Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Jun 122013
 

Doug Marrone8. Buffalo Bills
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
2012 Record: 6-10
2012 Offense: 344 points scored, 21st in points, 19th in yards (25th passing, 6th rushing)
2012 Defense: 435 points allowed, 26th in points, 22nd in yards (10th passing, 31st rushing)

 

Key Additions
Head Coach Doug Marrone, QB Kevin Kolb, DL Alan Branch, LB Jerry Hughes, LB Manny Lawson, QB EJ Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin

Key Losses
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Tavaris Jackson, G Andy Levitre, DB Terrence McGee, DB George Wilson, LB Kelvin Sheppard, DE Shawne Merriman, DE Kyle Moore, LB Nick Barnett, WR Donald Jones, DE Chris Kelsay, WR David Nelson

Why 2013 will be better
To be blunt, it won’t be. Buffalo is entering (yet another) rebuilding year, with the Bills slugging it out with the Jets for the basement of the AFC East. Kolb showed some potential last season in Arizona before getting hurt, but his track record to date is that of an up and down quarterback with nearly as many interceptions (25) as touchdowns (28). EJ Manuel is a project with big potential upside, but he won’t be ready to save a season if Kolb falters or gets hurt again. The strength of the offense is in the running game, where the Bills feature Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, two of the more talented backs in the league. The defensive line is a solid unit with Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alan Branch, and Alex Carrington. The Bills have the potential to shut down opposing running games and apply consistent pressure, but both Anderson and Dareus must step up their games on a consistent basis. Jairus Byrd is a solid safety playing on a franchise tag,and Aaron Williams has converted from corner to safety. The Bills also added two safeties in the draft, giving them plenty of depth in this group.

Why 2013 will be worse
Beyond mediocrity at quarterback, the receiving unit is thin, to put it mildly. After Stevie Johnson (a thousand yard receiver for the past three seasons), the burden immediately falls onto rookies Woods and Goodwin, with only TJ Graham and Brad Smith having any real experience. TE Scott Chandler promises to be a big target for Kolb, but will also likely draw a lot of defensive attention this season if he can successfully return from an ACL injury. The Bills failed to replace guard Andy Levitre in the off-season, and really failed to address the entire offensive line in the draft. Beyond center and right guard the line is in flux, which doesn’t bode well for protecting Kolb for sixteen games, particularly with a quarterback who is known to hold onto the ball too long. On defense, the linebacking corps is an underwhelming group anchored by Hughes and Lawson, and rookie Alonso figures heavily into their plans. The Bills ranked 31st in run defense last season, and they will face challenges anytime a back breaks through the defensive line this season. In the secondary, after second year player Stephon Gilmore, the Bills are decidedly undermanned at corner, with Leodis McKelvin the best among ho-hum options.

Outlook
I was fooled in 2012 into thinking the Bills had solved their defensive woes and would be a playoff contender. Instead, the defense fell apart and the offense was erratic, leading to another lost season in Western New York. I won’t be fooled this season into thinking that the new linebackers will be a huge improvement, or into believing that Kolb is a significant upgrade over Fitzpatrick. More likely the Bills are in the start of a two to three season overhaul, assuming their management has the patience to stick to the plan. And assuming, of course, that there is a plan. This is a Buffalo team that will score 40 points one week and seven the next, with a defense that will consistently give up 21 or more. Three to six wins appears to be this team’s range in 2013.

Dec 312012
 

lovie-smithThe Chicago Bears have fired Head Coach Lovie Smith after the team posted a 10-6 record, but failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season. The Bears made the playoffs in only three of Smith’s nine seasons as head coach, where he posted a 81-63 regular season mark and was 3-3 on the playoffs, reaching the Super Bowl in the 2006 season before losing to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Buffalo Bills have fired Chan Gailey after three seasons with the team. The Bills were 16-32 during his tenure. This season’s 6-10 record was a major disappointment after the Bills went on an off-season spending spree to try and improve their defense.

The Jacksonville Jaguars announced the firing of Gene Smith as GM. This was an expected decision, as new owner Shad Khan is looking to put his own management team together. It is likely that Head Coach Mike Mularkey will be joining Smith in the unemployment line soon. the Jaguars finished 2012 at 2-14.

Nov 122012
 

There were two important lessons that came out of the Patriots’ 37-31 victory over the Bills on Sunday.

First, the decision to move Devin McCourty to safety was a good one. McCourty undercut a route in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to pick off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass and seal the Patriots’ win. McCourty seems to play better when he can see the play developing in front of him and then react, although he still has a ways to go in run defense, as he looked out of position on occasion, most notably on a 14 yard touchdown run by Fred Jackson in the second quarter. Overall, the Patriots’ defense continued to struggle on Sunday, yielding 337 passing yards and 162 rushing yards to a Bills’ team that nearly pulled off the upset win.

And that brings us to the second lesson of this game; the Bills will simply never be a good team as long as they continue to defeat themselves on the field. The Bills committed 14 penalties for 148 yards, stalling out drives on offense and setting up easy Patriots’ scores on defense. The Bills also turned the ball over three times, as Fitzpatrick threw the late interception to McCourty and had the ball stripped from him on a sack in the first quarter that led to a Patriots’ touchdown. Fred Jackson also fumbled at the Patriots’ one yard line, squandering a key scoring opportunity in the second half.

From the outset, the game looked like it would develop into a slugfest. After the Bills stalled out their own first drive through three straight penalties, the Patriots drove to the Bills’ 25 before being forced to settle for a 43 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Two plays later Fitzpatrick was sacked and stripped of the ball by Vince Wilfork, which was recovered by Jermaine Cunningham at the Bills’ 13 yard line. Five plays later Stevan Ridley took the ball in on a one yard touchdown run and the Patriots were up 10-0.

The Bills then went on an 11 play drive which stalled at the Patriots’ 23 as Rob Ninkovich sacked Fitzpatrick and forced the Bills to settle for a field goal, cutting the lead to 10-3. The patriots struck back by executing a eight play, 83 yard drive that was capped by a 15 yard run by Danny Woodhead for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead. Early signs were looking good for the Patriots, and a blowout seemed like a distinct possibility at the time.

The Bills struck right back, driving 80 yards on the back on two key passes to tight end Scott Chandler, and Fred Jackson eventually finished the drive with the 14 yard run where McCourty found himself drawn into the middle rather than protecting the edge where Jackson eventually found room to run. The brought the score to 17-10, but the Patriots continued the offensive onslaught, needing only six plays to drive 82 yards. The first three plays of the drive were incomplete passes, but the Patriots were saved by a pass interference call against Jairus Byrd. Two plays later Stephon Gilmore was also called for interference, moving the ball to the Bills’ 1 yard line, and Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski on a pretty two yard pass to put the Patriots up 24-10.

But the first half scoring was not over. The Bills used the next three minutes to go on an 11 play drive, with Fitzpatrick eventually connecting with Chandler on a three yard touchdown pass to bring the deficit to seven points at the half.

Midway through the third quarter the Patriots struck again after a poor Buffalo punt and personal foul set up the Patriots at the Bills’ 39 yard line. Four plays later, Brady connected with Woodhead on an 18 yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 31-17. But no sooner did the Patriots increase the lead than the Bills cut back into it, as Fitzpatrick carved up the Patriots’ secondary on an 11 play, 84 yard drive that resulted in a 1 yard Fred Jackson touchdown to close the gap to 31-24.

The next Patriots’ drive started out strong as two quick passes netted 18 yards before Ridley tore through the Bills’ defense for a 24 yard gain. But the drive stalled at the Bills’ 30 and the Patriots settled for a 48 yard field goal by Gostkowski, increasing the lead to 10. The next drive saw the Bills start at their own 6, but they drove to the Patriots’ 13 aided by penalties to Cunningham and Brandon Spikes. Fred Jackson then ran 12 yards to the 1, but lost control of the ball, which was stripped by Devin McCourty and recovered by Kyle Arrington at the Patriots’ 1. The Patriots were then forced to punt after three straight incomplete passes that only consumed 19 seconds off the clock, and the Bills’ needed five plays (again aided by two Patriots’ penalties) as Fitzpatrick closed the drive with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Donald Jones, narrowing the lead to 34-31. The Patriots’ offensive possession prior to the Buffalo score is one more example of Josh McDaniels over-thinking his play calls in a situation that demanded the Patriots run the ball against a vulnerable run defense while working the game clock.

The scoring barrage continued on the next drive. Passes to Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd helped the Patriots move the ball down the field, but Ridley had a tough time finding running room and incomplete passes to Deion Branch and Woodhead forced the Patriots to settle for Gostkowski’s third field goal of the day, extending the lead to 37-31, but leaving Buffalo the opportunity to win the game.

The final drive began at the Bills’ 20, and Fitzpatrick hit Steve Johnson on a key third down conversion for a 21 yard gain to get the Bills out to the 42. Fitzpatrick then connected with Jones for another 14 yards to get into Patriots’ territory. Two plays later Spikes forced another Fred Jackson fumble, but the Bills were able to come away with the ball. Fitzpatrick then connected with Chandler for a first down, getting the ball to the Patriots’ 29. CJ Spiller then took a short pass for 14 yards, halving the distance for the Bills. After Fitzpatrick failed to connect with Chandler in the end zone on first down, he went looking for receiver TJ Graham on the next play, and McCourty picked it off to seal the win.

The Patriots move to 6-3 on the season with a two game lead over Miami in the AFC East. Buffalo now sits at 3-6, tied with the Jets for last place in the division. The Patriots now look forward to activating newly acquired cornerback Aqib Talib as they seek to shore up their secondary next weekend against the surging Indianapolis Colts. The Bills have dropped three straight and will face the Dolphins next weekend.

When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots ran for 117 yards, below their season average. But Stevan Ridley rushed for 98 yards and was able to pick up big chunks of yards to key Patriots’ drives. Woodhead had only one carry, but it was a big 15 yard touchdown. Slight edge to the home team. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
Brady threw for 237 yards, two scores and no picks on the day. He was able to pick apart the Bills’ defense at times but struggled at others. He had some miscommunication with his receivers, most notably Julian Edelman, and Wes Welker dropped two passes, including an easy touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive. Welker still led the team with six catches for 74 yards. Again, only a slight edge to the Pats. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills ran:
Fred Jackson ran for 80 yards and CJ Spiller another 70 as the Bills gashed the Patriots for 162 yards on the day on only 28 carries. The Pats had trouble with Jackson but he was once again his own worst enemy, as he fumbled twice, losing one. Advantage: Bills

When the Bills passed:
Once again, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a good statistical game against the Pats, throwing for 337 yards with two touchdowns and one key interception. Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones both caught six passes, and Jones and Chandler each had a touchdown reception. The Patriots were able to prevent one shot big plays, but still gave up a host of passes over twenty yards. Advantage: Bills

Special Teams:
The key distinction on special teams was starting position on kickoffs. Stephen Gostkowski forced six touchbacks, and the two kickoff returns the Bills brought out resulted in the Bills starting at their own 16 and their own 6. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment: Interception in the end zone by Devin McCourty

Game Ball: Danny Woodhead, for one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown

Sep 302012
 

The New England Patriots clearly saw something in the Buffalo Bills’ defensive front seven of which they thought they could take advantage. And after struggling through an awful first half the Patriots got back to their game plan and asserted their will over the Buffalo Bills, crushing them 52-28 in Orchard Park, New York. The Patriots dominated the Bills on the ground, rushing for 247 yards. Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden carried the ball 16 times for 137 yards and one touchdown, while Stevan Ridley rushed for 106 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. But it wasn’t just the ground attack that shredded the Bills. Both Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards receiving with Gronkowski catching one touchdown after both players lost fumbles in the first half.

The Patriots went into the half down 14-7 after missing two field goals and turning the ball over twice in the first half. Only a defensive blast by Brandon Spikes stopped the Bills from taking a 14 point lead into the half after his devastating hit knocked the ball out of CJ Spiller’s hands before Vince Wilfork came away with it. The Patriots went into the half looking vulnerable, after dropping the last two contests against the Cardinals and Ravens by a total of three points.

The second half started out the same way. After a Patriots’ punt to open the half, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for a 68 yard touchdown pass and the Bills went up 21-7. It looked like the rout might be on. But eight plays later scrambled out of the pocket to find Danny Woodhead on his way to the end zone and the Patriots closed the gap to 7. After a Bills’ three and out, the Patriots started deep in their own territory, but again used an eight play drive to find the end zone, this time with Brady scrambling it in for a four yard touchdown. After a four play Bills possession, the Patriots were again on the march, this time resulting in an easy Brady to Gronkowski touchdown pass that pushed the Patriots ahead 28-21.

The Bills were reeling at this point, and three plays later Fred Jackson fumbled and the Patriots recovered at the Bills 42. Stevan Ridley scored six plays later for a 35-21 Patriots’ advantage. Three more plays later Devin McCourty picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned the ball to the Bills’ 12, and Bolden scored to make it a 21 point lead. The Bills struck back on the next drive with a terrific play from Fitzpatrick to Brad Smith, cutting the lead to 42-28. But the Patriots struck back with a touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to seal the 52-28 win.

The win had many blemishes. Besides sloppy play, the Bills’ offense shredded the Patriots’ secondary for 350 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, though Fitzpatrick also threw four interceptions as Patriots’ pressure resulted in underthrown balls and poor decisions on the part of the Bills’ quarterback. Stephen Gostkowski had a forgettable game. After missing the game-winning kick against the Cardinals two weeks ago, the Ghost missed his first two attempts this week, pushing one kick to the right and pulling another to the left, before finally connecting on a 30-yarder in the games closing minutes.

How the game broke down

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots had a monster game on the ground, rushing for 247 yards and having two backs rush for over 100 yards, the first time the franchise has done that since 1980. Brandon Bolden blasted through the line at will, seemingly picking up big chunks on every play while Stevan Ridley rotated between sizable chunks and churning out tough yards for first down conversion. The front seven of the Bills, highly touted all week leading up to the game, had no answers for the Patriots’ devastating ground attack. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady was 22 of 36 for 340 yards, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Brady connected with seven different receivers, with Welker catching nine passes, Gronk six, and Brandon Lloyd snagging three. Good secondary play by Stephon Gilmore being the only thing that prevented a complete Bills’ meltdown as he defended well against Brandon Lloyd on the outside. Still, Brady shredded the middle of the field and the Bills had no answers thanks to the effective Patriots’ rushing attack that let Brady strike at will in the second half. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills ran:

The Bills netted only 98 yards on the ground despite having both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller in the line-up. Worse for the Bills, both players lost fumbles for Buffalo. New England’s front seven routinely blew up runners and Brandon Spikes had a big day, as did Vince Wilfork. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills passed:

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, and seemed to hit big plays all day long against the Patriots’ secondary. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick’s lack of arm strength stopped the Bills from being even more effective, and his underthrowing contributed to four Patriots’ interceptions on the day. One could look at Devin McCourty and feel good about his two interceptions today, but on one of those he was clearly beat and Fitzpatrick threw the ball right to him. The Patriots were able to apply decent pressure on Fitzpatrick, but the Patriots coverage group broke down on numerous occasions. Advantage: Bills

Special Teams:

Close call here. The Ghost missed two field goal attempts but hammered kickoffs through the end zone. Zoltan Mesko was effective in giving the Bills difficult starting position. The shanked punt by Shawn Powell gives the Patriots the edge. Advantage: Patriots

Key Play: Brady’s four yard touchdown run to tie the game, which was upheld after review. As the play was upheld, Brady could be seen saying “F%#k you, B($#hes to no one in particular, which amused Wes Wlker to no end. Clearly, Tom was pumped and angry, and he fought to lead the Patriots comeback.

Game Ball: Brandon Bolden, who ripped through the Buffalo defense on his way to 137 yards and 8.6 yards per carry.

Game Log

Pre-game Notes: Gronk in. Hernandez, Edelman. Mankins out. These absences making the game a bigger challenge than it would already be. Expect heavy doses of Gronk and Welker today from the Patriots. Wearing the new official #12 game day jersey; let’s see how it fares!

FIRST QUARTER

Patriots defer on coin toss.

Bills’ possession

Jackson for a first down on the first play. Misdirection pass for another first – expect to see that a lot today. Jackson stuffed on the next play. Fitzpatrick scrambles for 7. First down to Chandler. Jackson for 5. Jackson for 3 more. Jackson stuffed for loss. Great play by Chandler Jones. Bills punt to New England 10.

Patriots’ possession

Fells across the 25 on first down. Vereen short catch for 6. Big play downfield to Gronk to the Bills’ 26. Gronk inside the 20. Ridley for a first down in the red zone. Walker to the 6 off play action. Ridley touchdown. Patriots take an early 7-0 lead. 90 yard drive in 7 plays.

Bills’ possession

Quick pass for 8. Spiller chased out of bounds for a loss by Hightower. Johnson for first down to the Bills’ 40. Short pass to Spiller for 3. Hightower takes down Fitzpatrick for one yard sack. Pick by Mao on a deflection by Wilfork.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass batted down by Darius. Ridley for 8. Incomplete to Brandon Lloyd. Patriots punt to the Bills, 5, fielded by Matthew Slater.

Bills’ possession

Screen pass to Dickerson out to the 30. Jackson for 4. Jackson for another yard. Sack by Chandler Jones. Bills punt and Patriots start at own 29.

Patriots possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Bolden runs for a first down. End of first quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Patriots possession

Brady misses Welker for an incompletion. Bolden for 2. Woodhead reception short of the first down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ one yard line.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 3. Patriots call time out #1. McCourty picks off deep pass, who was beaten and came back for the under thrown ball.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden for 12. Gilmore hurt on play. Incomplete pass on first down under late pressure. Bolden for short loss. Deep pass to Lloyd is incomplete. Ghost is wide right by 49 yard field goal try.

Bills’ possession

Chandler crosses midfield on first down pass. Short loss for Jackson; holding against Bills declined. Fitzpatrick overthrows deep pass. Third down pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt fair caught by Welker at the 9.

Patriots’ possession

Short pass to Gronkntomthe 24; Gronk drops the ball and the Bills recover.

Bills’ possession

Fitzpatrick to Chandler for 24 yard touchdown completion. Patriots 7 Bills 7.

Patriots’ possession

Welker pass for 9. Ridley for another 8. Ridley for 7, and then another 6. Vereen for no gain. Intentional incompletion follows on broken screen play. First down pass to Lloyd. Incomplete pass on next play. Ridley pounds out 8 yards. Ridley runs to the 29, bringing up forth down. Patriots call time out #2. Gostkowski 42 yard field goal is wide left; three straight misses now for Ghost. Points being left on the field again today.

Bills’ possession

TJ Graham for 7 on quick pass. Jackson stuffed on screen. Great pass from Fitzpatrick to Fred Jackson to the Patriots’ 27. Spiller to the 20. Another Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to Chandler for 14-7 Bills’ lead.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for no gain. Brady sacked for 7 yard loss, bringing up long third down. Welder take a pass to the 27, then fumbles it. Bills recover. It’s like the Pats are trying to implode before halftime.

Bills’ possession

Bills start at Patriots’ 21. Incomplete pass defended by Chung. Errant pass by Fitzpatrick on second down. First down pass to Brad Smith at the 8. Two minute warning. Spiller to the 4. Spiller fumble recovered by Vince Wilfork after huge hit by Brandon Spikes.

Patriots possession

Ridley to the 14. Ridley four more for first down. Patriots run out the clock, trailing at halftime 14-7.

THIRD QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Patriots open the half lucky to not be down two scores. Pats start at their own 20. Welker big catch and run to the 46. Bolden for 2. Gronk drops a Sure touchdown after a hit by Glimore. Third down pass batted down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ 17.

Bills’ possession

Jackson taken down for no gain. False start sets Bills back five yards. Fitzpatrick pass to Chandler tipped away by Spikes. Screen to Jackson nets a first down. Jackson for 4. Fatzpatrick quick pass to Donald Jones goes for a long 68 yard touchdown. Bills 21 Patriots 7.

Patriots’ possession

Pass to Bolden for first down. Bolden big gain for 27 yards. Bolden for another first down run. Ridley for 7. Ridley for a first down. Gronk drops a pass at the 3 yard line. Ridley for 2 to the 17. Brady scrambles out of trouble to complete touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead. Bills 21 Patriots 14. Brady: 36 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

Bills’ possession

Long pass incomplete with good coverage by McCourty. Spiller stopped by Wilfork for one yard. Pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt all the way to the Patriots 25, but penalty against the Patriots adds 10 more.

Patriots’ possession

Welker first down pass to the 28. Ridley for 1. Welker to the 45 yard line. Bolden rips off a 20 yard run. Bolden for 4 more. Brady to Welker to the 13; roughing gets the ball to the 7. Bolden to the 4. Brady runs it in for the score. Patriots 21 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

22 yard pass to Jones to stat the drive. Jackson stuffed by Ninkovich for two yard loss. Ninkovich sacks Fitzpatrick and forces fumble, which Bills’ recover. Left tackle Cordy Glenn hurt on play. Fitzpatrick pass incomplete on third down. Bills punt is a shank to the Patriots’ 37.

Patriots’ possession

7 yard out to Welker. Ridley pushes for the first down. Gronk for 14. Ridley for 11. End of third quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Brady splits the secondary for touchdown pass to Gronk. Patriots 28 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 36, but hurts shoulder on play. Jackson for a short gain. Jackson fumbles after hit from Spikes. Patriots recover at the Bills’ 42.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Ridley runs it to the 29 for a first down. Bolden for another first down run. Bolden to the 2. Incomplete pass in end zone. Ridley for the touchdown. Patriots 35 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Wilfork blows up Donald Jones to blow up a first down screen. False start on Bills. Dropped pass on second down. Interception by McCourty, who returns it to the 12.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden to the 7. Bolden in for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 21. Blowout now official after a rough start.

Bills’ possession

Graham for 9 yard completion. Johnson for a first down catch. Spiller catches pass for short gain. Fitzpatrick throws wide incomplete. Bills call a time out. Completion to Dickerson for first down at midfield. Pass play broken up Arrington. Quarterback draw to the 45. Spiller goes 8 yards for the first down. Pass to Johnson incomplete on missed opportunity. Fitzpatrick scrambles for three. Fitzpatrick to Smith for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 28.

Patriots’ possession

Gronk recovers onside kick. Brady to Fells incomplete. Ridley for 1 yard gain. Brady complete to Welker at he 30 for a first down. Bolden for 7, then a one yard loss. Bills use last time out. Brady long pass to Lloyd for the touchdown. Patriots 49 Bills 28. The rout is back on, and the stadium is starting to look empty.

Bills’ possession

Tavon Wilson picks off Faitzpatrick on the first play of the ensuing series.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for two yard loss. Ridley gets the two back on the next play. Lloyd to the 11. Two minute warning. Ghost puts it through the uprights for a 52-28 Patriots’ advantage.

Bills’ possession

Choice for a short gain. Choice runs for a first down. Screen to Choice for short gain. White runs for about 6. End of fourth quarter.

FINAL SCORE: Patriots 52 Bills 28

 

Sep 282012
 

The 2012 season certainly has not gotten off to the start that the New England Patriots expected. After winning their opening contest handily against the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots were narrowly upset by the Arizona Cardinals before losing an equally narrow contest to the Baltimore Ravens. Patriots’ fans can yell all they want about the cruddy officiating in Baltimore (and it was cruddy), but the Patriots have lost two straight because they have failed to take advantage of opportunities and the defense has back-peddled from a strong performance in Week One. So it is that a 1-2 Patriots team finds its way into Buffalo seeking to avoid dropping a third straight game.

The Bills are a dangerous foe. Buffalo is 2-1 after being pounded on opening day by the Jets, but then rebounding to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. Granted, these are the teams that the Bills “should” beat, but there are no giveaways in the NFL, and the way to the playoffs is to beat the teams that you “should” beat. The Bills boast a dominant front four on defense, anchored by off-season free agent signing Mario Williams, as well as a prolific rushing attack. But both CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are both hurt, and are game-time decisions.

Three keys for the Patriots:

1. Protect Tom Brady

I know, duh. The rap on Brady is that he gets shaken when he gets hit. Yep, him and 31 other starting NFL quarterbacks. Pass protection is always a key. In this game it is critical, as the Bills’ front four will test the Patriots make-shift offensive line early and often on Sunday. Kyle Williams already has 3 sacks this season, followed by Marcell Darius and Mario Williams with 1.5 each. The linebackers are capable of bringing pressure to bear as well, and the Patriots will need to be disciplined in their blocking assignments. If the Patriots can protect Brady however, the Bills have already shown that they are susceptible to being picked apart, having given up 48 points to the Jets.  Look for play action passes and extra blockers to be utilized to take the heat off of Brady.

2. Make clean tackles

The Bills like to use a 1 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB grouping that spreads the field and takes advantage of misdirection. The Patriots will have many opportunities to make one on one tackles, and must do so. But in order to do so, Patriots defenders will need to stay in their assigned areas. Arm tackles will not be a way to get the shifty Bills’ running backs to the ground.

3. Pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick

The flip-side of #1 is getting to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has been prone to getting rattled in the past and on the whole is known to be an inconsistent quarterback. The Patriots will need to cut down his ability to make good reads by applying consistent pressure. One key match-up will be between fellow rookies Chandler Jones and Cordy Glenn. Glenn has yet to give up a sack but might find Jones to be more of a handful than he has seen so far. Speaking of handfuls, look for the “real” NFL officials to be all over offensive holding this week.

Three keys for the Bills:

1. Pick on Devin McCourty

McCourty had a terrific rookie season before playing so poorly last season that he had to be moved to safety. Now back at corner, McCourty started off strong but had a miserable game last week, letting two interceptions go through his hands and being flagged for a blatant pass interference call that set up Baltimore for the game-winning field goal. McCourty seems to play better with people in front of him (at safety) and often finds himself playing catch-up with receivers; this is a technique problem that he has yet to correct. Look for Stevie Johnson to try to exploit this weakness all day.

2. Pound the ball

The Bills have an incredibly effective running attack, and their two primary backs have already rushed for a combined 439 yards in three weeks. Their two tight end sets provide plenty of blocking power, and will test the Patriots front seven. If the Patriots have to bring a safety up to assist in the run, look for Fitzpatrick to exploit that with passes to Johnson and Donald Jones.

3. Pressure Brady

Already discussed above, but the Bills’ defensive weakness is in their linebacker coverage and their defensive backs. Even without Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots have too many weapons for the Bills to cover them all. If Tom Brady is given time, he will spread the ball between Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch, while changing it up with opportunistic runs for Stevan Ridley, who has proven a more than capable lead back.

Beyond these keys, Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels needs to trust the game plan that he develops, and trust Tom Brady and the other players on offense to carry it out. In each of the past two weeks McDaniels got “cute” with play-calling and squandered offensive opportunities. Leave Danny Woodhead on the sideline this week and trust in Stevan Ridley to pound the ball where the situation calls for it.

PREDICTION: Earlier in the week I thought the Patriots’ anger and determination would be an epic force that would carry the day, but reason has since prevailed. Chan Gailey is a smart coach who is intentionally trying to design a team to beat the Patriots, and they have the parts to do it. During last season’s Patriots visit to Buffalo, the Patriots jumped to a quick 21-0 lead, but four Brady interceptions later the Patriots found themselves on the losing side of the score. The Patriots have to (and will) take this match-up seriously. The Bills are dangerous at home and I expect this to be a tough contest. The Patriots can ill afford to go 1-3 to start the season and I expect them to come out focused. But focus hasn’t been their problem. Instead, the Patriots have suffered from a lack of execution at key times when a play needed to be made. Still, I look for the Patriots to rebound this week and pull out a close contest. I expect the offensive line to limit the number of hits on Brady, and for Brady to put up enough points to carry the day. I also expect Vince Wilfork and the defense to atone for last week’s awful showing against the Ravens, and make key plays that will seal the Patriots’ win. PATRIOTS 28 Bills 24

Side Note: Still undecided about live blogging this week. No doubt I will have my iPad next to me during the game, but Sunday is my birthday and I rather suspect the house will be a little hectic that day with five kids running around. If I don’t live blog, I’ll have a game summary up sometime early that evening.

Side Note #2: Tedy Buschi is predicting the Pats will lose this weekend.

 

Jun 032012
 

The AFC East is a feast or famine division. The New England Patriots have won all but two division titles dating back to 2001 and are in a position in 2012 to continue dominating the division. The New York Jets may talk a good game, but they are a team that finished 8-8 last season, played like they were 6-10, and did not significantly (or insignificantly) improve in the off-season. And the Miami Dolphins are… well… the Dolphins. Their ownership and management are clinically brain dead, and while the team has some of the components to compete, they simply don’t have enough of them. Dolphins’ fans want to believe that their team is merely a player away from being a championship club, but the truth is that they are much further away.

And that brings us to the Buffalo Bills. What about the Bills? For all of the off-season news coming from Orchard Park, New York, is this team truly ready to compete? It is a little known fact that in the past ten seasons (dating back to 2002-2003), the Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team not to advance to the playoffs, last making it to the postseason in 1999. Thirty-one other teams have made it during that span, but not the Bills. The Bills still seem to be in recovery from the Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and his missing helmet, “wide left”, four straight Super Bowl losses era of 1990-1993, but this off-season they have seemed determined to make sure that their rehabilitation is complete.

The offense is peppered with outstanding talent, but much of their success boils down to injuries and the play of Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Will we see the Fitzpatrick from the first half of last season, who started out shredding defenses on his way to a 4-1 record, before injuries began decimating the team, or will we see the Fitzpatrick from the second half of the season? As the 2011 season went on, Fitzpatrick looked less confident and struggled as the Bills dropped seven straight games to send them crashing into a tie for last place in the division. The final game of the year seemed like an appropriate synopsis of the entire season; the Patriots spotted the Bills 21 first quarter points before scoring 14 points, 14 points, and 21 points in the final three quarters to emerge with a 49-21 blowout win over the Bills. So what will help make 2012 different than 2011?

A healthy Fred Jackson at running back would be a good start and a huge plus for the Bills, but Jackson is 31 years old and may have trouble coming back from last season’s injury. Vince Young and CJ Spiller are the back-ups at quarterback and running back. Spiller has the potential to be a solid back, but right now he is better as a platoon back (along with Tashard Choice) than a primary. To his credit, Young has yet to refer to the Bills as a “dream team,” so maybe that bodes well for their season. Young is capable, but if he is starting then there are bigger problems in Buffalo. Stevie Johnson promises to be a #1 receiving threat, as long as he can stop mimicking Plaxico Burress shooting himself during his touchdown celebrations. Seriously, Johnson is good, and is complemented by solid if unspectacular secondary receivers in David Nelson, Scott Chandler, and Donald Jones. Buffalo’s offensive line was excellent last season, ranking 5th in yards per carry and leading the league in sacks allowed, and all of its core players are returning for the 2012 campaign. On the whole, the Bills offense looks capable of putting up big points, and they appear to have better depth than in 2011.

The defense has been the talk of the off-season, and for good reason. The Bills’ move to a 4-3 defense will now be a successful one with Mario Williams terrorizing opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. He will start opposite Chris Kelsay, but the Bills will use a rotation of players and added former Patriot Mark Anderson, who racked up 10 sacks in 2011. Some believe that Anderson was a one year contract wonder, but I tend to think that Anderson fit in well with the New England scheme and will find a similar comfort level in Buffalo. Marcell Darius and Kyle Williams will anchor the tackle spots and give Buffalo one of the best (if not the best) defensive lines in football. This group should be able to get consistent pressure with four players, freeing up the linebackers for coverage and run support. Nick Barnett heads up a linebacking corps that includes Kirk Morrison and Kelvin Sheppard, and they possess a decent but not outstanding secondary of Terrence McGee, Stephon Gilmore, Jairus Byrd and George Wilson. Still, this group will not need to be spectacular with the pressure that the front four is capable of generating. If the defensive line is neutralized however, opponents will find the ability to carve up the Bills’ coverage unit. Consistent pressure will be the key to this unit’s success. Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman provide an experienced and generally reliable kicking game. Chan Gailey seems to be an effective coach in the process of righting the ship, and Dave Wannstedt is the perfect person to run the team’s 4-3 defense.

The Bills benefit from both an easy schedule draw for the AFC East, and for finishing last in the division last season. In addition to the AFC South and NFC West, the Bills will play Cleveland and Kansas City outside of their division. This, along with their improvements on defense, mean the team is almost certain to do better than last season’s 6-10 campaign. Barring multiple serious injuries, this team is an easy selection to finally return to the playoffs. The fans in Buffalo have good reason to feel positive about the 2012 prospects for the Bills, as well as for the foreseeable future.

 

May 222012
 

 

Buffalo Bills

Head Coach: Chan Gailey

Projected Starting Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick

2011 Record:  6 wins, 10 losses (4th in AFC East)

No postseason appearance

14th in Total Offense, 26th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 65 wins, 95 losses (T-25th in NFL)

No postseason appearances

No Super Bowl appearances

0-4 All-time in Super Bowl