(WGR 550) -- Entering the second week of the NFL season, the Buffalo Bills are up against a team that finds themselves with the same amount of building pressure to succeed as they went through in 2012.
The Carolina Panthers seem to have a team put together to make some noise in the competitive NFC, but find themselves with an early 0-1 record following a loss to Seattle. The Bills and Panthers are built similarly, but are in two totally different mindsets in 2013.
Will the Bills pull off their first victory under head coach Doug Marrone? Here are some things to watch for during their upcoming contest:
1) Opening it up
- Amidst a solid debut for rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the Bills didn't take too many opportunities to pick up big yardage on 'chunk' plays. Manuel threw only two fly routes against New England and missed poorly on each. All throughout the week leading up to the Panthers game, there have been hints from the offensive players that you're bound to see play-calling open up a little bit. That could mean more deep throws, more time spent in the pocket or even Manuel being more aggressive in the read-option game. He didn't have many runs, but the Bills did run the read-option and missed a few opportunities for the quarterback to keep it. Getting Manuel out into open field will help the Bills not only get their quarterback involved more with one of the stronger parts of his game, but it could also help C.J. Spiller find the running room that evaded him against New England. Either way, expect a much more aggressive set of calls from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
2) Secondary struggles
- In their Week 1 loss to New England, the Bills' secondary wasn't exploited nearly as much as it could have been. While cornerback Leodis McKelvin and safety Da'Norris Searcy each graded out with a positive performance, cornerback Justin Rogers and safety Aaron Williams left a little to be desired. Cam Newton and Steve Smith are likely looking at the depth charts for the Bills and licking their chops. However, the same could be said of the Carolina secondary. Among their top four, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is their strongest player but after him present some opportunities for opponents. Former University at Buffalo player Josh Thomas is their other starting cornerback and was victimized for the game-winning touchdown of the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1. Safeties Charles Godfrey and Mike Mitchell are average, and Mitchell is just returning from a calf injury that sidelined him for the opening contest. Both the Bills and Panthers will have their opportunities to exploit a similar weakness.
3) Conservative Carolina could cripple Cam
- Late in the season of 2012, Carolina really seemed to be hitting their stride offensively. With former offensive coordinator Rub Chudzinski calling the plays, Cam Newton and company were making big plays happen on a weekly basis. Chudzinski has since left to take the Cleveland Browns head coaching job, and all of the big Panthers plays seems to have gone with him. Through the preseason and first regular season game, new offensive coordinator Mike Shula is already drawing criticism for his conservative play-calling. Some of it could be chalked up to going up against a very good Seattle defense, but Newton has just not looked the same to this point since Shula has been promoted from quarterbacks coach to his new position. That in itself could give the Bills an opportunity to cash in on a victory that may have looked less attainable a few months ago.
4) Don't sleep on DeAngelo
- If there is any fan base out there that should learn to never underestimate a 30-plus year old running back, it's Buffalo after seeing how much Fred Jackson still has in the tank. Through one week, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams had excellent burst and vision on his way to carving up the Seahawks run defense late in the fourth quarter. He ended up coughing up the football, but that was at the end of a big gain that would have had the Panthers inside the 10-yard line. Despite the fumble, Williams showed last week he can still put together a big game at his age and this week he'll be going up against a Bills run defense that hasn't been able to solve it's problems for years. How well he runs could be a determining factor in the outcome.
5) How to attack Cam?
- It's really a double-edged sword for Buffalo. Do you blitz Cam Newton relentlessly in hoping to bring him down for sacks and try to induce him to make mistakes? The risk in that is him using his impressive athletic ability to get away and have a copious amount of running room in front of him. Or do they hold back on their all-out blitz calls, aiming to make him prove both he and the Panthers' offensive game plan can beat you through the air? The problem with that is putting a lot of pressure on a secondary to perform, along with Newton possessing one of the strongest arms in the NFL. Whichever philosophy the Bills and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine choose will come with what they believe to be the most reduced risk possible, but whatever they choose will certainly have its flaws.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: CB Ron Brooks (foot), CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist), WR Marquise Goodwin (hand), K Dustin Hopkins (right groin), G Doug Legursky (knee) DOUBTFUL: S Jairus Byrd (feet)
Carolina OUT: HB Kenjon Barner (foot), CB James Dockery (thumb) PROBABLE: LB Jon Beason (knee), DT Dwan Edwards (hamstring), TE Ben Hartsock (foot), WR Domenik Hixon (hamstring), S Michael Mitchell (calf), G Amini Silatolu (hamstring)
Prediction: Panthers over Bills
- This game is a true toss-up between a pair of teams that showed quite well in losses to a pair of powerhouses in the NFL in Week 1. However, the slight edge goes to the Panthers because of their overall offensive talent to exploit the Bills' weaknesses. Cam Newton, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen look primed to have a bounce-back game against a weak secondary and DeAngelo Williams is running very well with the full load of carries in Carolina. Don't be mistaken though, this game will be a very close one. It could even end up going in the Bills' favor. After watching the Panthers a few separate times though, they just seem to be more talented than Buffalo where it's conducive to pull out a victory.