dangerous offensive attack.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Rodak: The Chargers seem to be riding high after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions. What was the key to their victory and how do you see their performance carrying forward?

Williams:Ccoach Mike McCoy devised an excellent game plan for defeating Seattle. Rivers used the short passing game to control the tempo, and in the red zone, the Chargers got one-on-one matchups with Gates against linebackers or strong safety Kam Chancellor. And for the most part, Gates won. Defensively, the Chargers did a nice job of swarm-tackling Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin in the run game, and they forced Russell Wilson to make plays from inside the pocket. Lastly, San Diego won the turnover battle. It’s a good recipe for winning games on a weekly basis in the NFL, but in order to win on the road, the Chargers will need to run the ball more consistently.

The Bills are 2-0 at the start of the season for the first time since 2011. Can this team break the NFL’s longest playoff drought by making the postseason for the first time since 1999?

Rodak: They have the potential to do it. The Bills might have the AFC East's most talented roster. There are 12 first-round picks and five second-round picks, part of an overall mixture of homegrown talent and pieces added from the outside. The Bills have arguably the NFL's best defensive line -- three players went to the Pro Bowl last season -- and a strong group of offensive weapons surrounding EJ Manuel.

The question has always been about the quarterback, and through two weeks, I'm not sure the concerns about Manuel have been alleviated. The Bills have limited Manuel's pass attempts; he has 48 through two games, the second-fewest in the NFL. They're also 29th in red zone touchdown efficiency, a problem that has been masked by strong defense and special-teams play. The Bills have proven they can win games with that approach, but I still think we'll need to see more out of Manuel before the Bills are considered a strong playoff contender.

The Chargers have no shortage of weapons on offense, yet they often don't get the same attention as some of the NFL's better offenses. Where would you place Rivers among his peers at quarterback and how would you rate his receivers?

Williams: Rivers is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, in my opinion. He is accurate, smart and still possesses plenty of zip in his arm to make every throw on the field. And at 32 years old, he's in his prime. Last season, Rivers led the league in completion percentage (69.5 percent) and finished fourth in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). However, he does not get as much attention as some of the other elite quarterbacks because he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring, and that's how we judge the best quarterbacks in the game.

I also believe San Diego has an above-average group of receivers, led by Keenan Allen, and perhaps the best tight end tandem in the NFL in Gates and Ladarius Green. Add Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown at running back, and Rivers has plenty of playmakers at his disposal to take advantage of specific matchups each week.

Manuel struggled during exhibition play but has been a steady performer during the first two games of the regular season. Manuel has completed 67 percent of his passes, has been sacked only once and has a 95.4 passer rating in helping lead the Bills to two victories. What has been the difference?

Rodak: There is a marked difference at wide receiver that has helped boost Manuel's play this season. Last season, Manuel and top wideout Stevie Johnson never seemed to be on the same page, plus Johnson had some lingering injury problems. Second-round pick Robert Woods was a rookie and third receiver T.J. Graham had a limited skill set that didn't do Manuel many favors. Manuel's leading receiver was tight end Scott Chandler (53 catches, 655 yards), but Chandler has just two catches in two games this season.

Instead, Manuel has fired away at top pick Sammy Watkins. Watkins has 15 targets, the most on the team. In addition, Woods came up with a pair of impressive catches in Week 1 that bailed out Manuel on some less-than-accurate throws. Manuel certainly deserves credit for better decision-making in his second season, but the Bills wanted to improve his group of receivers, and the difference has been noticeable.

The Chargers' defense ranks 30th in yards allowed per play (6.58) and opponent yards per rush (5.56) but has allowed only 19.5 points per game, which is 12th-best in the NFL. Is run defense a problem for San Diego and if so, how have they covered it up?

Williams: The Chargers struggled against the run last season but did a better job against a pretty good running offense (Seattle) Sunday. The key for San Diego's defense is actually how much the offense controls tempo. The Chargers are No. 2 on offense in the NFL in time of possession (35:13), so the defense isn't on the field for long periods of time. San Diego also forced three turnovers in two games -- along with a blocked punt -- and only has one turnover on offense. So the Chargers do a good job of stealing a few possessions each game. Those things help hide other deficiencies San Diego has on defense.

Watkins had a breakout performance against Miami, finishing with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. We know that Buffalo leans on the run game with C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon, but how has Watkins added another dimension to the offense?

Rodak: We didn't see too much of Watkins in the season opener; he had three catches in the first half and Manuel overthrew Watkins on his only target in the second half. Things changed in Week 2. He brings a clear advantage over most other receivers: Watkins has speed that allows him to be a deep threat, sure hands and a large catch radius that allows him to haul in off-target passes, and some shiftiness that makes him dangerous after the catch. The Bills had speed at receiver last season but lacked the route-running and pass-catching ability that Watkins brings to the table.