Inside The Bills

Spiller catching passes from EJ in Cali

Posted by Chris Brown on March 26, 2014 – 1:56 pm

In the offseason C.J. Spiller often heads to California for training in preparation for the next NFL season. This offseason is no different, but he had a workout partner this week from Buffalo’s roster.

Quarterback EJ Manuel joined Spiller out in California to work on more football related material than just pure training. Appearing on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550, Spiller outlined the work he and Manuel are doing.

“I feel good. I’m actually out here in California getting some throws in with EJ just trying to get some timing down,” said Spiller.

Spiller is also optimistic about how his ankle has come around since the end of the 2013 season.

“The ankle has been responding pretty well since the offseason started being able to plant and cut so I definitely feel that explosion coming back to how I was in 2012,” he said.

Spiller dealt with a high ankle sprain for most of last season and lacked his trademark burst and elusiveness.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

RBs draft value sliding in pass happy NFL

Posted by Chris Brown on February 19, 2014 – 10:03 am

The NFL is showing a propensity to lean toward the pass more and more every season. The beneficiaries have been wide receivers, offensive tackles and quarterbacks (the productive ones). The have nots are the running backs and NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock sees their value as a commodity in the draft sliding.

“It has become a pass first league. If you look back the draft 40 years ago, running backs were the most valuable commodity there was,” Mayock said. “Today with all the spread offenses and teams throwing the football 60 to 70 percent of the time there has been a completely different emphasis in how you draft offensively. It starts at quarterback, it goes to wide receiver, a left tackle and even lately it’s even gone to what kind of tight end you can draft that can beat teams vertically on defense.

“So I do think it’s going to devalue running backs. I do think the good news is you can get in the second, third and fourth round and find different flavors of running backs. You’ll see some teams that will draft two or three running backs in one or two drafts just so they have a big back, a third down change of pace guy. I think that’s where the league has gone and will continue to go.”

The good news is a team like the Bills, who could be in the market to add some youth at the position behind C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could wait until the middle rounds and still land a quality player.

For more Combine coverage presented by NAPA Auto Parts, click here.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Mario, Spiller named All-ACC in BCS era

Posted by Chris Brown on January 13, 2014 – 5:14 pm

With the BCS era coming to a close with Florida State’s National title win over Auburn a week ago, ESPN put together their All-ACC team for the entire BCS era (1998-2014) and a pair of Bills appear on their roster.

Named the starting running back for the all-star team was C.J. Spiller. He was also named the unit’s return specialist.

On the defensive side of the ball Mario Williams, an N.C. State alum, was also named to the squad. Here’s what was written about the two college all timers.

RB: C.J. Spiller, Clemson: Spiller accounted for an ACC-record 191.4 yards per game and scored a touchdown in every game. Over his four-year career, he racked up more than 3,000 yards rushing, 2,000 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards in punt returns. 

RS — Spiller: One of the best return men of all time, Spiller set an ACC single-season record with four kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2009. He led the league in all-purpose yards in 2008 and 2009 and holds the ACC career mark in the category.

DL — Mario Williams, NC State: Williams was a force throughout his entire career, but most especially his junior season, when he set single-season school records with 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss en route to All-ACC honors. He became the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in 2006. 

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fred, C.J. play time breakdown

Posted by Chris Brown on January 2, 2014 – 5:09 pm

Injury played a large role in the division of playing time between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in Buffalo’s backfield in 2012. It was again a factor in 2013, and likely will be every season knowing the punishment that running backs endure in the NFL. There were other factors that impacted the play time of the two backs this season.

Being the more accomplished pass protector, Jackson was on the field more often in third down situations. This was part of what tilted the playing time to the veteran back this past season. Spiller’s high-ankle sprain, which had a more detrimental effect on the assets of Spiller’s game (cutting ability, elusiveness, explosion) than Jackson’s sprained MCL affected the assets of his game (power, balance, strength).

Spiller suffered the high-ankle sprain in Week 4 against Baltimore, and re-injured it at Miami in Week 7. Jackson dealt with his sprained MCL for more than half the season as well.

Here’s a look back now at the week by week snap counts and play percentage for both Jackson and Spiller this season.

Week by week plays and play percentage

Player                    Jackson               Spiller
Week 1                 26 – 41%               37 – 59%
Week 2                 30 – 40%              44 – 59%
Week 3                 62 – 72%              19 – 22%
Week 4                 41 – 49%              31 – 37% (injured)
Week 5                 50 – 65%              13 – 17%
Week 6                 39 – 57%              17 – 25%
Week 7                 39 – 58%              14 – 21% (re-injured)
Week 8                 51 – 72%              DNP
Week 9                 41 – 51%              23 – 29%
Week 10              44 – 66%              22 – 33%
Week 11              36 – 54%              27 – 40%
Week 13              37 – 58%              24 – 38%
Week 14              37 – 55%              26 – 39%
Week 15              52 – 68%              22 – 29%
Week 16              42 – 53%              37 – 47%
Week 17              36 – 52%              33 – 48%
Totals           663 plays             389 plays
Avg. plays/gm   41.4                        25.9

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Posted in Inside the Bills

C.J. on his pass game role

Posted by Chris Brown on January 1, 2014 – 9:31 am

As we profiled on today, C.J. Spiller is going to continue to have a major role in Buffalo’s offense even though things didn’t go according to plan in 2013 thanks mainly to a high ankle sprain injury. Spiller was also asked about his usage as a pass receiver moving forward.

“Yeah I mean anytime you can try to get the ball and try to help your team win you always want to do that. This is the first year in the offense so we’ll go back and look at some things and see what we can do,” said Spiller.

Spiller made it sound as though he was free to provide some feedback to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett about splitting wide more often as a receiving option heading into next season.

“We’ll bounce ideas off each other and try to see if we can split me out wide and do certain stuff,” Spiller said. “If we’re able to do that then that’s fine, but if not I can’t sit around and holler about it. I have to just do what’s asked of me and first and foremost I’ve got to run the ball effectively. Then we’ll get the passing game going. We have so many weapons on the offense it’s just crazy then what we had in previous years. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m not going to have as many passing yards because of what we have in the receiving room.”

Posted in Inside the Bills

#Bills to draft ninth overall

Posted by Chris Brown on December 29, 2013 – 9:20 pm

Based on how things shook out in Week 17 the Buffalo Bills will be drafting ninth overall in the 2014 NFL draft.

With the Bills losing along with the Titans and Giants winning it locked the Bills in as the only team in the league with a 6-10 record for the 2013 season. The Vikings are right in front of Buffalo with a 5-10-1 mark.

The last time the Bills had the ninth overall pick was 2010 when they chose C.J. Spiller.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 12-20

Posted by Chris Brown on December 20, 2013 – 12:00 pm

Sunday will be step one in trying to post a winning record in the division for the first time since the 2007 season. Let’s see if the Bills can make it a season sweep of the Dolphins. Here’s your latest edition of questions on email at and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 - Hi Chris,

As a Bills’ fan for decades, I believe coach Marrone is a good coach. The question is whether he can turn around the losing culture. I have a few questions regarding accountability and talents.

What are the Bills going to do with the undependable players? This includes, but not limited to, Steve Johnson, Leodis McKelvin and T. J. Graham.

What is Jairus Byrd’s long term prospect with the Bills? The Bills like to get rid of established players to save a few bucks. In the end, this contributes to a longer wish list for the ever rebuilding process. A
recent example is the Offensive line. My suggestion is to get rid of Steve Johnson and save some money for Byrd’s contract. (Note, The Bills is in the business to make money. I suppose a better product would lead to increased revenue. In this case, a true contender in NFL).

What is the long term plan for the QB position? I mean both first string and backup in this case? While coach Marrone indicated EJ Manuel is the long term solution. I beg the difference. EJ is not playing any
better than JP Losman by comparing their rookie year. Lewis and Tuel are littering their path with interceptions and fumbles. How long do you think these two can keep their job in NFL?

Marcus Easley seems to be doing a very good job in special teams. What is the possibility of moving him to CB if the Bills cannot use him as WR? This may afford the team to get rid of Leodis McKelvin thereby saving more money.

The New England Patriots seem to be able to overcome huge deficit consistently. When playing with the Patriots (as well as other teams), what are the Bills doing to safeguard our calls/signals from being stolen?

Please keep up with the good work.
C. J. Wong, Ph.D.

CB: I understand why you feel like the players you mentioned are not dependable. This is where the coaches and front office make their offseason evaluations, but being dependable goes beyond just game day. It’s about being a professional every day of the week in everything that you do. So if the players you mentioned struggle in those areas then they could be at risk with respect to their futures here.

Doug Marrone is only going to keep players on this roster that he feels he can win with the way he wants to win. He has stressed accountability time and again and has been clear in explaining to his players what accountability means. They’ve had all season to prove they’re on board. If they’re not, and only the coaches and their teammates would know for certain if that’s the case, then they won’t be here long term.

As for Jairus Byrd, the safety has said he’s open-minded to staying here long term, which is an improvement in terms of where that situation was this past summer. I think Byrd is smart enough to know that he can really flourish in this defense with the talent he has around him on that side of the ball. Talent that is tied up long term for the most part. Byrd has to be convinced that he can win here and as is usually the case the money has to be right as well.

At the quarterback position EJ is their long term answer at the position. You may not be convinced, but the people that make those decisions are. I believe this offseason will be dedicated to putting more talent around Manuel to help him succeed. We’ve certainly seen flashes of ability. What has me most encouraged is the way in which Manuel performs when the game is on the line. Buffalo has needed a clutch quarterback for the longest time and Manuel has shown he has that ability. With improved talent around him he’ll also be better for the other portions of the game too.

I believe the decision makers still see Jeff Tuel as a developmental type prospect. Thad Lewis is still being evaluated, which is why Sunday’s game is huge for him. He’s proven he’s tough and that he can deliver big plays. Now he has to prove he can learn from his mistakes and improve from some of his shortcomings in the first meeting with Miami. It’s really the perfect litmus test for him.

I completely disagree with your Marcus Easley idea. Easley doesn’t not have the foot quickness to play CB, and Leodis McKelvin is having his most consistent season in a Bills uniform at cornerback. Not to mention he’s playing at very affordable money for his position.

Finally, the reason the Patriots are able to overcome big deficits is primarily one reason and one reason only, they have one of the best quarterbacks in a generation in Tom Brady. End of story.


2 – Hi Chris, I live in Western Canada so it is always hard to get coverage on the Bills out here.  So I really appreciate all your updates.

My question is about Stevie Johnson.  It seems every year there is a play that he fails to make that costs us a game.  The game against Pittsburgh in OT where he dropped the wide open pass, the game against the Jets when he again dropped a game winning TD, and of course against the Falcons which just didn’t just cost us that game, but our season.

He is a great receiver, no doubt about that, but I question if he is ever going to be a clutch number 1 receiver.   We all agree that we need a big “go up and get it” receiver.  So if we get that receiver, someone has to go.

I think we should consider trading Stevie Johnson this off season.  Robert Woods is precise in route running and has good chemistry with EJ, and Goodwin and Graham are fast on the outside and can also move inside when needed.   I think Stevie is odd man out and gives us the most return for our buck, plus maybe he is to used to losing in Buffalo.  What do you think we could get for Johnson?  A 2nd rounder or maybe someone like Bowe in KC?

Paddy, Vancouver Canada

CB: I think Johnson is the type of receiver whose return in a trade would be limited. The reason why is he is a possession receiver. He’s a move-the-chains player not a stretch the field, deliver a game-changing play every week type wideout. Johnson is a very unique player with a unique skill set, but he is not going to blow the doors off a defense. All that being said I think at best he’d get you a fourth-round draft choice. Frankly, it might be even less because his contract may not fit the role another team might envision for him, so to take on that salary would likely lead to a team offering less in return like a fifth or sixth-round pick.

3 – Hey Chris,

My question is regarding the offensive line.  How do you see the Bills helping the line in the off season? I know they have to see how guys like JJ ‘Unga pan out over the last 3 games, but if they do go after a guy in the draft, do you see them going after a guy who can be versatile? Are there typically guys who can play guard and tackle?  I would imagine that’s what coaches look for in any player on the field.  Do you think free agency is possible?  Also, do you think Chris Hairston will be able to return to form?
Thanks, Jillian

CB: I would not be surprised if there are wholesale changes made on the offensive line. As I see it the only players who have job security are Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood. Kraig Urbik rebounded real well this past week after a down week in Tampa, but I think he will be pushed for his starting job this offseason and into training camp based on what we saw the past couple of weeks with J.J. ‘Unga. Beyond those three I expect to see change there. I think the organization will look to the draft and free agency to address the offensive line.


4 – Chris,
Thanks for the great reporting, week by week for the Bills. Yourself and John Murphy do a great job but My question is based of everything about this youth movement and getting these unknown guys more playing time. I been listening and reading about the guys y’all are naming but I keep seeing this guy left out…. Duke Williams? Why is he not getting involved in the discussions and not getting more reps? What part of his game is lacking that has him buried on the depth chart? Because before the season he was getting hyped up as a utility guy in the secondary, that could play multiple positions. What happened? Please explain that to me.

Brian in South Carolina

CB: Thanks for the kind words. I’ll be sure to pass them along to Murph. Duke Williams is a player that has been seeing time mainly on special teams. The reason he has not seen time at safety is because there is quality and experienced talent in front of him in Jairus Byrd, Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard. I do think heading into next season Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks could challenge for bigger roles and what happens with Byrd and Leonhard this offseason with both being free agents will have an impact on that as well.


5 – Chris,

I have been surprised at the lack of two back sets the Bills are utilizing this year. I would think this would confuse defenses as Fred is a highly capable pass-blocking back and we all know about CJ’s home run ability with every touch. Would these formations not mix things up and keep opposing defenses off balance… not knowing to expect run or pass?

Also, I am concerned (as are many fans) about the utilization of CJ Spiller. Not in terms of number of plays per game, or on the year, but the play calls he is being used in. They seem to heavily favor running him behind the left or right guards. Why not more screen plays? I think all of us get excited when CJ Spiller has the ball with 3-4 blockers in front of him with the ability to pick and choose which lanes he wants to take.

Jim from Massachusetts

CB: We saw some split backfield in training camp, but there has been very little of it during the season. I do think there is an element of predicitability there when they have only Fred or C.J. on the field in a single back set. Heading into last week’s Jacksonville game I know that Spiller had not been on the field for more than 40 percent of the snaps since Week 2.

However, when he is on the field he got the ball 60 percent of the time. While the usage is admirable I fear that it makes Buffalo’s offense predictable when Spiller is in the backfield.

Jackson is usually on the field in third down situations because they trust him with blitz pickup and blocking assignments.

I don’t know a one-thousandth of what Nathaniel Hackett knows about football, but I do think a split backfield with C.J. and Fred in the offensive backfield on third down could create a lot of headaches for opposing defenses. That’s where I think it could be most useful for Buffalo’s offense.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fred, C.J. join 700 duo club

Posted by Chris Brown on December 15, 2013 – 3:45 pm

With today’s rushing efforts against the Jacksonville Jaguars both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have better than 700 rushing yards each this season. It puts the Bills running back duo in select company in team history.

Jackson and Spiller are just the second Bills running backs tandem to produce at least 700 rushing yards each in a season in Bills annals. The only other duo to pull it off were O.J. Simpson (1,817) and Jim Braxton (823) in 1975.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Hard not to think hangover

Posted by Chris Brown on December 8, 2013 – 11:33 pm

The Bills appeared to have a hangover type performance in their Week 10 loss at Pittsburgh, when the emotional loss to Kansas City from the week before looked like it lingered in the minds of players. Fast forward to Sunday’s game against the Bucs, again off an emotional overtime loss to the Falcons, and the performance made it hard not to think hangover again.

It’s clear that the thought had cross head coach Doug Marrone’s mind postgame.

“I said this earlier in the week, we played a Kansas City team which was a tough game and came back in Pittsburgh and did not play well in a lot of areas,” said Marrone. “We played a game last week, which was a very difficult game for our players. We talked about it during the week coming back and we played even worse than we did in the Pittsburgh game. That’s very disappointing when you want to grow and you want to go forward.

“We didn’t bounce back like I thought they should. Nor did they bounce back like they thought they should. That’s why I don’t think it’s the coach saying it, we feel like that as a team collectively. Does that bother me that one phase of what you need to do to become a winning football team that we didn’t take that challenge and overcome that? Absolutely that bothers me.”

Buffalo’s players weren’t ready to call it a hangover.

“I don’t think so,” said EJ Manuel of a hangover effect. “For me I don’t think being that it was an emotional loss or whatever, it was a loss last week, I don’t think that was the reason I came in and played flat this week. I know there were some errant passes I had, some forced passes that I don’t normally do. That’s where the interceptions come from. You just have to continue to stick to your reads and do a much, much better job at that. That’s where I felt I struggled today and I’ve just got to get better from it.”

“I can’t say we lack mental toughness. I think they just came out and beat us,” said Stevie Johnson.

Jairus Byrd wouldn’t call the performance a result of a hangover effect, but he did admit that the loss to Atlanta was a difficult one.

“That’s a question for each man, but the last week did hurt,” Byrd said. “It did hurt, knowing all that was out there for us. When we weren’t able to do that, each person is different and you’ve got to move forward, but that one hurt.”

C.J. Spiller however, wasn’t sugar coating anything as he referenced how the week of practice didn’t get off on the right foot and that a lack of focus was the reason for all of their miscues Sunday.

“First day of practice didn’t come off well,” he said. “We picked it up and I thought from them on we had a good week of preparation, had a good game-plan going into it. We knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t come out there and do anything that surprised us.

“They played good on defense. They played with more passion, more energy, and they just beat us. We “were just not focused, is what it comes down to. When you’re not focused, those things happen.

“I hope that [the loss] didn’t linger on, because if that’s the case then this loss will linger on [and] it would show next week. Your profession in this league, win or lose, you have to move on from the game. I said it earlier in the week that’s what you got to do. That’s what being a pro is all about. Win or lose, you have to put that game behind you and focus on the next opponent because if you don’t then stuff like this happens.”

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 12-6

Posted by Chris Brown on December 6, 2013 – 11:49 am

It’s the final quarter of the 2013 regular season. Buffalo will try to post a winning record in these last four games, three of which are on the road. Here’s your latest edition of queries on email at and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Chris,

Thank you for all your coverage of the Bills for us fans! I have two questions for you. First of all, it seems as though as of late the Bills offense has been pretty successful on the deep Go routes from TJ Graham and Marquise Goodwin. Do you think that Coach Marrone and Hackett would consider getting Spiller more involved in some deep plays in the passing game?

Last year it seemed to work pretty well and it would give another added dimension to the offense given his speed and talent in the open field. My second question is, so far we have not seen many “trick” plays like fake field goals, fake Punts, flea flickers etc. Do you feel that this coaching staff just doesn’t feel comfortable running those plays, or is it just the fact that the situation to use a trick play just hasn’t come up yet?

Thanks, Eileen in Ontario

CB: I think the Bills will continue to work on pushing the ball down the field to take advantage of the speed that T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin bring to the offense. Those plays have been successful at times, but we all need to realize that those are not high percentage plays. Any coach will tell you the NFL is more about getting first downs than touchdowns, because the better an offense is at getting first downs, the more successful they are at scoring touchdowns.

The offensive staff has made a concerted effort to go with high percentage plays in an effort to keep the offense on the field.

As for trick plays, I think we will see a few before the season is over, but again the coaching staff is trying to build a foundation on consistent plays that are productive. There is a time and place for trick plays, but they are not something that any coach wants to hang his hat on.

2 – Chris,
First off, thanks for doing an awesome job covering all the Bills News. My question for you is in regards to the Bills Defense. I feel that Jim Leonhard really played well, especially with his takeaways while he was filling in during injuries. Why don’t the Bills sub him in on obvious passing downs? I think he could be a strong player in the backfield and result in more turnovers for the Bills D.

Secondly, do you feel that Nickell Robey has the intangibles to eventually be considered to play a boundary corner as well as nickel? He seems to be excelling and really playing good football and seems to just keep getting better every week.

Thanks, Tim in Niagara

CB: There’s no question that Leonard’s playing time on defense has suffered since Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore returned to the lineup. Gilmore’s return allowed Aaron Williams to return to safety with Byrd manning the other safety spot.

I like Leonhard as a player, and he is a heady player when it comes to anticipating and making big plays (INTs). That being said, Byrd and Williams offer better coverage ability by virtue of both of them being former cornerbacks. Byrd was a corner in college and Williams was a corner in college and his first two season in the NFL.

That provides DC Mike Pettine with a lot of versatility in coverage assignments in his defensive scheme and as Pettine himself has said the strength of his defense is its versatility.

That’s not to say that Leonhard, if needed, could not be a productive player in this defense. He’s proven that already this season. But Byrd and Williams offer more versatility and that helps to keep opposing offenses off guard.

As for Nickell Robey, he has done very well as the team’s nickel corner. At 5’8” and 165 pounds that’s his position. He would be hard pressed to be as successful on the boundary as a cornerback. The receivers on the outside in this league are just too big and too physical. Robey based on his body type alone, would be a target out there for fade passes and jump balls.

His best fit is as a slot defender and he can play for a long time in this league in that role.


3 – Chris:
EJ’s decision making, release time and downfield accuracy appears to have room for improvement.  This may be explained by his lack of NFL experience.  Since there is no QB coach in the organization and Offensive coordinator Hackett’s collegiate playing experience is defensive orientated, how is EJ be coached up in a professional manner?
Conrad in Elma
CB: I understand your point about Hackett’s playing experience, but he has been working at the elbow of a host of offensive coaches at the position since he was a kid. He knows how to school quarterbacks on footwork and throwing technique. Decision making is something that should improve the more he plays and gets accustomed to defensive looks.

I’ve wondered about how challenging it has been for Hackett to balance the responsibility of getting an offensive scheme implemented and executed effectively in year one while also helping a rookie quarterback make strides in his first year in the league. That’s a big ask.

Add in the fact that he had to get a second rookie QB and another young signal caller ready to play at different points in the season and you see the demands that were placed on Hackett this season.


4 – Chris,

What is the status of Carrington? He was playing great before he got hurt. Hope he is doing well.

Michael J. McCarthy
Pittsfield, MA

CB: Alex Carrington had successful surgery on his torn quadriceps tendon that landed him on injured reserve. I talked to him a couple of weeks ago and he told me he’s progressing well in his rehab. He’s working here at One Bills Drive on a daily basis with the trainers on his rehab regimen. The rehab timetable is typically 7-9 months and he’s just 11 weeks removed from suffering the injury, so he’s got a long road in front of him, but he’s walking under his own power.

5 – Chris,
Something that I noticed during the Falcons game about EJ. Do you remember back in the day when Dan Marino would get behind center? He would always lick his hands and you knew was going to be a pass.

During Falcons game I noticed that EJ would leave his mouthpiece in his helmet during running plays, and put it in during passing plays…. I’m wondering if anybody else is noticing this?? like the opposing defense….. if you could pass it along :-)

Mike bills fan
Longwood Florida

CB: To clear this up for everyone. I saw that it was a popular topic on Twitter during the game last week, but there was no merit to it. There were run plays executed during the game when his mouthpiece was tucked into his helmet facemask instead of his mouth.

There is no absolute situation in terms of play calls when it comes to the location of EJ Manuel’s mouthpiece.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller’s day ranked 2nd best of Wk 13

Posted by Chris Brown on December 3, 2013 – 9:51 am

On a day where he came close to a single-game career high in rushing yards, C.J. Spiller’s effort in a losing cause last Sunday ranked as the second-best day by a running back in Week 13.

Ranked ahead of Spiller from last Sunday’s action was Adrian Peterson, who rolled for 211 rushing yards on 35 carries. Here’s how they were ranked by Advanced NFL Stats.

















28-A.Peterson MIN CHI













28-C.Spiller BUF ATL













22-M.Forte CHI MIN













29-D.Murray DAL OAK













28-C.Johnson TEN IND












Posted in Inside the Bills

Branch gets game ball

Posted by Chris Brown on December 3, 2013 – 8:47 am

Bills DL Alan Branch has been filling in admirably since Alex Carrington left the starting lineup with a season-ending quadriceps tendon tear. His performance on Sunday earned him a game ball award from Pro Football Focus.

In their game review Branch was one of their two positive Bills performances. Here’s what they wrote.

Performances of Note

Spilling Over
Posting his top grade so far this season, Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller put on quite a show for the city’s Northern neighbors. It was tough to find days that weren’t glowing with green grades for Spiller in 2012, but this season that hasn’t been the story. The +2.7 he earned this week just outshines his +2.6 from the Kansas City game a few games back but those two sit as the lonely pair on a sheet dominated by red marks. Seeing him work against Atlanta it’s tough to believe he’d rate anything less than excellent at any point along the way. An impression of his 2013 truth is there to be had, though, and not just in his season grade, but in his numbers as well. His Elusive Rating for this game – built from his seven forced missed tackles on 17 touches and a 6.07 yards after contact figure — was an astounding 249.8 (a measure that crowns a yearly champ with a mark in the neighborhood of 90), but as impressive as it was, his season ER was only pulled up to 30.6; 32nd on the league’s list of runners.

Breakout, Part 2
Alan Branch, playing on a one-year deal with the Bills, has had trouble matching the consistent levels he showed in his 2011 breakout year with Seattle. After turning in a mixed bag in his last season as a Seahawk and seeing his first in Buffalo start on the same pace, you wouldn’t turn heads by suggesting his best was a blip and safely back in the distance. Well, don’t look now but Branch might just be finding his feet again. With a +4.1 grade in Week 10 and a career-best +5.9 this week, he’s posted two of his three best marks since we started watching him in 2008. Against Atlanta this week, he saw 50 snaps for the second time this season and his five run stops kept pace with (or outpaced) the weekly headliners at the position. He simply looked too strong for the Atlanta line to cope with, no matter who he was matched up with; Joe Hawley (3Q 10:33), Peter Konz (3Q 11:57), Lamar Holmes (2Q 13:45), Jeremy Trueblood (3Q 9:37), and Justin Blalock (1Q 14:50) all got tastes as he discarded blockers and disrupted runs all afternoon.

PFF Game Ball
For taking on all comers and winning out, Alan Branch tossed aside the competition for the PFF Game Ball.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller feeling good

Posted by Chris Brown on November 27, 2013 – 10:01 pm

The weekend off did a lot of good for a lot of Bills, and that included Bills feature back C.J. Spiller, who has been trying to clear the final hurdle with a high ankle sprain since the first month of the season.

“I feel good,” said Spiller Wednesday. “I definitely feel like I’m getting back to my old self, making the cuts, making that explosion, so just looking forward to seeing how Sunday goes.

When asked to say how close to 100 percent he feels Spiller declined getting into numbers.

“I can’t give percentages,” he said. “I was commanded by my chief not to give percentages anymore, so I’ll just tell you guys that I feel good and I’m ready to rock and roll come Sunday.”

Spiller did confirm the last time he felt 100 percent was Week 4, when he initially suffered the injury.

Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 11-22

Posted by Chris Brown on November 22, 2013 – 12:10 pm

It’s the bye week, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to answer questions. Here is your latest edition of queries on email at and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Chris,
Thanks for the constant Bills updates,

First, I was wondering what your thoughts are on how the Bills are going to address offseason needs (LB, CB, OL). Also, what part of EJ’s game do you think needs the most improvement in the remaining games and the offseason to help secure his role as the franchise QB.

Season ticket holder Evan

CB: The draft is where that approach is going to start. I don’t see cornerback as a high need position right now. I could however, see an offensive tackle being taken early knowing Erik Pears is getting up there in years and Chris Hairston is a bit of an unknown at this point. Linebacker is another position that needs a quality addition or two. After that I think a big receiver that can win jump balls in the end zone could be on the add list as well.

I think the only way the Bills make a splash in free agency is if a player they respect is surprisingly available and can be had for the right price. Doug Whaley is trying to build this thing for the long haul.
2 – Chris:

I watch a lot of football and the good teams with top QB’s seem to have at least 1 tall (6’4″) receiver with glue on his hands. They are hard to overthrow, and function well in the red zone. What is the actual height of our WR’s, and isn’t there a tall receiver on 1 of the other 31 teams we could claim and try out? Besides speed, what is the Knock on tall receivers?

Jim in Florida

CB: The Bills tallest receivers are Marcus Easley and Stevie Johnson. Both are 6’2” and Easley is a bit thicker at 217 pounds. Hogan is 6’1” and Woods is 6’0”. As I mentioned above I think a big receiver that can be a dependable red zone target will be something that Buffalo will target in the offseason. Whether it’s a free agent or a rookie in the draft is hard to say at this point.


3 – Chris,

In baseball, the Oakland A’s proved that crunching numbers can translate to more wins on the field. The concepts they employed had been around for a long time, but the key was finding a GM that was willing to step up and take the heat for doing something unconventional.

After watching the Bills punt on 4th & 5 at the PIT 36 with 14:09 in the 4th quarter last Sunday, I wondered if the new analytics department could actually convince Coach Marrone (or any coach for that matter) to scrap the tradition of punting for “field position” and replace it with a plan for 4th down. There is strong statistical evidence that shows an aggressive approach to fourth down, based on field position and yards to gain, would actually translate to more wins in a season.

Alternatively, changing this philosophy could lead to more lopsided losses and will almost certainly lead to more criticism being heaped on the head coach.

Coach Marrone talks about leadership, about standing up and challenging yourself to get better every day. I personally BILLieve he has the internal fortitude to do the unconventional. Is there any chance he is willing to accept the challenge and let the analytics department, not just tradition, help him decide when to go for it on 4th down?


Kind Regards,

Adam K

CB: I can assure you that Coach Marrone has a lot of respect for the value of analytics in football. He’s well aware of the data on fourth down. He also is advanced enough in his thinking to not apply those statistics in a vacuum. To blindly go for it because the statistical averages say to do so without factoring in time and score, the caliber of defense one is facing, the personnel you have available to you (injury factor), the personnel the opponent has available to them, the fourth down defense the opponent brings to the table and a host of other variables is foolish.

Coach Marrone is wise enough to consider those other variables that the number crunchers often do not. Not to mention that the fourth down data does not take into account the fact that a lot of the successful fourth down situations are when the game is already out of hand and teams are compelled to go for it in an effort to climb back into the game. Maybe the opposing defense isn’t playing a ‘must stop them’ aggressive defense and is happy to trade a first down for another minute on the clock because they’re up three scores.

Believe me when I tell you that coach Marrone takes the analytics very seriously and is ahead of the curve on this not behind it when it comes to coaches in this league.

4 – Dear Chris,

After watching the Bills lose shootouts under Chan Gailey because of a bad defense, I am impressed that Marrone and Mike Pettine turned it around, allowing us to stay in games despite scoring only 23 points. On the flip side, our offense has been anemic in my opinion, CJ Spiller not living up to hype, etc. I know most of main pieces are young and inexperienced, but if Gailey could make guys like  Fitz and donald Jones productive, then I think Nate Hackett should be feeling some heat right now. He has no clue how to use Spiller like Gailey did, can’t call anything good in the red zone, I feel like his play calling has cost us games. My question is, do you feel Marrone is getting irritated at him for the punchless offense? Is there a chance Hackett could get stripped of playcalling duties?

Thanks for your time,

CB: The first thing you need to realize with play calling is Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett are on the same page with everything that is going on with the offense.

Second, Hackett has admitted that he needs to get more creative with the run game, but the amount of running that they are doing (a lot) is partially because they have to keep the quarterback in favorable down and distance situations to maintain a good rate of success on offense.

Last week was a perfect example against the Jets. Despite the fact that they were facing the number one run defense in football, they ran the ball on 12 of their first 13 1st-and-10 situations. They gained all of nine yards.

The reason they did that was to improve the pass protection when it came time to throw. In the third quarter on 1st-and-10 up 20-7 they threw a 40-yard bomb down the left sideline to T.J. Graham to move into Jets territory. The protection on that play did not have to be exemplary because the Jets were expecting run.

On the next first down the Jets were again expecting run, the protection wasn’t perfect, but they dialed up the same vertical route, just on the right side to Goodwin. Manuel’s protection was good enough, because after a big pass play the previous snap, the Jets were expecting Buffalo to go back to the ground. They didn’t and Goodwin scored on a 43-yard pass.

It might look like the Bills are beating their head against the wall sometimes with their play calling, but believe me when I tell you Marrone and Hackett know a lot about play calling and there is a method to what they’re doing. A lot of it is predicated on having a young QB.

Hopefully over the last five games they’ll be able to expand and diversify what they’re doing.


5 – Hey Chris,

Thanks for your in depth coverage for us fans. I have 2 questions that have come to mind after a Huge win against the Jets. First of all, With Goodwin having a great game in the slot filling for Stevie, do you believe this could raise some eyebrows and perhaps change some things up in the Receiving game and maybe change where some players line up? And secondly, it was obviously a big help to have coach Hackett on the sidelines as opposed to the booth. Why do teams even consider having coaches in the booth instead of on the field. Could you enlighten on some advantages that being in the booth would have?


CB: Thanks for the kind words. First, I think the two primary slot receivers will continue to be Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson, just because of their route savvy first and foremost. Second, both of them benefit by having two way go’s inside.

Goodwin is a more dangerous option out on the boundary, but did show he could play inside as well.

That being said coach Hackett and coach Hilliard make all the receivers learn all the positions because when this offense really picks up the tempo they have to be ready to line up anywhere.

As for Hackett being down on the sideline it facilitated the communication between him and EJ. The coordinator can also get a feel for how the players on offense are feeling about certain plays as a group instead of having just communication with the quarterback. It just facilitates communication on many levels being down there.

Being upstairs allows the coordinator to better identify personnel groupings on defense. That allows them to make quicker play calls themselves to counter it. That’s why Jason Vrabel the offensive quality control coach is now upstairs, to be Hackett’s eyes.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Passing their way to a win a good sign

Posted by Chris Brown on November 19, 2013 – 10:53 am

All season long the Bills have relied heavily on the run game to pile up yards, move the ball and score points. When that hasn’t happened Buffalo has struggled to score and win games, until this past Sunday.

The Bills found running the football not very productive managing just 68 yards on 38 carries for just 1.8 per rush. It meant Buffalo had to rely on the passing game more, and on a windy day that was anything but a dependable option. EJ Manuel and his shorthanded, but capable receiving corps came through giving the Bills an added dimension to win games that they haven’t shown to this point.

“Our receivers did a great job of stepping up,” said C.J. Spiller. “We had Stevie and Woods and we had young guys stepping up and making plays with Goodwin, Graham, Hogan and Easley. All those guys stepped up to the plate and they did their jobs and showed why they belong in this league. When one area is not working well for us we have to be able to rely on the other one.”

Spiller has been in the league long enough to know that good teams are capable of winning in different ways. So he was encouraged that they were able to win a game in a different fashion.

“It speaks volumes about this team,” said Spiller. “Guys hold each other accountable and we have each other’s back. To me a win is a win. I don’t care if we go out there and rush for 10 yards or over 100. As long as we walk away with the win that’s the only thing that really matters at this point in the season especially with us fighting for our lives.”

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Posted in Inside the Bills

C.J. & O-line fine with constructive criticism

Posted by Chris Brown on November 18, 2013 – 4:19 pm

It was evident in Sunday’s game that C.J. Spiller was getting frustrated, especially when Jets defensive linemen were dropping him in the offensive backfield for three and four-yard losses very soon after he was handed the ball. New York’s stout run front is tough to handle and they came right through Buffalo’s offensive line on occasion. Head coach Doug Marrone told Spiller to address it with his teammates. Spiller did.

When asked how he handled it, Spiller said he didn’t take a negative tone with his teammates.

“Everybody on the sidelines saw that I was frustrated coming off the field and I was,” he said. “As soon as you get the ball you don’t want to be getting hit for a negative loss. But I didn’t go over there and yell at the guys. I don’t want you all to think I’m being selfish or something else. I have a certain way that I handle it.

“I talked to the guys and I encouraged them. I told that we’ll get it going and not to worry about it. Put that series behind us. I think the one when (Erik) Pears got beat one time on Pace and he tackled me. I told him don’t worry about it. Move on because that’s what you’ve got to do. If you dwell on the last series then you can’t focus on doing what you’ve got to do the rest of the game.”

As far as Buffalo’s offensive line is concerned that kind of communication is fine with them.

“I feel like guys that are established like C.J. on this team if they want to come say something to us, go for it,” said Eric Wood. “We’re all about it. If he misses a hole and I think he needs to hit it somewhere I’ll tell him. If guys are missing blocks and he wants to say something we welcome it and that can give you a kind of different perspective. Instead of hearing it from a coach you hear one of your teammates come down and say it that can do something.”

Only four times in his career has Spiller averaged less than a yard per carry, twice against the Dolphins and twice against the Jets. One of them was his first career NFL game against Miami when he had seven carries for six yards. His average of a half yard per carry Sunday however, was a career low. Still, he wasn’t about to take his linemen to task in a derogatory way.

“I’m not going to sit there and throw my hands up in the air,” he said. “Yes, I’m going to be frustrated and say a few things that my mom probably wouldn’t approve of, but that’s just me being a competitor.”

Marrone has done a solid job of making players accountable to one another and has pushed them to get after each other when one part of the team feels like another might be lagging in a game. And the players understand feeling it helps to uphold the standard needed to become a winning football team.

“Yeah it is a standard here,” Spiller said. “It’s a standard that we want to have the best rushing attack and in order for us to do that it has to be a collective group effort. If one group is not doing their job then the one group has to hold the other group accountable.

“It’s the same for those guys. I wouldn’t have a problem with those guys coming to me and telling me, ‘Well you need to hit the ball up inside and stop doing what you’re doing.’ I won’t take offense to that. I won’t shy away from it and I’ll go look at the film and I’ll agree with them. It’s about holding each other accountable without being disrespectful to your teammate. And once we do that we’ll become elite.”

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Posted in Inside the Bills

C.J. blames self for run game, but mad in game

Posted by Chris Brown on November 17, 2013 – 6:52 pm

As a team the Bills averaged just 1.8 yards per carry in Sunday’s win over the Jets. Yes, they were going against the number one run defense in the league, but that yards per carry average is the lowest in a game for Buffalo this season. C.J. Spiller, who had his second straight unproductive day against the Jets this season, shouldered his share of the blame.

Spiller, who had 10 carries for nine yards in the first meeting, had 13 carries for just six yards Sunday.

“I have to do a better job.  I can’t just blame it all on my guys up front. I have to do a better job of being disciplined with my track and with my eyes, and just taking what they give me,” said Spiller. “It’s a collective group thing, I just can’t sit back and put all the blame on those guys. There were probably a couple of times where I could have got those twos and threes and not try to  bounce it.”

Bills head coach Doug Marrone said Spiller did come to the sidelines ticked off after some unsuccessful plays.

“Any frustration would be to anyone, not just to C.J., but also to Fred (Jackson), to Tashard (Choice) and even the frustration of the linemen. When you let someone free on the inside, that’s frustrating. Whether you miss the block, we missed it once, and twice we fell, fell down once, missed him the second time,” said Marrone.

“If you’re a running back getting the ball, that’s something you don’t expect. You can live with the other stuff, so I told him afterwards, ‘I would be ticked too, but the difference between me and you and this is what you have to do now is go over to that group right there, that offensive line, and you tell them you’re ticked.’ That’s what I told him.”

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller: We’re not going to be bullied

Posted by Chris Brown on November 16, 2013 – 2:35 pm

The Jets are known for talking an awful lot, especially on defense and at times they play to the echo of the whistle and give a few extra shoves and forearms at the tail end of plays. In the past the Bills may have been surprised by that kind of play, but not anymore.

As C.J. Spiller sees it they have to be ready to mash on every single play run or pass.

“They’re going to play physical and you have to match that and if you don’t they’re going to bully you around,” said Spiller. “That’s what they pride themselves on. I think last time they did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage against us and we have to do a better job of that.”

Head coach Doug Marrone also challenged his team this week telling them in no way will they let the Jets try to intimidate them.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 11-15

Posted by Chris Brown on November 15, 2013 – 1:11 pm

Bills need to put an end to a three-game losing streak. A win over the Jets would be a good way to go into the bye. Here is your latest edition of questions on email at and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 – Chris:

The Bills did not seem to be using Fred Jackson and CJ spiller in the game at the same time very much when they were both healthy this season.  Do you think we will ever see them utilized in a pro set or veer formation?  I just could see that as a great asset to utilize in a fast paced offence.


CB: Through the first 10 games I’ve got the Bills using their split back formation with Fred and C.J. on just four plays this season. They used it against the Jets in the first meeting in Week 3, so perhaps it’s rolled out again on Sunday.

As for a veer offense, coach Marrone has gone on record saying that’s not something they would do here in Buffalo.


2 – Hi Chris,

I  love your articles! With analytics being the buzz did anyone at the bills analyze how how many times we ran the ball between the tackles this year and got less than 4 yards a carry? Not end sweeps.

45 year bills fan

CB: I can’t tell you how many rushes specifically went for less than four yards, but I can tell you after 10 games where the gains have been the most successful to this point this year.

Run direction     Avg. gain              NFL Rank             Total rushes
Left  end              5.9                          11th                         20
Left tackle           4.38                        12th                         37
Left guard           3.89                        14th                         54
Center                  5.21                        7th                           103
Right guard         3.96                        11th                         52
Right tackle         3.61                        21st                         36
Right end             5.71                        9th                           14

3 – Hey Chris,
Thanks for everything you do keeping us fans informed!  I wanted to ask

Depending on how EJ plays down the stretch, and depending on where the Bills are drafting next year, do you think there’s ANY chance the Bills consider taking a QB in the first round next year to compete with EJ?  Or do you think EJ gets 2-3 years before another QB is considered?  (I think it’s too early to tell what the Bills have in EJ yet, but there seem to be some really good QBs in college this year, and this team seems to have all the pieces in place except (possibly) QB to make a serious run next year)

Also, do you think the Bills will consider doing any retooling at the WR position during the bye week?  They seem to have 3 talented WRs in Stevie, Woods, and Goodwin.  But Stevie’s production seems to have gone down since moving to the slot  and Graham hasn’t been impressive so far.  Goodwin seems to be faster and have better hands.


CB: I’m going to let coach Marrone handle this one. Here’s what he said concerning their investment in EJ. Here’s what coach said about Manuel this week.

“He needs to be out there.  The more he’s out there, the better he’s getting.  Also, I want to make sure everyone understands, I truly believe in this quarterback.

“He’s shown that he can do it.  He’s shown that he progresses during the course of the year, and during each and every play and each and every game.  When I go back and look at it, I see him getting better as the game goes on.  And I think that’s what you see with a young quarterback.

“If we want to sit here, and I say we, it’s all of us now, and we see this young guy, we’ve got to be able to say let’s let this guy develop and let’s go, and he’s going to get better each week.

“As far as his work ethic and how he goes about the game and all those other things, he’s outstanding.  The respect that he has from his teammates is outstanding.  When does it ever come to the point where you are that person, you are that guy, how long does it have to be?  You’ve got to win. You’ve got to consistently win.  A lot gets put on his plate for that, but a lot of the rest of us, including myself and the coaches, we’ve all got to do our part and we’ve all got to play well around him to be successful.”


4 – Chris,
I’ve noticed the Bills are lacking a big ‘go up and get it’ WR. Why has Easley seen so few offense snaps? I’ve seen him make great plays on special teams. Why don’t they try him more in the offense. He’s more physical than Graham and Goodwin. He’s still raw but they aren’t giving him the chance to see the field as WR.


CB: You’re right that Buffalo does not have a big-bodied, jump ball type of receiver, which is part of the reason they’ve had a problem in the red zone of late. They have Scott Chandler, who is a height mismatch, but need a receiver that can work the corners of the end zone on fades and jump balls.

Easley, even if he does not play much between the 20’s, could be part of the team’s red zone package knowing he’s a big 6’2” and 217 pounds. He should get some opportunities Sunday down there knowing Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are out.


5 – I think Believe EJ Manuel would benefit greatly if the bills drafted a good young tight end prospect . Names Like Eric ebron North Carolina, Jace amaro Texas tech, and Austin seferian Jenkins of Washington come to mind. If the bills do not draft a te in the top half of the draft do they look elsewhere for a good te prospect such as a basketball player type . UB’s Javon McCrea who has soft hands and a huge frame  comes to mind . Any Chance the bills are Looking at an option Like This ?

Thanks !

Dustin in Alden

CB: With all due respect I think you’re overlooking Chris Gragg, who finally got some measurable playing time on offense in Pittsburgh. I think he’ll also factor in on offense in the passing game this week with Woods and Johnson out.

Gragg is an athletic pass catcher, who just needs time on the job. He tore his ACL in college and still runs a 4.5 40-time. There’s potential there.

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Posted in Inside the Bills

Spiller lined up at WR unlikely

Posted by Chris Brown on November 15, 2013 – 9:59 am


Bills RB C.J. Spiller has not seen the majority of the work at running back since Week 4, due mainly to injury. Now healthy Spiller’s workload hasn’t increased much. With Buffalo down bodies at receiver however, might he be a consideration to line up at wideout this week?

Bills head coach Doug Marrone was asked that very question in his weekly appearance on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 Friday morning. By the sound of Marrone’s answer, Spiller won’t be a consideration to help fill the void at receiver.

“Put him at wide receiver,” asked Marrone upon hearing the question. “Well I think in the backfield it’s much easier to hand him the football than it is to throw him the football, especially vertically down the field. Intermediate throws I have no problem, screens, intermediate routes, but it’s really difficult to push that ball downfield to running backs at any position. The only route that backs run that push vertically down the field that you see in offenses in this league, and you see this with Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush, are wheel routes.”

Marrone said with Robert Woods out and Stevie Johnson iffy that they will go into the game with four receivers if necessary and make use of their three tight ends to supplement the receiving corps.


C.J. Spiller has lined up at wide receiver in the past. Back in 2011 when injuries ravaged the receiver position, the feature back lined up out wide and had five catches for 39 yards against the Giants in Week 6. Defensive backs played off in coverage for fear of getting burned deep by Spiller and Ryan Fitzpatrick hit him with a lot of underneath throws since he had so much room to work.

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Posted in Inside the Bills