Tonawanda News

September 12, 2013

Bills Notebook: Panthers present new challenge

By Mike Meiler mike.meiler@niagara-gazette.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — ORCHARD PARK — Three days into the regular season, the Buffalo Bills find themselves toward the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

Offense wasn’t supposed to be the issue heading into Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots, not after adding highly-touted offensive minds in head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to a roster with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson) and a three-time 1,000-yard receiver (Stevie Johnson), and certainly not after spending a first-round draft pick on quarterback E.J. Manuel.

But after one week’s worth of games, the Bills sit 24th in total yards, 28th in first downs, 28th in passing yards and second in punts, and at practice Wednesday outside Ralph Wilson Stadium multiple offensive players said they were working to turn it around.

“There’s always something very small and minute that (doesn’t) necessarily cost you the game, but those long drives that you want to get,” said Manuel, who finished with 150 yards through the air against the Patriots. “Those third and twos, that we may not have converted, those 3rd-and-sixes that we didn’t convert. There’s always something very minute that we may not have gotten.”

The biggest issue may have been the team’s performance on third downs. The Bills converted only 31 percent (4 of 13) on Sunday, good for 26th in the league.

Marrone and Hackett worked to install an up-tempo offense over the offseason, a style made famous by Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly during his time at the University of Oregon. In Kelly’s debut Monday, the Eagles went 7 for 15 (41 percent) on third down and finished with 77 plays from scrimmage, compared to 61 for the Bills.

Manuel said part of that is due to the gameplan against the high-powered Patriots, adding that he expects to open up the playbook and push the tempo this weekend against the visiting Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. Sunday).

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The Panthers (0-1) experienced their own hard-luck loss on Sunday, holding the Seattle Seahawks to one touchdown but falling 12-7.

While quarterback Cam Newton gets most of the attention, the linebacking trio of Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis has opened some eyes after Kuechly stepped in and won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

“The guys up front, they do well with penetration ... then those backers are so fast and heading downhill, they’ll get you for 2- or 3-yard gains all day,” said center Eric Wood. “That puts a premium on us getting up to the second level, and when you get there, locking on to your guy and not letting them spill off.”

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On the injury front, the Bills practiced without cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and Ron Brooks (foot), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), guard Doug Legursky (knee) and receiver Marquise Goodwin (hand). Safety Jairus Byrd (feet) took part in stretches and individual drills but was listed as a limited participant.

Gilmore was on the field stretching with his surgically-repaired wrist in a brace. When the team broke down into positional drills, he was stretched by a trainer and rode a stationary bike. Gilmore said he’ll see a doctor Tuesday before setting a timetable for his return.

Each of the above players except Byrd and Hopkins have already been ruled out of Sunday’s game. The Bills’ coaching staff is waiting on Byrd’s plantar fasciitis to heal, while Hopkins is scheduled to resume kicking later this week.

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Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon visited with WGR Sports Radio 550 Wednesday morning and commented on reports that Byrd, who held out for most of training camp after receiving the franchise tag during the offseason had requested a trade.

“No,” Brandon answered bluntly when asked if Byrd or his agent had made the request. “I know these reports come from all over the place ...but (Byrd)’s been nothing but a professional since he walked into the building.

Brandon added that the Bills planned on negotiating with Byrd again after the season.

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Brandon also said there are around 1,600 tickets remaining for Sunday’s game with the blackout deadline (1 p.m. today) fast approaching.

He said he was confident the Bills would manage to sell the game out, but added that the team had no plans to buy out leftover tickets before today’s deadline.