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Bills Beat Blog

By Joe Buscaglia
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Posts from September 2014

Time to prove it is now for Bills' Marrone
The events that unfolded on the Monday after the Buffalo Bills’ second straight loss all lead to one clear and concise conclusion: 

This is Doug Marrone’s show now. There’s no other way around it.

On Monday, the Bills made the decision to move on from the team’s first-round pick from 2013 after just 14 total starts. And the move, as stark as it was, wasn’t even the sole reason for heightened expectations from Marrone for the remainder of 2014. 

It’s how the coach went about it. 

Most times when a team makes a franchise altering decision like this one, the head coach will more or less say that it was a group decision. We learned that Marrone isn’t most head coaches, and he put himself on a limb without anyone to grab on to in the event he falls.

General manager Doug Whaley isn’t there with him, neither is Team President and CEO Russ Brandon and the same goes with the entire front office as well. Marrone stands alone after delivering a borderline defiant statement during his press conference to announce that Manuel had been benched for Kyle Orton.

He made it abundantly clear that this was his call, and in the way he termed it to the media, that he didn’t care what Whaley or anyone else thought of his decision.

“I didn’t ask for an agreement,” Marrone said Monday. “I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going.’”

For a second-year head coach in his first stop, that’s quite the bold power play. 

He later revealed that after explaining his thought process to Whaley, that both sides were in agreement. While that’s still important, it’s trumped by Marrone’s first words to the media about the genesis of the decision.

The success or failure of 2014 — which will be defined by the Bills making the playoffs this season and nothing else — has been laid at the feet of the head coach.

So the question is, why? Why did Marrone feel like it was necessary to pull the rip cord on Manuel after only 14 starts and put this season on himself?

The answer is simple:

Pressure. And it’s not just the normal pressure that every head coach in the NFL faces, either. This kind of pressure is a bit different.

Marrone knows he has to win this year and throw aside the normal, preconceived notions of what is expected of a head coach in only his second year. A new pair of owners are on the way in one week and he knows he only has one chance to make an impression on Terry and Kim Pegula.

Had the situations been different and things stayed the way they were, perhaps the Bills and Marrone aren’t in the spot that they’re in. Perhaps they could have gone with Manuel through thick and thin in 2014 and established a firm answer on their former first-round pick.

As we all know, that’s just not how it has played out. And what we witnessed today was an over correction by Marrone. 

The head coach has essentially made a declaration that yells, ‘the future be damned!’ He is all in on 2014 because he might not have a 2015 to rely on. For him it’s all about self-preservation, which many can identify with in situations where a new boss is brought in.

Is sacrificing what could be a clear and definitive answer on their first-round quarterback for a journeyman backup with some success in the league going to be worth it?

Marrone, and only Marrone, better hope so. Otherwise, one of the first edicts of the Pegulas could be for those in charge to find a new head coach for 2015.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
People: Doug MarroneDoug WhaleyKim PegulaKyle OrtonRuss Brandon

So, what's next for EJ Manuel?
The day Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel never wanted to face is here. Just 523 days after the Bills used their first round selection to take the Florida State quarterback, the very head coach that drafted him stepped up to the podium and announced that Manuel had been benched for poor play.

The reasons for the decision, along with the explanations of that very line of thinking, will be discussed thoroughly for the remainder of the 2014 NFL season. However, what does this mean for Manuel as it stands?

Head coach Doug Marrone laid it all out: the former Bills starting quarterback has one of two choices.

“Now, he has a tough road ahead of him. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be reported, things are going to come at him and he has to fight through this thing,” Marrone said. “If he fights through it, he’ll be fine. If he doesn’t then he’s not. That’s not any different than a lot of players that this happens to, it just becomes more magnified when it’s the quarterback position.”

In the short-term, the decision handed down from the head coach was something Manuel never wanted to hear in his time in the NFL. If he looks at it from a longterm perspective, one could argue that this could be the best thing for Manuel’s career.

First, he’ll need to endure the scrutiny of being labeled as a failed first-round pick so early into his career. If he can, as Marrone alluded, he has a chance to take a step back out of the public eye and work on all the things during the season that he wouldn’t have been able to as the starter.

Manuel is far from a finished product, as the news of the day amply suggests. So, as Marrone said, it’s now the quarterback’s job to battle through the rest of it and focus on becoming the player they hoped he could when they initially drafted him.

“Well I think there are things that are going on right now that we discussed today, that it gives him a chance to just step back for a moment, look at things that, you know, we can work on and correct,” the head coach remarked. “And again, he'll have to have some thick skin through this. And you've got to fight, and that's usually what happens in life to get what you want, you're going to have to fight for it. I think that he'll be able to grow, I think he'll be able to handle it well from my conversation with him. And he'll be able to continue to grow as a quarterback.”

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
People: Doug Marrone

Marrone benches Manuel, Bills to start Orton Sunday
The move that many were calling for has happened in Orchard Park. Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday afternoon that he has decided to bench second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, and the team will start veteran Kyle Orton on Sunday in Detroit.

Marrone stepped up to the podium on Monday and delivered the news that dramatically changed the course of Manuel's career.

"Obviously as a head coach, you've got to evaluate everything. At the end of the day, you've got to make the right decisions. Obviously with your mind and you're able to see things. Obviously with your heart, you know, things like that. The one thing is, when you go to bed at night, you have to make sure that you're making the best decisions to help our football team win," the coach started. "And in saying that, we're going to make a change at quarterback. Kyle Orton will go in there."

Orton, 31, will make his first start for the Bills after he signed with the team on August 30. With the team's Week Five contest in Detroit, it will also be his 71st career start after previous stints with Chicago, Denver, Kansas City and Dallas.

With the decision to put Orton in the starting lineup, it comes as a high profile manuever for Marrone to bench the team's former first round pick of a quarterback. Manuel is only the third player of that position selected in the first round by the franchise, but the head coach felt it was the correct approach to take.

"It's not all EJ's fault, but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position. We have to make adjustments. We've got to make some changes, because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going," Marrone remarked. "The one thing I've said before, and you guys have heard me, is you need to get better every week. And if we're not, the onus goes on me as the leader to make changes that can help our team win."

There was one point that the head coach made abundantly clear on Monday: the decision was his and his alone. He made the ultimate call and then informed general manager Doug Whaley and the rest of the coaching staff of his intentions.

With how Marrone spoke on Monday, the choice to bench Manuel for Orton will be one of his most defining moments as the head coach of the Bills.

"I didn’t ask for an agreement. I just went in there and said ‘This is the direction that I’m going,'" Marrone said of his conversations with Whaley and his staff. "I went to Doug, I said look, this gives us the best opportunity to win. We talked about it. We looked at some things, and we were in full agreement on it."

The move comes with one lingering principle in mind for Marrone in the Bills: to get to the playoffs in 2014. Manuel's play over the past two weeks, specifically in his inaccuracy to his wide receivers, left the head coach with no other options.

Orton takes over for the former first-round pick, and while it's not a permanent move, it's the one that left Marrone with what he felt was his best option. Even at 2-2, the head coach believes that his team is capable of doing something that they haven't in quite some time. He feels the Bills can get to the postseason with Kyle Orton as their starting quarterback.

"Absolutely. I believe that we have a playoff caliber team," he said. "I think that we have to play better than we did the last two weeks, though."

The first test for the Orton-led Bills will be Sunday on the road against the Lions.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: Detroit
People: Doug MarroneKyle Orton

Graham gets 8 snaps: Bills' playtime percentages vs. Houston
The Buffalo Bills couldn't find a way to hang on to the lead against the Houston Texans and lost for the second straight week. The Bills are now 2-2 on the season after they lost to former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.

Who was on the field the most? Here are some notes from the recently released playtime percentages:

- Cornerback Corey Graham, who had been the best cornerback on the team's roster through the first three weeks, received only 12-percent of snaps against the Houston Texans. The three-man rotation that head coach Doug Marrone had been referring to was not evident on Sunday.

- On Friday, Marrone said that the team was toying with the idea of giving both rookie Cyril Richardson and backup center Kraig Urbik time at left guard against Houston. The prevailing thought all week was that Richardson would get the start, and that was ultimately what happened. Richardson took all 70 snaps at left guard, whereas Urbik didn't receive one.

- Brandon Spikes received a combined 33 snaps over the last two games, but against Houston, the linebacker was back to his old usage. Spikes played 42 total snaps on Sunday and was one of the key pieces of the swarming run defense. The Texans played a lot of two tight end sets which likely contributed to the high snap count, as did the injury to Nigel Bradham in the third quarter.

The playtime percentages in full:


QB EJ Manuel - 70 (100%)
LT Cordy Glenn - 70 (100%)
LG Cyril Richardson - 70 (100%)
C Eric Wood - 70 (100%)
RG Erik Pears - 70 (100%)
RT Seantrel Henderson - 70 (100%)
WR Sammy Watkins - 70 (100%)
WR Robert Woods - 69 (99%)
TE Scott Chandler - 54 (77%)
WR Mike Williams - 43 (61%)
HB Fred Jackson - 39 (56%)
HB C.J. Spiller - 31 (44%)
TE Lee Smith - 16 (23%)
WR Chris Hogan - 11 (16%)
TE Chris Gragg - 10 (14%)
FB Frank Summers - 6 (9%)
OL Chris Hairston - 1 (1%)


S Aaron Williams - 68 (100%)
CB Stephon Gilmore - 68 (100%)
LB Keith Rivers - 58 (85%)
CB Leodis McKelvin - 56 (82%)
DT Marcell Dareus - 55 (81%)
DE Mario Williams - 52 (76%)
LB Preston Brown - 51 (75%)
LB Brandon Spikes - 42 (62%)
S Duke Williams - 39 (57%)
DE Jerry Hughes - 35 (51%)
DT Corbin Bryant - 31 (46%)
DE Jarius Wynn - 30 (44%)
S Da'Norris Searcy - 28 (41%)
CB Nickell Robey - 27 (40%)
DT Kyle Williams - 27 (40%)
LB Nigel Bradham - 27 (40%)
DT Stefan Charles - 23 (34%)
DE Manny Lawson - 19 (28%)
CB Corey Graham - 8 (12%)
LB Ty Powell - 4 (6%)

Season Playtime Percentages
  1. QB EJ Manuel - 100.00%
  2. LT Cordy Glenn - 100.00%
  3. C Eric Wood - 100.00%
  4. RG Erik Pears - 100.00%
  5. RT Seantrel Henderson - 100.00%
  6. S Aaron Williams - 96.52%
  7. WR Sammy Watkins - 95.31%
  8. LB Preston Brown - 94.08%
  9. WR Robert Woods - 91.02%
  10. TE Scott Chandler - 73.05%
  11. CB Leodis McKelvin - 72.47%
  12. DT Marcell Dareus - 71.08%
  13. DE Mario Williams - 70.73%
  14. S Da’Norris Searcy - 66.20%
  15. DT Kyle Williams - 65.85%
  16. CB Corey Graham - 63.76%
  17. CB Nickell Robey - 59.93%
  18. CB Stephon Gilmore - 59.23%
  19. DE Jerry Hughes - 58.19%
  20. HB Fred Jackson - 55.08%
  21. WR Mike Williams - 54.30%
  22. LB Nigel Bradham - 53.31%
  23. LG Chris Williams - 51.17%
  24. LB Brandon Spikes - 44.25%
  25. HB C.J. Spiller - 43.36%
  26. S Duke Williams - 43.21%
  27. DE Jarius Wynn - 39.37%
  28. DT Corbin Bryant - 35.19%
  29. LB Keith Rivers - 33.45%
  30. DE Manny Lawson - 32.06%
  31. OL Cyril Richardson - 27.34%
  32. FB Frank Summers - 25.00%
  33. TE Chris Gragg - 25.00%
  34. DT Stefan Charles - 24.74%
  35. OL Kraig Urbik - 21.48%
  36. TE Lee Smith - 12.11%
  37. WR Marquise Goodwin - 11.33%
  38. CB Ron Brooks - 9.76%
  39. LB Ty Powell - 6.27%
  40. OL Chris Hairston - 5.86%
  41. WR Chris Hogan - 4.30%
  42. HB Anthony Dixon - 3.52%
Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Texans 23 - Bills 17
They came, they saw and they almost conquered.

In a cruel twist of fate at the beginning of the second half, the Buffalo Bills saw their 3-1 start evaporate as quickly as it took the 289-pound J.J. Watt to run the ball 80 yards for a touchdown. With so many opportunities to put the Houston Texans away, the Bills have no one to blame but themselves for poor execution on Sunday.

The Bills lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Texans 23-17, and at the same time, painted an even bigger bullseye on their young quarterback — the same one that drew a multitude of criticism after his performance in Week Three. Where did it go wrong?

Some observations from the game:

Manuel prevents the Bills from stepping forward
- Before the dissection of EJ Manuel’s game begins, one simple thing must be observed: the outcome of the contest was not entirely his fault. He will take the brunt of the criticism — most of which will be warranted — but the Bills didn’t give him help in certain areas on Sunday. With that disclaimer out of the way, there is another simple truth from the team’s loss to Houston: the Bills should have won that game, and the poorly timed and inaccurate passes from Manuel’s arm played a big role in preventing the team from starting the season 3-1. There were a pair of key plays made on third down by the quarterback, and of course, the 80-yard touchdown to Mike Williams was as big a play as any. The Bills also didn’t do him any favors with some drops along the way. However, the numbers over Manuel’s last two games — specifically to his receivers — are horrid. Over the Bills’ past two losses, Manuel completed only 16-of-48 attempts (9-of-27 against Houston) to receivers for 180 yards. That’s a completion percentage of 33.3-percent, and a yards per attempt average of 3.75 — which includes the 80-yard touchdown pass from Sunday. There were many opportunities that were squandered by Manuel with errant throws and poor ball placement being the main reason for the overall inefficiency of the offense. With the lead, the Bills couldn’t capitalize on chances to extend it and blow out a team that should have been on the losing end. To begin the second half, the Bills had only 19 yards to go for another touchdown after an interception by Nigel Bradham. If they converted, they would have gone up 17-7 and took a major step forward in securing their third victory of the season. The result? J.J. Watt picks off a predetermined throw to the flat and returns it 80 yards for a touchdown. The Texans took the lead, snatched away the Bills’ confidence and never looked back. Manuel’s struggles had many among the fan base clamoring for his removal from the game. Head coach Doug Marrone said he never considered benching Manuel for Kyle Orton, but as the anxiety and restlessness among the fans grow, the message will only get louder. Marrone and the Bills are at a very critical stage of the season. They still have a .500 record and playoff hopes are very much alive. How much longer will they be if Manuel continues to play this way, and more importantly for Marrone, will he make it to 2015 if they don’t get to the postseason? If that thought grows within the head coach, the fans might not be the only ones with restlessness.

Watt dominates the entire offensive line
- Against San Diego, the Buffalo Bills were unable to establish the line of scrimmage on offense and Manuel wasn’t able to get comfortable in the pocket. It happened once again against Houston, but it was all because of one man: J.J. Watt. He is one of the most dominant defenders in all the NFL, and regardless of where he lined up against the Bills, he made his presence felt. Watt had nine separate quarterback hits, forced the pocket to move into his teammates and even brought in an interception, and, of course, returned it for a touchdown. Name a starting offensive lineman for the Bills, and he was beat by Watt at some point in the game. If it weren’t for him, perhaps Manuel would have had a bit of a better time throwing the ball. Because of Watt, Manuel couldn’t step into his throws and the quarterback’s accuracy dipped significantly. The Bills, simply put, had no answer for the defensive end.

WR Drops
- Manuel wasn’t helped by his receivers early in the game. On catchable passes, both Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams dropped passes that were in their mitts, only to further the frustration of the Bills offense. There were even some instances, just like against San Diego, that the Bills did not turn their head in time to see the pass headed toward them. As that frustration grew, as did some demonstrative displays after plays that went awry. Robert Woods was spotted growing frustrated with the lack of success on the offense, as was the rookie Watkins. Just like Manuel, the entire offense needed to be much better than they were, including the high profile wide receiver group.

Sterling run defense
- Even though the offense couldn’t help but get in their own way, the run defense showed once again why they are one of the best in the league. It’s a stark difference from what was witnessed in 2013, but the Bills front seven proved over the first four weeks that opposing offenses won’t be able to run all over them like they did in the past. Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham, 
Brandon Spikes and Preston Brown have all contributed to a stout run defense that allowed Houston’s running backs only 23 yards on 18 carries. It doesn’t get much more dominant than 1.3 yards per carry. They have shown over the first quarter of the season that their talent and potential has been realized, and when fully healthy, will continue to be a tough out for any team they’re up against.

Graham loses his shine
- To begin the game, the Bills went with the peculiar decision to start Leodis McKelvin over Corey Graham. In three weeks, Graham had multiple pass breakups and limited what opposing receivers did when he was in one-on-one coverage. He was their best cover corner to begin the season. McKelvin even struggled out of the gate and allowed some big pass plays against the Texans that set them up in Buffalo territory. McKelvin left the game after his acrobatic interception that ended with him ripping the ball from DeAndre Hopkins’ hands in midair. Graham came in and did something that he hadn’t done before: he got beat deep, and it went for a touchdown. With that one play, Graham didn’t erase the first three games of great performances, but it certainly quelled the critics of the three-man rotation at cornerback. It still isn’t an ideal situation for three cornerbacks to be shuffled in whenever the coaching staff deems a ‘turn’ to be necessary. Instead, with what they believe to be three capable starting cornerbacks, they should go with the hot hand and use the two top performers at the position. If one starts to struggle, then they have the flexibility to replace that player. Cornerback is one of those positions, though, that players prefer to have a lot of time and be in the flow of the game. Who should start next week? That’s for the coaches to decide after watching the tape but Stephon Gilmore, who had the most consistent and lowest yielding day of the three, should be one of them.

Injury to insult of loss
- The Bills were simply outstanding against the run, but the team lost two separate starters to injury that directly impact the run front. Linebacker Nigel Bradham and defensive tackle Kyle Williams each suffered a knee injury that made it so neither one could continue. The severity of both injuries are unknown to this point, but Bradham was carted off the field. The linebacker really came into his own over the past few months, and if he has to miss any extended time, he will be sorely missed for his athleticism against both the run and the pass. Williams has been the team’s best player regardless of position. An extended absence is something the team can ill-afford.

Bills’ MVP: DT Marcell Dareus
- He ate up blockers, fired through the line of scrimmage and was a thorn in the side of the Texans all day long. He was one of the biggest reasons for the Texans’ running backs gaining only 23 yards on 18 carries.

Bills’ LVP: QB EJ Manuel
- Inaccuracy, predetermined throws and the inability to make a big play when the team needed it kept the Bills from getting into the win column for their third victory of 2014.

Up Next: Sunday, October 5 at Detroit.

Final Thoughts:
- Up against an inferior opponent, the Bills had every opportunity to come away with a victory. If you count the J.J. Watt interception for a touchdown (which came on the third play of that drive), Buffalo had five separate three-and-out drives in the second half. They had multiple chances to put points on the board to either build on their lead or take the lead back, but EJ Manuel and the offense weren’t up to the task. If the Bills get close to a playoff berth, they’ll look back and see the Houston game as the one that got away. Will anything change from Week Four to Week Five? Will Marrone feel the heat a bit more and be more apt to make a very high profile change? His answers over the past week indicate that it might not be in the cards. As the anxiety grows in an upcoming critical part of the season, perhaps more consideration to the alternative will be given. Regardless, it’s going to make for a very interesting week at One Bills Drive.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Texans
By the end of the weekend, the Buffalo Bills could send some shockwaves through the rest of the National Football League by beginning their season with a 3-1 record. Or, the Bills could lose the game to their former failed quarterback, drop their second straight contest and potentially cause panic throughout the fan base because of who they lost to.

When the Bills play the Houston Texans Sunday, a great deal is on the line in what has been widely thought of as a winnable matchup for Buffalo. How do the Bills and Texans compare?

Some keys to the game to keep an eye on:

1) The plan to stop Watt
- The best player on the Texans roster — and one of the best in the entire National Football League —will be up against a Bills offensive line that had trouble getting out of their own way last weekend. Defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the most dominant players in the league and Houston does a superb job at lining him up at different spots throughout the game. Wherever he is, expect at least a double team on each play that requires a bit of time to set up, whether it’s for a pass or a run. The focus might be placed on rookie Cyril Richardson, who is likely to make his first career start at left guard. The Texans may choose to have Watt line up over him, but they also might try to attack the right side of the offensive line (Erik Pears and Seantrel Henderson) which has left a lot to be desired through the first three weeks. Nose tackle Jerrell Powe and defensive end Jared Crick, the other two starting defensive linemen for Houston, do not invoke a lot of fear from opponents. Due to that, the Bills will do whatever they can to keep Watt away from making an impact on the game. As many before the Bills have found, that task is easier written than accomplished.

2) Fearful of Fitz?
- To this point in the season, the Houston Texans have seen the many sides of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that Bills fans witnessed for years. He’ll get into some rhythm during the season and the offense can operate at a somewhat high level, but then Fitzpatrick has the tendency to try and do too much if his team is up against adversity. The quarterback had a season-high three interceptions in Week Three against the New York Giants, but there was a big reason for it. Houston was without starting running back Arian Foster and that put a lot more pressure on Fitzpatrick and the passing game. If Foster (questionable, hamstring) can’t play again, the Bills will have their share of opportunities to force turnovers like the Giants did last week. If Foster does play, it won’t tip the Texans’ hand as much because the running back is an accomplished pass protector. There’s also the underlying story that if Ftizpatrick is able to both outperform and defeat an EJ Manuel-led Bills team, the fan base could be sent into panic mode.

3) Texans subpar OL
- To help the Bills and their fans away from the temptation to succumb to that mode so early into the season, the Bills defensive line could have another big day. It’s a combination of their talent, and because the Houston Texans offensive line is very beatable from left to right. The three players that have shown to be taken advantage of this season are left guard Ben Jones, right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Derek Newton. The trio struggled in both pass blocking and in establishing enough of a push for the running game. The strength of the Bills is along their defensive line, and with so many holes along the offensive line for Houston, the superb seasons of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams may very well continue. The heat will likely be on Fitzpatrick from three of his former teammates.

4) Jackson, Spiller are vital
- With the exception of J.J. Watt, the Houston front seven is not a very good unit. They have a big name player in Brian Cushing, but he has not looked like the Cushing of old -- the one that was dominant when he first stepped into the league. The inside linebacker has gotten covered up quite easily in the run game and isn’t crashing through the run lanes as much as he did before his most recent injury. Justin Tuggle, the son of former Pro Bowl linebacker Jesse, is the other inside linebacker that starts by name. The Texans are usually in nickel which drops safety D.J. Swearinger down to play in the box as a linebacker, and Houston then sends in Danieal Manning to take Swearinger’s vacated safety spot. Either way, the whole combination of six players (other than Watt) could lead to a big day both inside and outside the tackles. Spiller could see more open running room than he has in any of the three weeks, but Jackson can be the one to march right over Crick and Powe. This game serves as a chance for the offensive line, despite a rookie starting Sunday, to get back on track.

5) Active corners
- The Bills could be in line to run the ball quite a bit against Houston, and they’re probably going to be less encouraged to throw the ball too. Houston has a solid pair of cornerbacks in Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, which could lead to less targets for Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. On three wide receiver formations, Houston shifts Jackson to cover the slot player and then brings in one of A.J. Bouye, Darryl Morris or Andre Hal to play as a boundary corner. That, and the Texans’ porous run defense will lead to many expectations that the Bills would like to run the ball as much as possible. That is just more evidence that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller could be the large majority of the offense on Sunday.

OUT: G Chris Williams (back), WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion), LB Randell Johnson (knee), WR Marcus Easley (knee)
PROBABLE: CB Ron Brooks (illness), QB EJ Manuel (abdomen), HB C.J. Spiller (chest), WR Sammy Watkins (ribs), WR Robert Woods (ankle), LB Keith Rivers (groin), S Da’Norris Searcy (ankle)

OUT: LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), S Shilioh Keo (calf), S Eddie Pleasant (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: CB A.J. Bouye (groin), P Shane Lechler (left hip), HB Arian Foster (hamstring)
PROBABLE: DE Jared Crick (neck), CB Kareem Jackson (thigh), DE Tim Jamison (groin), WR Andre Johnson (ankle), G Ben Jones (knee), CB Johnathan Joseph (foot, neck, knee), S D.J. Swearinger (elbow, hip)

Prediction: Bills over Texans
- With so many advantages at key spots, the Bills have the talent to pull out another victory on the road. The Texans are a well-coached team with very good players at defensive end, running back, wide receiver and cornerback, but they lack an overwhelming amount of talent throughout their roster. It gets to the point where this game should be a victory for Buffalo, regardless of the struggles the offense had in Week Three against San Diego. The Bills have the superior team and now they need to be able to prove it. The sting of last week’s loss resides with the team, which would make it fair to expect a much more mentally strong approach. If they don’t, they could be staring at a ‘should have had that one’ style of game once the season wraps up and people look back on what could have been.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Goodwin, C. Williams doubtful vs. Texans
The Buffalo Bills will attempt to close out the first quarter of the 2014 NFL season with a winning record, but they’ll likely need to do so without a starting offensive lineman and a deep threat. After both left guard Chris Williams and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin did not participate in Friday’s practice, both players were listed as doubtful for the team’s upcoming contest with the Houston Texans.

Williams, who has dealt with a back injury since August, missed all three days of practice during the week due to the ailment. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team has been trying to rest the left guard for each of the last three days while holding on to hope that he could be able to play. If he can’t, however, rookie Cyril Richardson is the likeliest candidate to start in his place.

Marrone also said the team is considering backup center Kraig Urbik, and may even split time between both him and Richardson depending on how the game unfolds.

Goodwin suffered a concussion at practice on Wednesday, was placed into the league’s mandatory protocol on Thursday and did not practice each of the final two days. The wide receiver complained that he felt sick during Wednesday’s practice, and then the team’s medical staff checked him for a concussion.

With the ‘doubtful’ designation the duo has, at most, a 25-percent chance to play in the upcoming contest.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), quarterback EJ Manuel (abdominal), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle), linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), running back C.J. Spiller (chest) and cornerback Ron Brooks (illness) have all been declared as probable against the Texans. Rivers will likely make his return to the starting lineup after a two-game stint on the inactive list due to his ailment.

The only two players to be declared out were wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) and linebacker Randell Johnson (knee). The Bills will travel to Houston on Saturday for their Sunday showdown with the Texans at NRG Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Richardson likely to start where it all began
For Cyril Richardson, all of the biggest events of his football life occurred in the state of Texas. He was a star offensive tackle at North Crowley High School in Fort Worth, he got recruited by the best the Big 12 had to offer and, after he made his decision, he started four out of his five seasons on campus at Baylor University in Waco.

It’s only fitting that he crosses off his next major football milestone in the state where it all began: making his first career start for the Buffalo Bills on the road against the Houston Texans.

Richardson, a fifth-round pick and backup guard on the Bills roster, will likely take the place of the injured Chris Williams in the starting lineup at left guard if he is unable to play. It might be a four hour drive from Fort Worth, but the offensive lineman is excited about the location of the game.

“A little bit,” Richardson said coyly. “Might see some familiar faces down there, it'll be good to go back and see a couple people. Be able to actually have my first start in the place where I really started to get into football.”

How it started, was an unusual path that was brought on by a natural disaster. It's one that is still a vivid moment in history to the minds of many Americans. 

Back in 2005, Richardson and his parents were among the millions of people affected by Hurricane Katrina. He was born and raised in New Orleans, but he and his family relocated after the storm ravaged the city.

At that point in time he was a freshman, Richardson spent his first year of high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, traveling back to his family’s house in New Orleans every Sunday to clean up the damage that was caused by the storm. All the black mold, wind damage and everything else that happened because of Katrina forced them to look elsewhere.

In 2006, the Richardson family found a place in Fort Worth and decided to make a move. At that point in his life, Cyril was a 285-pound sophomore that didn’t really get into football until he arrived to Texas. He started training during his first year at North Crowley, continued to do so in his junior year and then finally got into a full season for the first time as a senior.

The events that unfolded in Richardson’s life led him to the point that he’s at now. He’s on the verge of making his first career start in the National Football League, and a strong close to training camp helped him earn high praise from Bills head coach Doug Marrone.

"There's some things that he showed that I have no doubt, having coached that position before, to say that he's a future starter," Marrone remarked.

The future may have happened a bit too quickly for the coach’s taste, but due to the injury to Williams, the time is likely now. Regardless of the circumstances, Richardson believes that he’s ready.

“I'm really excited,” the rookie said. “We've been putting in a lot of good work in this week. We've got a good plan against these guys. I'm feeling really confident in my game today.”

To prepare since the end of training camp, Richardson said he’s been working to fine-tune his technique and he has followed along with every single play on the sidelines during the first three games, all with one goal in mind: to be ready when he gets the call.

“That's what the coaches wanted me to do and that's what I had to do,” he said. “I've been biding my time working on it, doing what they ask me to do and when just waiting until whenever they needed me. I guess they needed me now, so, I'm getting ready to go.”

The Bills and Texans, both 2-1, square off Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills not toying with Kouandjio at guard
In the first three games of the regular season, the poor play of the Buffalo Bills' starting guards has been well documented. Both Chris Williams and Erik Pears have struggled in their first three weeks, as did Kraig Urbik when he came in for the injured Williams last Sunday.

It has led some to call for fifth-round pick and rookie Cyril Richardson to get a look at the starting lineup -- which very well could happen Sunday due to Williams' injury. Other fans are even campaigning for second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio to be moved inside and train to take over at guard at some point.

There is a fair degree of logic that goes into it, too.

The Bills are clearly happy with both left tackle Cordy Glenn and right tackle Seantrel Henderson, two young and promising talents that aren't likely to have their jobs jeopardized by Kouandjio at any point during the season. For Kouandjio, he has been inactive all three games, is behind backup Chris Hairston on the depth chart and struggled with edge rushers all throughout training camp and the preseason.

Perhaps a move to guard, even if not permanent, might be a good one. The Bills and head coach Doug Marrone don't agree, and identified the focus for Kouandjio both now and moving forward.

"Tackle. And I’ll tell you what; he’s really gotten a lot better. He really has," Marrone said. "We talk about cross-training some, but we’re more thinking about cross training tackle-to-tackle. It’s much more difficult for anyone to go from an outside player to an inside player. It’s easier, not to say that it’s not difficult, to go from the inside to the outside. Any one of our inside guys can go outside. There’s a little bit more space. Everything happens quite quick, quick fast inside and sometimes the length and the build of how you are can affect your play on the inside."

So for now, you can likely expect Kouandjio's name to keep popping up on the seven-man inactive list an hour before kickoff.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills without LG Williams yet again
With each passing day that Buffalo Bills starting left guard Chris Williams isn't able to practice, the chances for rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson to make his first start in the National Football League increase. For the second straight day, Williams was unable to participate in practice due to a lingering back injury.

The left guard re-aggravated the back during the first half of the team's loss to the San Diego Chargers and could only play on 15 of the team's 70 total offensive snaps. Williams first was listed with a back injury in August at St. John Fisher College for training camp, but is in jeopardy of missing a regular season game for the first time.

Head coach Doug Marrone said after Thursday's practice that Williams has yet to be ruled out for Sunday's clash with the Houston Texans. He'll be re-evaluated shortly before Friday's practice.

Richardson did not come in for Williams against the Chargers because he wasn't among the 46 active players on game day. Instead, backup center Kraig Urbik entered the game and took the remaining 55 snaps at left guard.

In addition to Williams, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (head), linebacker Randell Johnson (knee) and wide receiver Marcus Easley (knee) were not on the practice field at the opening portion of Thursday.

Goodwin's injury was changed from 'illness' to 'head' on Thursday, and has been placed into the NFL's concussion protocol. The wide receiver suffered the head injury during Wednesday's practice, and will need to go through a workout and then be cleared by doctors in order to play on Sunday.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (ankle) were both limited participants on Thursday. The Bills are expecting to have Rivers back for Sunday's game and the same can be said for Searcy as well, barring any setbacks.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (ribs), quarterback EJ Manuel (abdominal), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle) and running back C.J. Spiller (chest) were all full participants at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. All four are expected to play on Sunday, despite Spiller's recent addition to the injury report.

The Bills and Texans square off in Houston at NRG Stadium at 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of

Texans' Fitzpatrick admits Bills game is "special"
The last time the Buffalo Bills started a season with two straight victories was back in 2011. It’s fitting that the Bills would be able to match their first 3-1 start against the man that led them to their last one in that same season.

For the first time since his departure in the 2013 offseason, the Bills will be up against Ryan Fitzpatrick as the opposing team’s starting quarterback. And as usual, Fitzpatrick provided the dry sense of humor that fans and teammates embraced during his time in Buffalo.

“Even watching the film, I think it's amazing that there are now more 14 jerseys that there were when I was there. I just think the support for me has really grown, especially in the last year for some reason since the draft, with all those 14 jerseys. I think that's really cool,” Fitzpatrick joked, before spitting out the punch line. “Wait, is there a new 14 on the team?”

The Bills were the first team that gave the quarterback a chance to be an every week starter-- and not just in case of an injury like in his previous stops. Former head coach Chan Gailey entrusted him with the offense, and really his job, for most of the three seasons the pair were together.

Fitzpatrick is still talked about fondly by some fans, while others were ready to move on. The latter got their wish, but that didn’t remove any significance for the Houston Texans starting quarterback.

“This is a special game for me. I think partly just because I've got so many great friends still that are over on the other side of the ball,” Fitzpatrick said on his Wednesday conference call with the Buffalo media. “Guys that I'm gonna be excited to watch, I'm sure they're gonna be excited to hit me and to watch me play.”

There has been a considerable amount of turnover since he left Buffalo first for Tennessee, and now for Houston. A few of his core teammates and friends are still gainfully employed at One Bills Drive though, which will make Sunday into an experience Fitzpatrick won’t soon forget.

Shortly after head coach Doug Marrone got the job in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was released and had to move on to the next chapter of his career. Even though things happened the way that they did, the Texans quarterback didn’t take it personally.

“There's definitely no hard feelings with the way that it went down,” Fitzpatrick remarked. “I think the little added extra whatever it is I'm gonna feel in this game is more so because of the guys I'm playing against, and just having so many good buddies. That's what's gonna give me that extra fuel, that extra competitiveness in this game.”

The quarterback certainly isn’t short of friends inside the locker room in Orchard Park. To write that he was fondly thought of by his teammates, well, would be an understatement.

“He said it and I said it, definitely my favorite teammate to play with,” running back Fred Jackson said. “It was always that way and he's still a good friend. We've talked probably six, seven times already this week. We understand that that's part of the game, but we'll always be friends outside of this.”

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams is also among the Fitzpatrick fan club.

“Fitz is one of my all-time favorite teammates,” he said. “Love the guy. He's a great teammate, good family man, love his family. I have a great relationship with him and I think that's what most guys would say that were here with him.”

The relationships between Fitzpatrick and his former teammates hasn’t ended, nor has his admiration and respect for the city that he called home for four years. It’s a similar refrain by many professional athletes that come to Buffalo, but Fitzpatrick will always recount his time in western New York as one he’ll never forget.

“We were so comfortable and really did enjoy it. I remember when I first signed to go to Buffalo, everybody was scratching their head that I knew. 'Why would you ever want to live there?!,’” he said. “But as soon as you get there, I was welcomed with open arms right away and fell in love with the people. We did, we really loved our four years though. Outside of football, made a lot of lifelong friends that we'll keep in touch with forever.”

Jackson said on Wednesday that he was ecstatic for Fitzpatrick as soon as he heard the news that the quarterback would be the starting quarterback in Houston. The running back wishes every bit of success to his former quarterback, with one glaring exception:

“Not this week, nope. He's gotta have the worst game of his career against us this week. And I'll be okay with that,” Jackson said. “On the sideline I'm sure he'll be yelling at me and I'll be yelling at him. It'll be a lot of fun to participate in, and hopefully we go out there and get a win, and I can continue to talk noise to him.”

The Bills and Texans will square off Sunday in Houston at 1 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Manuel pops up on Bills' injury list
To start off the week of practice, the Buffalo Bills had a peculiar addition to the injury report. EJ Manuel was listed, but both head coach Doug Marrone and the young quarterback said there is nothing to worry about.

Manuel was designated as a ‘full participant’ due to an abdominal injury, but said he isn’t fearful of missing any time.

“I'm fine,” the quarterback said. “I think anytime you bring something to a trainer they have put it up there. But I'm good to go.”

“He came in and he had some soreness,” Marrone remarked. “Since it's a high profile player, you've gotta put him down [on the injury report}. It's more for that.”

The Bills weren’t as fortunate with some of the other players on the roster. Wide receiver Marcus Easley could not participate in practice and the head coach declared that the special teams ace would not be available against the Houston Texans because of a knee injury, and would be evaluated week-to-week.

Easley, along with left guard Chris Williams and linebacker Randell Johnson were the only three unable to practice. A lingering back injury has plagued Williams since training camp and forced him to exit the Bills’ Week Three loss to the Chargers in the first half.

“We're gonna see how it goes. We're hoping tomorrow to get him out there and see where he's at,” Marrone replied about the team’s starting left guard. “And then seeing how it progresses all the way until Sunday.”

If Williams cannot play, rookie Cyril Richardson will likely get his first career start in the National Football League. Johnson, the rookie linebacker, was sidelined all of last week with a knee injury.

Linebacker Keith Rivers (groin), safety Da’Norris Searcy (ankle) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (illness) were all limited participants in practice Wednesday. The Bills revealed on Monday that Rivers would likely be available against Houston after he missed the previous two contests.

Wide receivers Sammy Watkins (ribs) and Robert Woods (ankle) rounded out the injury report but are both expected to play versus the Texans.

The Bills will resume practice on Thursday afternoon at the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Pres

Upon Further Review: Bills vs. Chargers
The Buffalo Bills couldn’t take the positive vibes they accrued over the first two weeks of the season and bring them into their Week Three contest. The Bills suffered their first loss of the year: a 22-10 decision against the impressive San Diego Chargers.

The Bills will get back on the road for their fourth game of the season against another 2-1 team, but before they do, the page must be turned on last week’s loss to the Chargers. With the help of’s Game Rewind package and the All-22 film available with it, ‘Upon Further Review’ brings you a detailed review at how each player on the Bills fared in that specific game.

Every week, WGR will provide you with the standouts, the duds and everything in between.

For each player that appeared in the game on offense or defense, you'll see their name in bold, with a set of numbers after it. Example: Ryan Manalac (54, -2, 2.7). The first number (54) represents the snap count of that game, the second (-2) represents the individual player’s plus-minus of positive plays to negative plays in that game. The third number (2.7) represents the weighted Grade Point Average assigned to that player by the author.

OFFENSE (70 total plays)

- After the first two weeks, most looked at EJ Manuel’s (70, -7, 1.7) performances and came away with a cautiously optimistic viewpoint. He was getting time, making a few nice throws and limiting his mistakes. It helped that the Bills weren’t trailing for more than five minutes combined in the first two games, but Manuel looked in control.

That was all blown up against the San Diego Chargers. For the first time in 2014, Manuel had to attempt to bring the Bills back from a large deficit… and didn’t come close to completing the task.

It was rare that the second-year quarterback had a lot of time to operate in the pocket, and that was exactly by design. The Chargers wanted to push Manuel to see how he would react to the pressure, and as they probably thought, the young player struggled to respond in a positive way.

In the first half of the contest Manuel was nearly picked off twice and failed to step up and make a big throw when the team needed him to do so. 

In the first quarter he had a rare instance where he had time and wideout Marquise Goodwin was running an out-and-up route. Manuel stepped into the throw but the ball placement was woefully short and the defender had a chance at an interception.

Ball placement was really the biggest issue through the first half. He threw a swing pass to Robert Woods that was high and behind the wideout, giving him no real chance of breaking the play for a solid gain. Manuel was way short of a deep post to Sammy Watkins, and then again on a deep route that was nearly intercepted to the rookie wide receiver in the second quarter.

The only positive play Manuel had in the first half was on his Harry Houdini-esque escape from a muddied pocket to find Scott Chandler for a 37-yard gain. Once he got to the second half, it didn’t get much easier for him.

He opened up the third quarter with a clutch throw to Robert Woods that converted a 3rd-and-14 situation. It helped keep the drive alive and the Bills ended up capitalizing for the only touchdown they would score that afternoon.

Past that, Manuel really struggled to establish anything in the passing game, other than short throws that yielded yards after the catch. When he saw pressure, the inaccuracy came back in a large way, too. The final tally to his receivers: seven completions on 21 attempts for only 49 yards.

The lingering problem, through all the missed throws and opportunities, was that when a defender got into the backfield, panic ensued. He failed to uphold the proper footwork, stopped going through his reads and instead either tried to escape the pocket, or throw the ball without much chance of a completion.

Until he proves he can perform under the pressure of a defense and when the Bills are trailing their opponents, teams are just going to do the same thing to Manuel. And as long as he keeps doing the same things in those situations, the inaccuracy will continue and he won’t be as lucky to not be picked off as he was against San Diego.

Running Back
- The role of the running back was not a big one for the Bills on Sunday, but that didn’t necessarily come as a surprise due to deficit they faced. The best offensive player on the field against the Chargers, without a doubt, was Fred Jackson (45, 4, 3.0). On their only touchdown drive of the game, Jackson was the offense. He used a 17-yard run and an 11-yard touchdown reception to get the Bills back within two scores. C.J. Spiller (25, 0, 2.3) proved once again Sunday why he’s so infuriating and enthralling all at the same time. He can bounce off defenders and gain additional yardage with his speed, and also can be devastating on a screen play, but at least once per game he’ll leave yards on the field by bouncing a play outside. This week’s shining example came along in the first quarter on an excellent cutback run. Spiller had a huge lane down the middle of the field with only two defenders to beat, and rather than running it straight upfield, he inexplicably tried to bounce it to the sidelines and ran into a blocked defender. No matter how many times it gets brought up, sometimes a tiger just can’t change his stripes. Frank Summers (16, 0, 2.0) didn’t have a good day blocking, but was able to convert on a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt to secure a first down in the third quarter.

Wide Receiver
- With only 49 yards between them, there wasn’t much to dissect with the wide receivers. Rookie Sammy Watkins (70 -2, 2.3) really didn’t have a big contribution until the final Bills drive in garbage time, when he managed to rope in a 16-yard reception. Before that play, Watkins didn’t give full effort on a throw over the middle of the field for fear of taking a big hit. It’s an act that he acknowledged, and one that he knows cannot be duplicated. Robert Woods (65, 0, 2.3) could only contribute with a third-down catch during the Bills’ lone touchdown drive, while Mike Williams (40, -1, 2.3) and Marquise Goodwin (8, 0, 2.3) were basically invisible to the importance of the game.

Tight End
- With so much of a need for moving the ball through the air, Scott Chandler (62, 1, 2.7) received the most playing time he’s had in 2014 and rewarded the Bills with a heads up play in the second quarter. Chandler saw EJ Manuel under duress and spinning out of tackles, released from the line of scrimmage and found a wide open spot in the middle of the field. Manuel spotted him and quickly threw the pass that the tight end turned into a 37-yard gain. That play helped erase an earlier gaffe by Chandler, in which he was called for a holding penalty during a C.J. Spiller 29-yard run. The tight end basically tackled Manti Te’o after Spiller had already passed by. Lee Smith (15, 0, 2.3) got into a game for the first time in 2014, but didn’t do much more than serve as a sixth blocker for the Bills.

Offensive Line
- The Bills didn’t receive many positive plays from their young quarterback, but he wasn’t helped by the men paid to protect him. Out of the six offensive linemen that played, only center Eric Wood (70, 3, 3.0) graded out with a positive plus-minus. His work, specifically on two big gains in the fourth quarter on screen plays, stood out from the rest of the pack. The biggest problem for the Bills on the offensive line was the play of their guards. Right guard Erik Pears (70, -6, 1.7) had as bad a start to a game as you’ll find, having been the reason three separate plays failed on the team’s opening possession. It’s clear that Pears is struggling with one specific technique used by a defense: stunting. It’s a very basic principle that guards will deal with quite regularly, but Pears was slow to react and burned by it on three separate occasions. The back injury for left guard Chris Williams (15, -1, 2.0) flared up in the first half, which allowed him to be replaced by former starter Kraig Urbik (55, -4, 1.7). On EJ Manuel’s magic act to escape a sack and complete a pass that went for 37 yards, Urbik was the one responsible. He was thrown aside by Corey Liuget on the play and ended up flat on his front side. One of the most surprising developments on Sunday was how poorly left tackle Cordy Glenn (70, -2, 2.3) performed. He didn’t surrender any sacks, but he was beat soundly by edge rushers twice in the game. Rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson (70, -4, 2.0) is still learning the position and was picked on by Dwight Freeney in pass protection. Henderson even struggled in run blocking early in the first quarter, which has been a strong part of his game. Chris Hairston (2, 0, 2.3) was declared as eligible on two separate plays, but wasn’t noticed for much else.

DEFENSE (66 total plays)

Defensive Ends
- As many would expect, the play of the defensive line was not the reason for the downfall of the Bills on Sunday. Mario Williams (49, 6, 3.3) looked more impressive as an all-around player than in any of the other two games this season. He was stout against the run and got pressure on Rivers a pair of times. His individual work limited four separate runs throughout the game for a net yardage total of minus-2. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jerry Hughes (32, -1, 2.3) has had an incredibly slow start to the 2014 season. He’s losing out on snaps because he’s not as effective of a run defender as any of the other defensive ends on the roster. It was somewhat surprising to learn that Jarius Wynn (32, 1, 2.7) had an equal amount of snaps as Hughes. And even more surprising, Wynn graded out as the superior player against the Chargers. He had a key pass rush in the third quarter that negated a potential big play to tight end Ladarius Green. It forced Philip Rivers to readjust and throw the ball out of bounds. Manny Lawson (20, 1, 2.7) contributed a sack of Rivers that he didn’t have to do much to attain. Kyle Williams drove the quarterback wide and he essentially walked right into Lawson’s grasp.

Defensive Tackles
- Speaking of Kyle Williams (53, 9, 4.0), his game against the Chargers was as dominant as he’s been in the past three years. He was a nuisance to the San Diego offense against both the run and the pass and was the key for the Bills offense to get as many opportunities to come back in the game as they did. It’s truly a fun thing to watch against the best of competition, but when he’s up against an inferior opponent, it’s not even fair. Williams is always a step ahead of the offensive lineman, and part of that is because of the work that Marcell Dareus (53, 5, 3.3) does next to him. Dareus also got his 1-on-1 opportunities that he made the most of, but faced far more double teams than Williams. As long as one of the two are freed up, the Bills have perhaps the most potent combination in the NFL. Corbin Bryant (17, -1, 2.3) and Stefan Charles (11, 0, 2.3) didn’t get too much time on the field because the Williams-Dareus combination was playing so well. The only discernible play between the two came from Bryant, who was cleared out far too easily during Branden Oliver’s six-yard run in the third quarter. Other than that, there wasn’t much.

- Against Miami, Preston Brown (66, -2, 2.3) righted the wrongs from his first ever start in Chicago. The problem for him versus San Diego was he was their target in the passing game. Brown has shown to be somewhat of a liability in coverage and the Chargers chose to expose that on a few separate occasions. They knew the Bills were young and inexperienced in the back seven of the defense and ran a lot of motion and pick plays to facilitate advantageous matchups. It happened to Brown more than once, having to chase after Eddie Royal around and then being one-on-one against the freakishly talented Ladarius Green. His hold on the starting position likely won’t be strong with Keith Rivers set to return in Week Four. Nigel Bradham (60, 4, 3.0) had an underrated, yet altogether solid performance against the Chargers. Twice in the first half, Bradham was too ahead of both himself and the play by plugging the designated run lane too early, which led to running back Donald Brown to change running courses and get a big gain. Other than that, he was outstanding against the run and forced numerous plays to end within one yard of the original line of scrimmage. His athleticism and power is quite noticeable. Brandon Spikes (18, 1, 2.7) once again spent the majority of time on the sidelines due to the opposition running three-wide receiver sets. When he was in, Spikes was good against the run and forced a couple of plays that stopped well short of where San Diego wanted them to get to. For the second straight week though, Spikes took a personal foul penalty which could have been avoided with a cooler head. Ty Powell (2, 0, 2.3) was on the field minimally and didn’t do anything to stand out.

- The debate about the cornerbacks will rage on, but the one constant is that the best player through three games in the season has been Corey Graham (33, 2, 2.7). For some inexplicable reason, he did not start and only played half of the game, which is a trend that will surely change as the Bills move forward. Graham showed his ability to not only cover and breakup passes, but to make an important tackle in the open field. Stephon Gilmore (49, 1, 2.7) was the target of some running calls by the Chargers. He tried to tackle the ball carriers too high and it led to some broken tackles. From a coverage perspective, however, Gilmore was on point when in man coverage. The same cannot be said for Leodis McKelvin (46, -2, 2.3) who was beat for a 49-yard reception, and then again on a play that resulted in him being flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty. While Gilmore has his warts in tackling, McKelvin has given up way too many big plays to stay on the field as much as he does. There also could be a change in store at nickel corner. Along with Preston Brown, Nickell Robey (28, -3, 2.0) was San Diego’s target on pick plays. Robey took the wrong approach around the pick and lost his man, which led to a 49-yard reception and a touchdown. He was replaced by Ron Brooks (23, 0, 2.3) for parts of the second half, and that could be a trend that continues against the Houston Texans, too. Brooks offers more size than Robey, but he was beat on a pick play as well by San Diego.

- The other constant of the secondary, besides the play of Corey Graham, has been how well Aaron Williams (65, 4, 3.3) has performed as the top safety on the roster. He hasn’t gotten many opportunities to make plays against an opponent’s passing attack, but his recognition skills and speed to make tackles are obvious to even an untrained eye. There were four separate plays against San Diego that featured Williams flying up the field from his original deep position to make a tackle of the ball carrier. He had to overcompensate a bit for the play of second-year safety Duke Williams (40, -3, 2.0), who was woefully inefficient. He just seemed lost and failed to recognize pre-snap details that resulted in big plays for the Chargers. With both poor communication and missed assignments, it was a recipe for disaster once he replaced Da’Norris Searcy (28, 0, 2.3) in the lineup. Searcy injured his ankle and had to come out of the game two separate times because of it. 

Year to date grades, ranked by aggregate GPA (Last week’s rank)
  1. DT Kyle Williams - 3.66 (1)
  2. CB Corey Graham - 3.34 (2)
  3. DT Marcell Dareus - 3.29 (3)
  4. S Aaron Williams - 3.11 (4)
  5. DE Mario Williams - 2.99 (11)
  6. HB Fred Jackson - 2.91 (13)
  7. LB Nigel Bradham - 2.84 (14)
  8. LB Brandon Spikes - 2.81 (12)
  9. HB C.J. Spiller - 2.78 (5)
  10. S Da’Norris Searcy - 2.77 (7)
  11. WR Sammy Watkins - 2.71 (6)
  12. C Eric Wood - 2.69 (19)
  13. WR Robert Woods - 2.64 (8)
  14. LT Cordy Glenn - 2.64 (10)
  15. TE Chris Gragg - 2.56 (17)
  16. WR Mike Williams - 2.52 (15)
  17. CB Stephon Gilmore - 2.49 (23)
  18. DE Jarius Wynn - 2.48 (22)
  19. DT Stefan Charles - 2.48 (18)
  20. CB Nickell Robey - 2.48 (16)
  21. DE Jerry Hughes - 2.45 (20)
  22. QB EJ Manuel - 2.42 (9)
  23. TE Scott Chandler - 2.42 (30)
  24. DE Manny Lawson - 2.41 (27)
  25. DT Corbin Bryant - 2.24 (28)
  26. RT Seantrel Henderson - 2.22 (21)
  27. FB Frank Summers - 2.22 (24)
  28. LG Chris Williams - 2.17 (29)
  29. S Duke Williams - 2.16 (26)
  30. LB Preston Brown - 2.11 (31)
  31. CB Leodis McKelvin - 2.10 (32)
  32. RG Erik Pears - 1.89 (33)
  33. C/G Kraig Urbik - 1.70 (NR)
**Minimum 45 plays

Previous Installments:
Week 1 - Bills 23, Bears 20
Week 2 - Bills 29, Dolphins 10

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills believe Rivers should be ready for Houston
The Buffalo Bills were greeted at the end of their 22-10 loss to San Diego by three new injuries to their active roster. The good news for them, though, is that they’ll likely have one starter that missed the Chargers game back for the team’s next contest.

Linebacker Keith Rivers missed each of the last two weeks due to a groin injury, but is closing in on a return. Bills head coach Doug Marrone felt confident that Rivers would be back in time for their Week Four contest in Houston.

“We're gonna put him back and see how he is moving around the field first,” Marrone said. “I think he should be ready to come back.”

Rivers was a free agent acquisition by the team in the offseason, but could only play into the second half against Chicago before he suffered the injury to his groin. He participated in all three practices leading up to the contest with the Chargers, but was deemed to be too injured to play by the team's medical staff.

In his stead the Bills have used Preston Brown in the starting lineup to keep afloat at the position, but the rookie linebacker struggled to establish himself in two of the first three weeks. When Rivers does come back, does that spell the end for Brown as a starter?

“I think it depends on exactly what we want to get accomplished defensively and who we want to stop, and how we want to match up,” Marrone vaguely replied.

Even with Rivers on the way back in, the Bills will still need to deal with the three injuries suffered on Sunday. Left guard Chris Williams re-aggravated a lingering back injury against the Chargers and could only take 15 total snaps. If he is forced to miss any time, the Bills head coach said rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson will start in his place.

Wide receiver and special teams ace Marcus Easley couldn’t continue in the game due to a knee injury, which ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported to be a sprained MCL that would keep him out four-to-six weeks. Marrone wouldn’t confirm the report during his Monday press conference and instead insinuated that there has yet to be a decision made on Easley.

“I talked to the doctors today. We're just gonna keep looking at him and evaluating it,” he said before being asked if it’s a longterm injury. “I have no idea. The only reason why I don't is because it's obviously under evaluation.”

Safety Da’Norris Searcy also had to leave the San Diego game prematurely. He suffered an ankle injury and could not continue. The ailing trio will join rookie linebacker Randell Johnson as the focal points for participation at the team’s next practice.

The Bills will take Tuesday off and start preparations for the 2-1 Houston Texans on Wednesday afternoon at the ADPRO Sports Training Center.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

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