AFC East: Buffalo Bills

Marrone: Rotation led to Graham sitting

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Buffalo Bills' 22-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers:
  • One of the game's more curious decisions was the Bills' choice to start Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore -- and not Corey Graham -- at cornerback. Graham, who has arguably been the Bills' best cornerback this season, emphasized in the locker room that he "hasn't earned anything" but admitted, "I'll be standing here lying if I said I didn't want to start." Coach Doug Marrone said the Bills "rotate guys in" at cornerback that led to Graham starting the game on the bench. McKelvin, who allowed a 49-yard Malcom Floyd catch and committed a 31-yard defensive pass interference penalty, wasn't in the locker room by the time reporters entered.
  • Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was blunt when speaking about the offense's struggles. "We sucked on third downs," Watkins said. While third downs were a problem, the Bills (43 percent) actually fared better than the Chargers (38 percent) and performed better than their average through their first two games (33.3 percent).
  • The Bills exited Sunday's game with three official injuries: left guard Chris Williams (back), wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee), and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle). Not on that list was cornerback Nickell Robey, who was replaced by Ron Brooks later in the game. Brooks called the move a coach's decision and said Robey's health was fine.

Keith Rivers among Bills' inactives

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) will not play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Rivers practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out Friday's practice. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report.

In addition to Rivers, the Bills will be without rookie linebacker Randell Johnson. The Bills are expected to start Brandon Spikes, Nigel Bradham and rookie Preston Brown at linebacker, with Ty Powell and Larry Dean as the reserves.

Here is the full list of Bills inactives:

RB Bryce Brown
TE Chris Gragg
LB Keith Rivers
LB Randell Johnson
CB Ross Cockrell
G Cyril Richardson
OT Cyrus Kouandjio

Previewing Bills-Chargers

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Welcome to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills (2-0) host the San Diego Chargers (1-1) in their second consecutive home contest (1 p.m. ET).

Weather conditions: There have been passing downpours in the area this morning and more rain, including thunderstorms, is possible throughout Sunday. Temperatures are currently in the upper 60s with moderate humidity. Winds are about 15 miles per hour and gusting to 25 miles per hour.

Andre Reed receives ring: Former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, will receive his Hall of Fame ring in a halftime ceremony Sunday.

Robert Woods probable: On the injury front, wide receiver Robert Woods is listed as probable after missing Thursday's practice with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, linebackers Randell Johnson (out, knee) and Keith Rivers (doubtful, groin) are unlikely to play. If Rivers is inactive, the Bills will need to declare five additional inactives.

Parry gets the call: John Parry is today's referee.

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.
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.
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)

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 third 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)

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.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods was added to Wednesday's injury report with an ankle injury.

Woods was not listed on the team's unofficial injury report Monday, so it's likely that he suffered the injury during Wednesday's practice.

Meanwhile, linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) was limited in his return to practice on Wednesday.

"I felt pretty good," Rivers said. "Moving around pretty well and [will] just keep taking it day by day."

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

Limited participation:
LB Keith Rivers (groin)
DT Stefan Charles (hip)
WR Robert Woods (ankle)

Full participation:
WR Sammy Watkins (ribs)
TE Lee Smith (toe)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 2.

Spiller returned a kickoff 102 yards in Sunday's 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins. This is the second consecutive week the Bills have taken home the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor, with kicker Dan Carpenter earning the recognition in Week 1.

This is also the second time in Spiller's career he has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. The first time was in Week 3 of the 2010 season.

The Film Don't Lie: Bills

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Bills must fix:

When the San Diego Chargers come to town next week, the Buffalo Bills will need to improve their offense in the red zone.

Their one touchdown in six trips inside the 20-yard-line in Sunday's 29-10 win against the Miami Dolphins dragged the Bills' red zone efficiency rate to 30 percent, which ranks 28th in the NFL.

In six red-zone runs Sunday, Fred Jackson gained zero yards. Re-watching each play, the culprits were breakdowns across the offensive line. The first four runs were out of the shotgun with a zone-read element.

However, left guard Chris Williams couldn't hold his block on two of those Jackson runs, and center Eric Wood and right tackle Seantrel Henderson each had problems on separate plays. The result was Dolphins defenders in the backfield and little space for Jackson to run.

Two of EJ Manuel's passes in the red zone -- incompletions to Robert Woods and Mike Williams -- were off-target passes, a reminder that the Bills likely will need to run better in the red zone if they want to improve their efficiency rate.

Ups and downs for Buffalo Bills

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- At an initial glance, a look at which players are "up" and which players are at the opposite end of the spectrum in the Buffalo Bills' 29-10 win against the Miami Dolphins:


C.J. Spiller -- Spiller can be as hit-or-miss as any player in the NFL. This was one of his standout games. His 102-yard kickoff return was one of just two touchdowns the Bills scored, while his 47-yard run was one of just two Bills runs gaining double-digit yards.

Seantrel Henderson -- The seventh-round pick has settled in as the starter at right tackle and handled Cameron Wake with ease. The entire offensive line deserves praise for their pass protection, but it was Henderson who had the toughest matchup.

Sammy Watkins -- Impressive to see the rookie play through pain to record his first 100-yard game and his first NFL touchdown. There were a few points where, watching Watkins on the sideline, you'd think he'd sit out a few plays, but he came right back into the game each time.

Colton Schmidt -- Another week, another strong outing by the young punter. Three of his four punts landed inside the 15-yard line, including the final one that was muffed and recovered by the Bills.

Anthony Dixon -- The Bills signed Dixon on cheap money this offseason and he's made an impact in the first two games. Last week, it was on offense. This week, he blocked a punt as part of a solid overall effort on special teams.


Entire offense in red zone -- Tough to single out any player after a convincing win, so we'll send the entire offense on a penalty lap for their 1-for-6 showing in the red zone.

Watkins plays through pain for first TD

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, practice was one thing. The fourth overall pick dazzled in training camp with multiple awe-inspiring catches caught on video.

Translating that over to a game came slowly. Watkins injured his ribs in the preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before returning for the preseason finale and leaving again with a similar injury. Last week, three catches in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears were the extent of his production in an overtime win.

That all changed Sunday when Watkins broke through with an eight-catch, 117 yard performance in a 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Watkins was targeted 11 times, while all other Bills receivers totaled 15 targets. Watkins' 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the Bills' lone passing touchdown of the game and the first career score for the first receiver taken in May's draft.

"It was amazing," Watkins said. "Just to see how the fans got involved and to have my first TD [at] the Ralph was amazing."

Watkins continues to play through pain. He came off the field twice Sunday, including on the first drive after taking hits from defenders. In one case, he was hunched over on the sideline as the offense was on the field.

But in both cases, he was checked out by trainers and returned to action.

"I feel great," Watkins said of his health. "We got the win, and that's the ultimate goal. We just have to keep working."

Given his apparent discomfort, the Bills will need to be careful how much they work Watkins moving forward. He remains an important part of their offense and a rib injury in September that lingers into November would be a problem.

For now, Watkins has shown an ability to play through the pain and after a slow start, that's exactly what the Bills need from him.

"It happened that a lot of calls and progressions had him getting the ball and coming open," quarterback EJ Manuel said. "I'm very proud of him."

Bills, home crowd prove hard to beat

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- How do you measure excitement?

Ticket prices soaring higher than most can remember? Parking lots full hours before the game? Players stuck in traffic driving to the stadium?

By any means, the buzz around the Buffalo Bills was off the charts Sunday. From news that Terry and Kim Pegula reached an agreement to buy the team, to Jim Kelly capturing the crowd's emotion with a pregame speech in memory of late owner Ralph Wilson, there was a confluence of factors that made the Bills and their fans hard to beat.

Just ask the Miami Dolphins, whom the Bills trounced, 29-10.

"They had a lot of intensity," Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "We weren't close to their intensity. That's why they won the football game. They did a good job of playing football but their intensity was so much higher than ours that I think that's why they won the game, honestly."

It had been expected all week. Defensive captain Kyle Williams -- who said earlier in the week he couldn't wait until Sunday's game, simply because of the growing fever around it -- knew the Bills had to harness the atmosphere at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I told the guys before, 'Feed off the crowd, but don't let it overcome you,'" Williams explained. "Don't become so enthralled with the emotion and the energy that you let it overcome you and run what you're doing."

For some players, just getting to the facility was a challenge. Coach Doug Marrone said he was concerned that players wouldn't arrive on time because of the earlier-than-usual traffic. And he was right -- center Eric Wood encountered stand-still cars four hours before the game.

"That's the most traffic I've fought -- I apologize to all the people I cut off in traffic, coming off [Route] 219 -- because I skipped about a hundred cards," Wood said. "I tried to ask somebody to let me in, and they wouldn't. And then I had to say [tight end] Scott Chandler, who was in the back seat of my truck, I said, 'He'll give you an autograph!'

"But I'll tell you what: that's the most traffic that we've fought. And the crowd showed up. Everybody talks about how loud Seattle is ... when it's as loud as it is out there today, it's deafening."

While the festivities before the game were a start, CEO Russ Brandon expected the fun to last into the night.

"From the teamwork that went into making all this culminate, to the sale this week, and to cap it off today," Brandon said." There will be a pretty good party in this town tonight."