Inside The Bills

Bills lead NFL in toxic differential

Posted by Chris Brown on October 30, 2014 – 12:40 pm

It’s a compound statistic that former NFL head coach Brian Billick has tracked for years and only recently made popular since he began working for NFL.com. It’s called toxic differential. It’s essentially a combined margin of turnover differential and big play differential (plays of 20 yards or more made or given up). At the midway point of the season the Bills lead the NFL (see table below)

As you can see in the table, Buffalo leads the league in takeaways and is fifth in explosive plays. Their plus-7 turnover differential and plus-13 explosive play differential gives them a toxic differential of plus-20. The San Diego Chargers are the only team within striking distance at this point of the Bills at plus-17.

It has Billick convinced that the Bills could be for real if they can maintain the differentials they’re enjoying in both areas of their game. Here’s what he wrote about Buffalo.

Buffalo, San Diego, San Francisco, Houston and Denver are the only teams in the NFL that rank in the top 10 in both turnover differential and explosive differential. We knew the Chargers, 49ers and Broncos were good, but this shows that the Bills and Texans are teams to watch in the second half, as well.

At a glance, you can see how teams have worked to address limitations from last season. In 2013, Buffalo was a bottom-10 team in explosive offensive plays. This year, with the solid quarterback play of Kyle Orton and the early maturation of Sammy Watkins, the Bills rank fifth overall in that category.


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Kiko confident in the rehab process

Posted by Chris Brown on October 30, 2014 – 9:28 am

He’s only three months removed from surgery to repair the torn ACL in his left knee, but Kiko Alonso is encouraged by his progress. In an exclusive interview with Buffalobills.com, Alonso, citing the time when he tore the ACL in his right knee in college, is feeling good about the state of his knee at this point in his rehabilitation.

“I think I did a good job with the rehab of my other knee the first time, so I think I’m doing just as good a job this time if not better,” said Alonso. “I think the protocol is pretty much the same. It’s the same regimen so I’m sticking to it. I’m really doing a lot of the same stuff that I remember doing from the last time. It’s obviously a slow recovery, but I’m sticking to it and you’ve got to have patience.”

Alonso admits that having successfully rehabbed his right knee has helped him stay patient with his left knee.

“I know that patience is really the biggest thing,” he said. “Having been through it once I know I have to take it one day at a time and if I do that I’ll be fine.”


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Hackett: Why we were persistent with the run

Posted by Chris Brown on October 29, 2014 – 5:51 pm

Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has faced heavy criticism this week from fans for running the football as much as he did in the Bills’ 20-point win over the Jets. While there is no debating that the run game did not produce a respectable yards per carry average it did open other things up that were just as important in the victory.

Below Hackett capably explains that the run game isn’t always about averaging four yards a carry. It’s also about keeping a defense honest. It’s about wearing a defense down and giving your offensive line enough of a feel as to how to block certain individual opponents up front. Buffalo’s explosive plays in the passing game may not have happened were it not for Hackett’s persistence to run more than the Bills threw.

“There was not a lot of explosive plays in the run game,” Hackett admitted. “The run game was about getting two yards, three yards, four yards, getting into a manageable third down situation, and then your quarterback can convert.

“When you have a good run game you’re always looking for one that’s going to pop. You want to wear down a defense, you want to keep on running at them. You want the offensive line to get a feel for the blocking scheme, get a feel for the guys they’re going against. If you all of a sudden run the ball four times and don’t get five yards or 10 yards and you just leave it, then if you start throwing the ball every time, you’re going to be susceptible to interceptions, sacks, sack-fumbles.

“I think you have to commit to it so you can do the play action game and all those things and it opens up those things. That’s why when we throw the ball 17-times we get four touchdowns. You look at those things and you say, ‘Why was the pass game so efficient?’ A lot of it was because we were running the ball and those guys had to honor it. And once you have a guy like Sammy Watkins out there, Robert Woods, who are being successful in those limited pass reps, now the defense starts playing a little bit softer. That’s when the run game starts getting more effective.

“Last week (against the Jets), the big thing was they knew we were going to run the ball because we had the lead and it was a dramatic lead throughout some of the game. I don’t want to turn the ball over. That was the big thing we stressed as a group, as an offense. We said we’ve been a turnover machine for the last three games and as long as we don’t turn over the ball we’re going to be in every single game with the people we have on this team. That was something that we wanted to focus on and you’ve got to run the ball to do that.”


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Crossman: Veteran additions grew the culture

Posted by Chris Brown on October 29, 2014 – 5:38 pm

He wanted veteran core special teams players as part of his four main special teams units (kick return, kick coverage, punt return, punt coverage) after a trying first year of running Buffalo’s special teams. Now halfway through his second season as Bills special teams coordinator, Danny Crossman is pretty pleased with the growth in team culture on his special teams squad.

Crossman credits players like Boobie Dixon, Corey Graham and Brandon Spikes for convincing younger players of the value of special teams to the outcome of games. It quickly emboldened incumbent special teamers like Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley, Ty Powell, Duke Williams and Ron Brooks to take on more of a lead by example approach for the new arrivals on the roster. Soon the importance and commitment to special teams play reached critical mass.

“The plan up to this point has worked. We’re excited,” Crossman said. “The guys we brought in for leadership as well as performance have done both at a high level. The biggest thing is that leadership. I think some of the other guys have stepped up who were here a year ago and some of the new younger guys that we added this year. Right from the get go they’ve been brought into that culture of what our expectations are and not only coach driven, but player driven. Anytime you get that you’re going to be successful.”

 


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Orton among midseason winners

Posted by Chris Brown on October 29, 2014 – 9:46 am

Bills QB Kyle Orton is now 3-1 as a starter for the Bills pulling off a pair of fourth quarter comebacks in the process. It’s why he’s getting midseason recognition despite playing in just half of Buffalo’s games this year.

NFL.com’s midseason report lists Orton as one of the midseason winners. Here’s their synopsis.

Kyle Orton: The quiet warrior was sitting on his couch a few months ago, pondering philosophy and retirement. Now he’s won three out of four games as a starting quarterback again, with nine touchdown tosses, three interceptions, and eight yards-per-attempt. He’s earned himself another five years in the league if he wants them.

Orton when asked how many more years he thinks he’ll be able to play refused to lay out a career timeline.

“I hope I play well next week,” he said. “That’s all I’m thinking about. We’ve got a huge game coming up against Kansas City, kind of like last week to really give us a chance to put ourselves in great position. So we’ve got to focus all of our energy on that and go out and play great.”

 


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Marrone: Bye week is time to reload not rest

Posted by Chris Brown on October 29, 2014 – 9:35 am

For the players the bye week is an opportunity to heal up physically and step away from the game for a few days. But the way head coach Doug Marrone sees it he doesn’t want guys turning into couch potatoes. So he had a Navy SEAL come in and address the team Tuesday to impress upon them that while there might not be a game this week it’s not the time to completely detach yourself from what lies ahead.

“It’s not really resting or relaxing. It’s more reloading is what we had a speaker come in and talk to the players about,” said Marrone. “That’s more the mindset; being able to reload and get ready and be prepared. If I go back and I take too much time and I just sit around and relax and not do anything, I won’t be where I need to be as a leader coming back here.”

Marrone, like most coaches, knows when the players come back they can’t waste any time trying to ramp up their focus and intensity the first day they return from their weekend off. That focus has to be back at the level it was before the bye as soon as they walk in the building.

“We’re professionals. We need to make sure that we’re reloading, getting ready to come back and being prepared,” he said. “We want to come back here, and we’ve got a tough task in front of us. We have to be energized. We have to be ready to go. It’s like Thanksgiving for a lot of people. You sit around Thanksgiving and the next day, when you wake up, you don’t feel as motivated. That’s if you choose to sit around all day, but we can’t afford to do that.”


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Run game on Bills to-do list during bye

Posted by Chris Brown on October 28, 2014 – 3:41 pm

While the players get a weekend off from the grind of games the offensive staff will be looking for solutions to their run game in an effort to rediscover the production they had in the first month of the season.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett says part of the challenge has been adapting from a read option capable QB in EJ Manuel to a pocket QB in Kyle Orton.

“That’s something we’re really taking a look at,” Hackett said. “We want to put ourselves in a better position to run the ball and as you guys now, I want to be able to run the ball. I think that’s something I try to push towards them because I think it creates a toughness for our guys.

“We look back at last year, being a no huddle team, it’s a different aspect. The read-option is a different aspect. I think we’ve had to make some transitions with Kyle being in there as a quarterback. Your whole philosophy and things have to change a little bit.

“I think we have to look at some of those things he can bring to the table in checking in and out of things or keeping more two back runs, to two tight end runs. We’re kinda looking at what has been the most successful. Those are the things we really have to focus on.”

Buffalo is currently ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing at just over 97 yards per game.


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Crossman on Jets attempted trick kick return

Posted by Chris Brown on October 28, 2014 – 2:32 pm

In the third quarter Sunday with the Jets desperate to get something going to improve their field position, they called a lateral pass on a kickoff return. Fortunately Buffalo’s coverage unit was ready for it.

Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman explained what happened.

“That’s a play… we talk and harp on so much stuff and talk about awareness and recognition and seeing certain things and when you looked at our guys in the huddle they were aware of what their formation was right from the get go,” said Crossman. “And what different things they do out of certain situations. So I thought they did a great job of recognizing the play and the front side guys playing the play. The back side guys playing the possibility of a reverse. But it’s like anything in this league when you’re hunting big game, sometimes the big game is hunting you. It’s a play by play thing.”

Crossman is generally happy with what his special teams units have accomplished so far, but truly believes that it just takes one big play against you to reverse the positive momentum you’ve built up all season. So he intends to remain vigilant with his players and hopes to have Marcus Easley and Ty Powell, two key special teams players back after the bye.


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Bye week times out well for Bills

Posted by Chris Brown on October 28, 2014 – 2:26 pm

The Bills bye week has come right in the middle of the season in Week 8. When they come back however, they’ve got two games in a span of five days with Kansas City followed by Miami on the following Thursday night on the road. So the players are making a point to rest up knowing they’ll be right back at it in short order.

“For me just take the load off myself,” said Sammy Watkins of his plans for the bye. “Rest up and be smart and still work out a little bit. A couple of days off can’t hurt you. So for me it’s rest up and get away from football, but also know I’ve got to come back prepared because it’s a short week. We’ve got two games in (less than a week).”

Of course riding high at 5-3 some players are reluctant to take the break even though their bodies are welcoming the rest.

“Anytime you win you’d like to get right back out on the field and go at it again,” said Kyle Orton. “But yeah it’s been a long eight weeks and it’s always a good time at the midpoint to get away from it refreshed and be ready to go for the second half.”


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Watkins, Bills ‘D’ make PrimeTime’s Countdown

Posted by Chris Brown on October 28, 2014 – 8:32 am

Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders does his weekly PrimeTime Countdown and the Bills got a dual nod.

Checking in at number eight on his top 10, Buffalo’s defense with six takeaways and Sammy Watkins with his three-catch 157-yard, one touchdown performance earned the kudos on the countdown.

You can watch PrimeTime’s Countdown right here or on NFL Network every week


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LB Brown gets PFF All-Star nod

Posted by Chris Brown on October 28, 2014 – 8:26 am

Each week the film grinders at ProFootballFocus assess who performed the best and hand out All-Star nods to players on offense, defense and special teams. One Bills defender earned such recognition for his performance in Week 8.

In the win over the Jets last Sunday, rookie LB Preston Brown had nine tackles and an interception. It earned the following review from Pro Football Focus.

Linebackers: Preston Brown, BUF (+5.9) and Demario Davis, NYJ (+4.9)
Excellent in coverage? Check. Good against the run? Check. Brown, a third round rookie from Louisville had by far the best outing of his career so far. Davis was almost as impressive on the opposite sideline, with five tackles resulting in a defensive stop.

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Bills ‘D’ top 10 in handful of key categories

Posted by Chris Brown on October 27, 2014 – 2:11 pm

The Bills defense has put together a heck of a first half of the season. Under new coordinator Jim Schwartz they lead the league in sacks with 28 and rank first in total takeaways and first in interceptions. They also rank in the top 10 in a few other key defensive categories. Just don’t expect the players on the defensive unit to pay it much thought.

“For our defense it really doesn’t mean anything because we’re still trying to build our identity up and we’re not where we want to be as a team, so as a defense we’re just steadily doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Marcell Dareus, who leads the team with seven sacks. “When it’s time for us to go out there and our number is called we’re going to go out there and do the best we can, go as hard as possible until we get off the field and do the same thing when we’re called on again. We’re just busting our butts and not even thinking about it.”

Schwartz’s unit also ranks eighth against the run, sixth in third down defense and seventh in points allowed.


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Field position a big factor in Bills win

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 10:00 pm

Coming into Sunday’s game the Bills were one of the better teams in average drive start for their offense, and worst drive start for their opponent. Those numbers played out Sunday and were a key factor in the victory.

Buffalo had what looked like a comfortable 24-7 lead in the first half, but by the time the teams were headed to the locker room the lead was cut to seven. After the Bills offense went three-and-out to start the second half the game was there for anyone to seize control. But Bills punter Colton Schmidt bombed a 52-yarder down to the Jets’ 19 and Larry Dean and Boobie Dixon wrapped up Jeremy Kerley for no gain on the return. Then a holding penalty on the Jets backed them up to their own 10-yard line.

“Colton Schmidt hit the ball and that ball hit the ball and that ball bounced in there and I thought that was a big point in the game because I think we actually flipped the field and had the field position and kept them in there with the punts and the turnovers and the things like that we were able to score points,” said head coach Doug Marrone. “In my mind I thought that was a big, big deal.”

The Jets went three-and-out and punted from their own eight-yard line. Leodis McKelvin fielded the punt and returned it 24 yards to the Jets’ 27 virtually guaranteeing points for Buffalo. Dan Carpenter eventually delivered a 36-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 10.

On the ensuing kickoff the Bills cover unit didn’t bite on the attempted throwback pass that was supposed to go from Percy Harvin to T.J. Graham and Harvin was dropped at the Jets’ three-yard line. In the third quarter the Jets’ three drive starts came at their own 10, own 3 and own 14 yard lines.

At game’s end the drive starts added up to spell a significant advantage for Buffalo’s offense, which was also helped by the six takeaways turned in by Buffalo’s defense setting up short fields.

For the Jets their average drive start was their own 19. The Bills average drive start was their own 49. That’s a 30-yard drive start difference in average. A huge edge.

“Obviously the defense putting us in all those positions against a tough defense we were going against, the field position was huge,” said Kyle Orton. “We took advantage of enough opportunities to pull away.”


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Bills cover unit not fooled on planned throwback

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 9:31 pm

There were reports by the local daily papers in New York/New Jersey that the Jets may have something up their sleeve this week on special teams in the return game. On Sunday the Bills were ready.

In the third quarter after a 36-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter put the Bills up by 10 (27-17) the Jets had a trick play called on the ensuing kickoff return. Bills kickoff specialist Jordan Gay kicked the ball nine yards deep in the end zone. As he kicked off the Jets had Percy Harvin in the right side of the end zone to return and there was another Jets player lying face down in the green part of the end zone hoping to go undetected by Buffalo’s cover unit. That player was T.J. Graham.

Gay’s kick went to Harvin nine yards deep in the end zone as he came out with the ball to the goal line, Graham jumped to his feet to receive a called lateral pass. The problem was the Bills kick coverage team had two players in front of Graham convincing Harvin that the lateral pass was not there to be attempted. Instead he tucked it and got what he could.

“We were trying to do a throwback,” said Harvin. “The defense sniffed it out pretty well. I saw the defense closing in on him, so I decided to tuck the ball, and make the best out of the play.”

Harvin was tackled at the Jets’ three-yard line by Ron Brooks. The Jets went three-and-out on offense and punted.


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Geno calls his play “atrocious” vs. Bills

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 9:16 pm

Jets QB Geno Smith had a first quarter he hopes to soon forget Sunday against the Bills. He threw three interceptions on three consecutive possessions in the first quarter, and soon after found a seat on the bench as Jets head coach Rex Ryan turned to Michael Vick to replace him. Smith to his credit criticized his own play only.

“We didn’t execute,” said Smith. “We didn’t execute again. (When) I say we, I’m talking about myself because it was just atrocious, the way that I started out. I never expected to start a game out like that. I’ve got to make sure that I get better from that and don’t allow things like that to happen (and) put ourselves in those types of positions like that.

“It’s very surprising. Hats off to the Buffalo Bills. They had a good game plan, but I think we had a good one also. I didn’t do half as good a job as I’ve done in previous games. I really hurt us.”

Geno Smith now in nine quarters of play against the Bills in his career has thrown eight interceptions. His passer rating in each of the last two games against Buffalo is 10.1 and 0.

When asked  if he is concerned about losing his starting QB job for the Jets this was his response.

I’m just worried about what I need to do to get better from (Sunday),” he said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ve got work cut out for myself. It’s something that I believe that I can get turned around.”


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Jets inactives

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 11:38 am

Here are the Jets inactives for today’s game against the Bills.

WR Greg Salas
WR Water Powell
LB Ikemefuna Enemkpali
LB Trevor Reilly
OL Dakota Dozier
OL Wesley Johnson
NT TJ Barnes


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Bills inactives

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 11:33 am

Here are the inactives for the Bills for today’s game against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.

RB Fred Jackson
WR Marquise Goodwin
CB Ross Cockrell
RB Phillip Tanner
LB Ty Powell
OL Cyrus Kouandjio
WR Marcus Easley


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Watching for Wildcat

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 10:40 am

As the Bills coaching staff prepared for the Jets this week they had to account for one new element of the Jets’ offense, namely Percy Harvin. Although New York head coach Rex Ryan has been trying to portray a plan that Harvin will only have a small package of plays due to a lack of familiarity with the offense, Buffalo’s coaches can’t buy into that. In fact they’re preparing for some simplified football plays that took the league by storm a few years back.

With Harvin unlikely to be familiar with much of New York’s passing game in the week he’s been with the club, the Jets will try to put the ball in his hands at or near the line of scrimmage and hope he can make something happen in space. Bubble screens, jet sweeps and slip screens are just a few of the options. There’s another option as well. The Wildcat.

First re-introduced to the modern game by the University of Arkansas, it spread through the league like wildfire about five seasons ago. Harvin, who would likely serve as the “quarterback” on those plays can get on the edge of a formation quickly with his speed, especially if the defense flows to the running back on the read option.

The likelihood of seeing some Wildcat looks from the Jets is further enhanced by the presence of David Lee on New York’s staff. The Jets’ quarterbacks coach, who previously was Buffalo’s quarterbacks coach under Chan Gailey, was largely responsible for turning to the Wildcat formation while he was coaching at Arkansas when everyone adopted it for their own offense.

Knowing this, Buffalo’s defense worked against some Wildcat sets through the course of the practice week in the event that it’s a card the Jets choose to play with Harvin.


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Big play opportunities?

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 10:25 am

Through the first seven games this season the Bills have turned in some big offensive plays almost every week. There’s a strong likelihood they’re going to need a handful of such plays if they’re going to beat the Jets.

As we mentioned in our earlier post this morning, Buffalo should have an advantage against New York’s corners with the talent they’ll line up at receiver. And so far this season the Bills stand sixth in the league in plays that have gone for 20 yards or more with 31.

New York’s defense, while stout in many areas (run defense, forcing opponents 3&out among them), they have had trouble preventing the big play from happening. They rank near the middle of the pack (14th) in preventing big plays having given up 24 so far this season.

New York’s big play capability has not been there this season, which is partly why they chose to acquire Percy Harvin when the opportunity presented itself.


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Why Bills may not want ball control battle

Posted by Chris Brown on October 26, 2014 – 9:28 am

Since Kyle Orton has been in Buffalo’s lineup the ‘run-first’ approach on offense has fallen by the wayside. Now with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both out of the lineup it’ll be interesting to see if the recent surge in pass attempts by Buffalo continues. Considering the opponent today they probably should.

The Jets fully subscribe to the ground and pound approach on offense, especially in the first half of games. In an era where the majority of teams throw 60 percent or more, New York is 10 percent under that number. They run the ball half the time on their play calls in the first half through the first seven games. That’s the third-highest run percentage in football for first half play calls.

As a result the Jets have fared well in establishing ball control and eventually scoring on those possessions. New York stands ninth in the league with 11 drives that lasted five minutes or more of game clock.

The Bills, who used to be a heavy run percentage team, have slid to 13th in the league in first half run percentage (41.3%). Instead they turn more to the pass with Orton at QB. Leaning on the pass more however, has not helped with ball control. Buffalo has just four drives this season that have lasted more than five minutes, which ranks 28th.

Making use of a quick passing game and double moves with a receiving corps that on paper is vastly more talented than the Jets cornerbacks might be the way to go. If successful ball control won’t mean a whole lot because the Bills will be scoring points quickly.


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