Inside The Bills

Fan Friday 10-31

Posted by Chris Brown on October 31, 2014 – 11:41 am

It’s the bye week so focus on your fantasy rosters this week Bills fans. Here are your questions this week from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills. Keep them coming.

1 – Hey Chris ,
Was wondering a couple of things when it comes to EJ & his history with the Bills & prior to . When EJ First came to the Bills the HC & OC led us to believe that they wanted him to have a veteran mentor (which was to be Kevin Kolb) to either sit behind & learn or play & have some one that has played the position to bounce things off of to learn from . So I am wondering why everyone is in such a uproar over this switch ? They are just going back to plan A correct ?

The second part to the question is every article or write-up on EJ prior to him being drafted by the Bills had pointed out a lot if not all of his short comings as a player, It seems from a fan stand point that when it comes to the most important position on a NFL team the Bills come up short when it has come to their decisions at that position both past & present. Were any of those articles or opinions taken into consideration while thinking of drafting him? It seems as though the only people high on EJ were those at one Bills Dr. Then to pass on available QB’s this past draft (if for nothing else to ramp up competition) they pass again on others that had as much if not more potential & better resume than EJ as a backup plan. Personal opinion it seems as though the coaches of this regime in A LOT of different ways show more rookie tendencies than the players !!

Thanks for your time & as always your insight on this & all our fan questions !!
Mr. T from Fort Myers via Nashville

CB: Yes, there was a plan to have a veteran quarterback on hand from the get go and that was Kevin Kolb. He began training camp as the first QB through in the rotation, but it was a competition for the starting job. I think most were expecting Kolb to be the starter at the outset and if EJ came on he’d succeed him. We all know that plan went off the rails early.

I would disagree that every time the Bills have tried to pick a quarterback it has been the wrong quarterback. I’m not absolving quarterbacks drafted in the past for the trajectory of their careers with the Bills, but you do need to look at the circumstances around them.

Constant coaching turnover particularly at the coordinator position with different schemes and systems coming through during a young quarterback’s developmental stages is extremely disruptive to a QB’s progress and growth.

Let’s take J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards’ time with the Bills as an example. Two young quarterbacks who saw a lot of change in their short time with the club.

Losman’s rookie season was 2004. Tom Clements was the offensive coordinator under Mike Mularkey. The next season Mularkey takes play calling responsibility from Clements. After Mularkey is moved out the system changes, Steve Fairchild comes in as the new coordinator with a new system in 2006. After 2007, Edwards’ rookie year, he leaves to coach in college and Turk Schonert is inserted and tweaks the system again. By the 2009 season Losman is gone and Dick Jauron a week before the opener fires Schonert and promotes Alex Van Pelt to run the offense.

A year later Chan Gailey is the head coach with a completely different offense. Edwards’ tenure last only a couple of games into 2010 when he’s benched and eventually released as the Ryan Fitzpatrick era begins.

Now would Losman or Edwards ever fully got it and been successful quarterbacks in this league? Maybe not. Some might even say probably not, but the circumstances that existed in terms of coaching changes and scheme certainly decreased the chances of either of those two developing properly at the NFL level.

There is a value in continuity in the NFL. Organizations like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the NY Giants have proven it. They limit turnover in an effort to let their players develop and flourish. Does it always work? No, but it has a track record of far more success than failure.
2 – @ChrisBrownBills.

Any news on how EJ is getting on? Also really impressed by his attitude on the sidelines on game day from what I have seen.
rmstrong_1982

CB: By all accounts EJ has been a pro’s pro. We’ll have an in depth story on the work Manuel has been putting in over the past month since he assumed the backup role on Buffalobills.com Saturday. Some great insight from EJ and quarterbacks coach Todd Downing on Manuel’s trust in the system and the extra work he puts in early in the morning with Kyle Orton and long after practice is over on the field. Check it out tomorrow!

 

3 - @ChrisBrownBills

Just curious why Mario Williams snaps have decreased over the past few weeks?

TheRealSeanK

CB: This was a question that both defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and head coach Doug Marrone addressed. Here was Schwartz’s response to Mario Williams drop in snap count the past three weeks.

“I don’t count reps,” said Schwartz. “I’m just worried about performance and production. If our defense is being productive then that’s the only thing we care about. Everybody else can worry about stats and snap counts and everything else, it’s about trying to win the game and doing what we think is best to win the game.”

It’s likely that Schwartz believes in quality over quantity with Mario Williams. I believe him when he says he doesn’t count reps, but perhaps in reviewing game tape he’s found that Williams’ gives him more quality reps (pass rush chiefly) when he plays between 38-45 snaps than when he plays 48-55 snaps a game. The other possibility is Jarius Wynn when he goes in is providing very little drop off in play.

Last week’s game is a good example. Wynn played 44 snaps to Williams’ 40. Wynn had three tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. Williams had three tackles, a half sack and a forced fumble. Schwartz says they care about performance.

If Wynn is performing leave him in there. In a tight game when the outcome is on the line I’m sure Mario will be in the game.

Coach Marrone earlier this season indicated that he wanted to keep Williams fresh for important third down pass rushes late in a couple of the recent games. This past week up 20 points it’s my belief they wanted to keep him out of harm’s way so as not to risk injury.

The direct beneficiary when Mario Williams doesn’t get his usual number of reps, which is usually around 75 percent of the snaps is Jarius Wynn. The rotational end has performed well this season, and just about every game the percentage of their two snap counts adds up to 100 percent because Wynn is often subbing in for Williams. It will be interesting to see where it goes in the second half of the season.

 

4 – Hi Chris,

Thanks for all the inside info, great reading your work all the time!  My question is regarding Marcell Dareus. He is having a phenomenal year but there still are the negative off the field events that took place in the offseason. Will he be facing any fines or suspensions for his incidents? It would be a shame to have him miss even one game.

Thanks again!
Chris

CB: Marcell is having a great season. Seven sacks in half a season for a defensive tackle, as Jim Schwartz said is pretty hard to do, and that’s coming from a guy who coached Ndamukong Suh.

It doesn’t appear that Dareus will be facing any league fines or suspensions this season for what happened this past offseason. It’s likely that he’ll face some kind of league discipline next year, much the way Nigel Bradham did when he was suspended for the season opener this year, for his off the field incident in the summer of 2013.

 

5 – Chris,

I think Hackett has completely failed on getting Mike Williams into the game plan.  I think Mike Williams could be a very effective WR.  The QB should be dropping back and the OC should have Watkins – Woods and Williams running patterns at the same time in a 3-WR set.  One of these 3 should be open every time.

Fred, Dixon and Brown should be pounding the ball. Seriously, I’m amazed some of these people get paid so much to be coordinators.  I think there are many individuals who could do a better job than Hackett.

Randy
South FL
CB: You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I think we need to try and read between the lines here with respect to the lack of playing time for Mike Williams. I do agree that Williams is a rare talent. I’ve written many times that he is one of the five best receivers in the league when it comes to high-pointing the ball. You’d figure that would make him a weapon to use at least in the red zone. He did score 23 touchdowns in his first three seasons in the league.

At the same time Chris Hogan has emerged as a slot receiver and is producing. Now he and Williams do not line up in the same place in this offense for the most part, but one word I continually hear from both coach Marrone and Kyle Orton in praising Chris Hogan’s efforts is reliability. They comment often on how Hogan is in the right place at the right time on every play. That reliability is an enormous comfort to a head coach, a coordinator and a quarterback knowing how critical the timing is in Buffalo’s passing game.

A veteran offensive coordinator once told me the NFL is about first downs, not touchdowns. What he meant was in the NFL the talent is a lot more even than it is at the college level, so big play touchdowns aren’t nearly as prevalent. So you prefer to have players you can rely on to make the catches that get you first downs time and again to keep drives and possessions alive. It’s that consistency that wins more often in the NFL.

Do I completely agree with that premise? Not totally. Sammy Watkins has me thinking that three or four big plays look pretty good too. We’ll have to see if Williams play time changes in the second half of the season. To his credit he’s putting in a lot of extra time on special teams of late in an effort to get on the field more.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

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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Pats know that Bills ‘D’ funnels rushers inside

Posted by Chris Brown on October 11, 2014 – 12:05 pm

Buffalo’s run defense has been excellent thus far this season. Part of the reason is the ends line up wide, sometimes in a nine technique (outside shade of the tight end). While more is made out of the wide-9 formation defensively with respect to pass rush, it serves an important purpose against the run.

Essentially it funnels runners inside where the defense has more tacklers to bring the ball carrier down. Head coach Doug Marrone has commented that their ability to set the edge has been critical in the improvement in the run game. Lining up so wide helps set that edge in the run front, a trademark of Jim Schwartz defensive schemes.

“It’s the same thing that we saw [when Jim was the defensive coordinator] at Tennessee, same thing that we saw at Detroit with Jim [Schwartz], going back to [Kyle] Vanden Bosch,” said Bill Belichick. “Change the names, but it’s the same type of scheme and players. Yeah, they definitely do that. They like to play the ends out wide. Now, they’ll pinch them in to keep you honest. They don’t do it every play. But yeah, they get the ends out there wide and pinch them into those tackles and they have three guys inside, whether it’s three linebackers or when they’re in nickel sometimes it’s two linebackers and a safety. They definitely try to funnel that.

“They’re a really hard team to get outside on. They don’t give up many outside plays. Jim never has. It’s just hard to get outside those guys. They’re wide plus they’re big and they’re athletic. That’s definitely the foundation of that defense – set the edge with the ends and then like you said, force the ball inside. That’s definitely what they’re trying to do.”


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Bills number one in run ‘D’ for now

Posted by Chris Brown on October 6, 2014 – 10:21 am

After Sunday’s Week 5 action including Buffalo’s impressive stifling of the Lions run game, the Bills have the number one run defense in the NFL.

Jim Schwartz’s unit is allowing just 71 yards rushing per game. Their standing at the top of the league in run defense could be short lived. That’s because the number two run defense in the NFL is Seattle and they play tonight against the Washington Redskins. The Seahawks are giving up just 72.3 yards rushing per game.

So if Seattle can smother Washington’s run game in much the same way that Buffalo did with Detroit, the Seahawks might be able to reclaim the top spot.

Buffalo is also number one in third down defense, and they should be able to carry that distinction into Sunday’s game with New England. The Bills are allowing opponents to convert less than 32 percent of the time (31.8%).

Run ‘D’ and third down defense were the two areas that Schwartz was counted upon to improve walking in the door. So far, so good.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Bills ‘D’ wanted game for Schwartz

Posted by Chris Brown on October 5, 2014 – 11:18 pm

All week Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz downplayed the importance of his return to Detroit where he was the head coach of the Lions for five seasons. After the victory Sunday, in which Schwartz’s defense held the Lions scoreless in the second half, and gave up just seven points in the game, his players made it clear that this game meant an awful lot to their defensive play caller.

“This game really meant a lot to him especially when we lost to them during preseason,” said Marcell Dareus. “You could see the disappointment on his face. In the meetings last night he told us he still has family here. His son is still here. He would love for his son to go to school and be happy and not let people mess with him. So it really meant more to him than just a game. So I took it and we all took it to ourselves that we were going to go out here and do the best we can for Schwartz and the team and we pulled it out.”

After the game the defensive players carried Schwartz on their shoulders across the field. DE Jerry Hughes understood why winning meant what it did to Schwartz.

“Absolutely, any time you get a chance to come back to where you started from, and we wanted to show that we were the better team,” said Hughes. “By us going out there and getting a win, it was huge.  But any time you get a win in the NFL , they’re so hard to come by, so we’re just very thankful for that.”

 


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Lions getting it done on 3rd down

Posted by Chris Brown on October 5, 2014 – 10:30 am

The Lions are far from productive on first and second down, but it hasn’t seemed to matter when it comes to converting on third down. Detroit stands fourth in the league in third down conversion percentage at better than 52 percent (52.4). In third-and-short situations they rank fourth as well (75%) and third-and-medium they rank second in the league with a 73.3 percent conversion rate. So why have they been so successful?

Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who coached Matthew Stafford, believes he’s scrambling more this season in comparison to past years, but doesn’t believe Stafford extending plays is the reason for the high conversion percentage.

“Their percentage on third down comes from 3rd-and-2 to 3rd-and-6,” Schwartz said. “They’re about 80 percent in those areas. They’re really efficient. The ball is coming out quick. He’s always been a quick trigger guy, but the ball is coming out fast and they’re keeping the chains alive.

“They’re over 50 percent on third downs. That number drops significantly when they get over seven yards. That’s the job of our run defense to put them in third down and long calls, to give time for Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to get home to the quarterback in those situations.”

Bills LB Preston Brown agrees with Schwartz on Stafford’s ability to get the ball out quick.

“Their quarterback he just has a clock in his head to get the ball out,” said Brown. “They’ve got really good timing with the receivers with Calvin Johnson and those guys. They really get the ball out quick and they run the routes to the sticks and they get the first down.”

“We’ve faced some outstanding quarterbacks this year, starting with Cutler, Philip Rivers,” said Schwartz. “We’ve faced similar quarterbacks and we’re going to have to play our very best to come out with a win.”


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Schwartz downplays his return to Detroit

Posted by Chris Brown on October 3, 2014 – 2:45 pm

A natural story line for Sunday’s game in Detroit for the Bills is the return of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to the place where he was the head coach for five seasons. But if you ask Schwartz his return to Ford Field is of little importance to how he feels his unit has to perform if they’re going to beat the Lions.

When asked specifically about his emotions in making his return to Detroit for the first time since he was their head coach, Schwartz dismissed it.

“It’s about the same as any week,” said Schwartz Friday. “I’ve been a visitor there before so I know where the visitors’ locker room is in addition to the home locker room. It’s a road game and we’re coming off a two game skid and we need to be able to get it back whether it’s the Lions or any other team, everybody has connections in this league. Every coach has coached somewhere else. It doesn’t play into the game.”

When asked if he’s wondering about how Lions’ fans will receive him, again Schwartz dismissed it.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s about the game. That’s certainly not important.”

What is important is Schwartz has Buffalo’s defense off to a good start with the third-ranked run defense through the first month of the season, rare air for the Bills defensive unit over the past nine seasons.

 


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Kyle, Bradham doubtful

Posted by Chris Brown on October 3, 2014 – 1:16 pm

injury-report-header

WR Marcus Easley and G Chris Williams were both declared out for Sunday’s game in Detroit. That means that Cyril Richardson will make his second straight start at left guard. More important is the status of two of Buffalo’s defensive starters in Kyle Williams and Nigel Bradham.

Both players were listed as doubtful. Kyle Williams was only able to work on the side, while Bradham participated on a limited basis Friday.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn’t going to fret about who he has and doesn’t have for Sunday’s game.

“I really don’t comment on injuries,” said Schwartz. “We’ll play with the guys that are there when we make our active 46. We’ll have to come out with a win regardless of who is out there. It’s not unusual for us. We’ve done it since the opener. We didn’t have (Stephon) Gilmore in the opener and Corey Graham stepped up and had an interception in the game and had a pass breakup in overtime and on the last drive of the game. It set us up to get that win. If somebody isn’t able to play you expect the next guy to step up and execute our scheme.”

Here’s the rest of Buffalo’s injury report.

OUT
Marcus Easley – knee
Chris Williams – back

DOUBTFUL
Kyle Williams – knee
Nigel Bradham – knee

PROBABLE
Ron Brooks – shoulder
Randell Johnson – knee
Marquise Goodwin – concussion
Sammy Watkins – ribs

 


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 9-26

Posted by Chris Brown on September 26, 2014 – 12:12 pm

It’s the start of a big two week road trip in Houston. The Bills are looking to finish the first quarter of the season at 3-1. We’ll have full postgame coverage on Buffalobills.com. Let’s get to your questions this week on email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 - Hi Chris,

My question is about the Bills offense. During training camp I noticed that EJ is throwing the ball a lot farther downfield; however during the preseason games, and early in the season all the routes seem to be less than 10 yards. Is this due to the play calling or EJ? I’ve heard EJ’s been better during practice, but it’s frustrating to watch him check down most of the time. It reminds me of when we had Chan Gailey and Fitz.

Michael

CB: So far this season EJ Manuel is averaging seven yards an attempt. For those that are unfamiliar with that statistic, even in the pass happy NFL that we know today any yards per attempt average that’s eight or above is outstanding. Only five NFL QBs are averaging eight yards or more per attempt right now. So seven is very respectable.

The other way one can look at it is average yards at the catch. This is where Manuel’s figure is below the league average. Manuel averages 3.6 passing yards at the catch, which ranks 31st in the league. The league average is about six.

Now there are two ways one can interpret that. One Buffalo’s offense doesn’t take a lot of deep shots down the field, which is your contention, and based on the latter statistic it’s understandable why that might be inferred.

The other way to look at it is Buffalo’s offensive staff knows the collection of speed they have out of the backfield and at receiver and believe it’s more important to make the completion and allow the ball handlers to make yards after the catch. Right now the Bills ranks 8th in the league in yards after the catch with 415 yards in three games. That’s a strong number.

It’s my belief that as long as those yards after the catch figures remain in the top 10 in the league, that the passing game approach won’t change all that much. That’s not to say they won’t take four to six deep shots per game, but on the whole they’ll rely on short to intermediate passes believing their playmakers can gain yards after the reception is made.

 

2 – Chris,

Do some NFL coaches have a policy of benching players for a play after they are called for a penalty?  I’ve noticed this fairly frequently just in watching game telecasts. For example, after Scott Chandler was called for a penalty vs Chicago this past Sunday, the cameras showed him standing on the sidelines. Then he was back in on the next play.  Obviously, if a starting QB gets called for a delay of game penalty, he’s not removed, but I’ve noticed both offensive and defensive players coming off the field after a penalty.

Gary Kozlowski

CB: Your observations are pretty astute. I also noticed last week that after Brandon Spikes was flagged for a personal foul last week against the Chargers that he was removed from the game too. Sometimes it’s just the personnel grouping that the coaches choose to put on the field for the next play, which may have been the case with Chandler. I will have to go back and look.

Sometimes it is in fact to get the player off the field and cool off. In an emotional game like football sometimes a player’s competitive emotions gets the best of them as seemed to be the case with Spikes last week. So coaches in an effort to bring a player’s emotions back in line take them out of the competitive environment on the field so they can collect themselves before playing another snap.

 

3 – Hey Chris,

What happened to Stephon Gilmore? He doesn’t even look like the same player we saw in his rookie season. He’s constantly getting beat in pass coverage, and he’s not making plays in run support. He’s becoming a real liability in our defense. I’m curious what the coaches are saying about his play.

CB: I think the coaches are trying to be patient with Gilmore. Coming off of offseason hip surgery and then a groin injury at the start of the season Gilmore is clearly not 100 percent healthy. He’s trying to fight through the nagging groin problem to be available for his team on Sundays. I don’t think there’s any question it has not allowed him to play at his very best.

The encouraging sign I saw this week was Gilmore was on the practice field for extra reps long after practice had concluded. This was a common practice of Gilmore’s, but taxing his body in that fashion was not an option for him while he was rehabilitating or as he worked his way back into the practice setting and lineup.

Seeing that is a major positive because Gilmore is a player whose game gets better when he can maximize his reps during the week. The most important thing to remember is it’s his collective health that’s holding his game back.

 

4 – Hi Chris,

Thanks for all you do to keep us fans on top of all news concerning the Bills!

My question is concerning the defensive pass rush ideology. This past week against the Chargers it seemed that there were very few blitzes dialed up. I understand that with veteran QBs you have to mix it up, but the defense pretty much rushed four and got no pass rush which lead to the Db’s getting lit up. I’m starting to see major differences between Petitine’s philosophy and Jim Schwartz’s philosophy. Do you feel that less blitzing is what we will see throughout the rest of the season from Schwartz? His philosophy seems to put a great deal of pressure on the secondary….

Thanks for your response.
Bruce

CB: I think most knew going in that Schwartz’s philosophy was not going to dial up nearly as many blitzes as Pettine did last year. Personally I was okay with that if it meant better third down defense and better run defense in exchange, knowing those were two consistent problem areas for Buffalo’s defense over the years.

To this point Buffalo’s defense is 6th against the run and 8th in third down defense. I’ll take less blitzing if this is the trade-off.

I think you also need to consider this. When facing veteran quarterbacks who get the ball out quick, like Cutler and Rivers, and this week with Fitz, Schwartz generally takes the approach that committing a seventh man to coverage is more valuable than committing a fifth man to the rush. If you’re not going to get to the QB with a blitz anyway, you’re better off rushing your front four and dropping a seventh man into coverage, hoping the coverage helps lead to the QB holding onto the ball long enough for pressure to affect his play.

To this point Schwartz’s third down defense more often than not has proven him correct. So until that changes I’m in favor of his approach.

 

5 – Hi Chris,

Great job as always keeping Bills fans updated.  My question really isn’t about on field football items.  Now that the Bills are headed on the road for a couple of weeks what is their travel routine getting ready for an away game?

Many thanks.
Bryon B.
Plattsburgh

CB: Typically the way things work in advance of a road game is they have meetings Saturday morning followed by a situational practice at One Bills Drive where they go over specific situations that might surface in the game. It usually runs less than an hour.

After that players go home to pack their personal items for the trip and head to the airport for their departure time on the team plane.

Once they arrive in the home team’s city they’re typically at the team hotel by 3:30 pm. They’re free to have dinner on their own and then there are meetings with coaches for a couple of hours in the evening before bed check at 11 pm.

Then players head to the stadium Sunday morning, with most of them in the locker room by 10 am or so for a 1 pm kickoff.

 

 


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Schwartz’s ‘D’ looks ready for real games

Posted by Chris Brown on August 28, 2014 – 4:45 pm

They say that preseason statistics don’t hold a lot of water, but Buffalo’s defense under Jim Schwartz looks ready for the regular season.

Through four preseason games the Bills defense ranks 11th in red zone defense (50% TD rate), ninth in pass defense (192.5 yds/gm), fourth in total defense (273.5 yds/gm), third in run defense (81 yds/gm) and is first in yards per carry allowed (2.75).

Schwartz’s charges are also 14th in points allowed (20.3), which is the category Buffalo’s new defensive coordinator has at the top of his list. They’re also third in interception rate (4.31%).

Where Schwartz wants his unit focused is on tightening their third down defense. Their conversion percentage allowed of better than 46 percent is not where they want it heading into the regular season.

“That’s a big down for us. That’s something where we must get off the field so we need players smart enough and with good game situation skills and can manage situations like that,” Nickell Robey told Buffalobills.com. “That’s one part of the thing that we have to get in this tune-up game. I feel like tackling is another emphasis that we have to get, stopping the run is the first one because in order to stop the pass you’ve got to stop the run. But getting off on third downs has to happen.”

Buffalo’s defense made corrections in practice this week based largely on some of the failed efforts to stop the third and longs last week against Tampa.


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Schwartz glad to have Graham

Posted by Chris Brown on August 22, 2014 – 10:41 am

Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is pretty happy with a lot of the talent he has on his side of the ball this season. Having reliable players who execute consistently is something every coordinator covets. Schwartz believes he has that in a good number of his player, and confirmed recently that Corey Graham is one of them.

When asked what Graham has brought to the Bills defense Schwartz didn’t hold back.

“A lot. An awful lot. He’s a very good leader, he’s a student of the game,” Schwartz said. “He’s an excellent professional, meaning that he prepares every day. He’s competitive. He plays the ball down the field very well, he’s a good tackler. He’s very assignment sound. He gives coaches a lot of confidence in him. He’s been playing a lot of different positions for us. He’s been playing corner, he’s been playing nickel, he’s been playing dime. Even the last couple days he’s been playing some safety. I mean everything we’ve been giving him he’s done a good job with. I’m very happy to be working with him.”

After the injuries suffered by Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore last year Buffalo wanted to have another veteran corner that could play a lot and play well. McKelvin just suffered a groin injury earlier this week so Graham’s presence is comforting.

This Saturday however, Graham might be lining up at safety having been there in practice all week.


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Run ‘D’ has stymied opponents

Posted by Chris Brown on August 17, 2014 – 1:31 am

It has been a perennial problem since 2005, Buffalo’s run defense. Enter defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who through three preseason games has his first team defense locking down consistently in the run game.

Through three preseason games Buffalo’s first team defense has allowed 30 rushing yards on 18 carries, not counting Landry Jones kneel down at the end of the half. That’s a yards per carry average of 1.66. On Saturday the Steelers power run game managed just 11 yards on seven carries against the Bills first unit.

“I credit a lot to the coaches and the players I really do. Jim (Schwartz) even when he came here and everyone was asking about that if you go back and look at the scheme they run they’ve always been very good against the run,” said Doug Marrone. “There’s another level where there’s three linebackers instead of two or sometimes one or whatever we’ve been in the past. People have been able to make some big plays on us, so we’ve done a good job of keeping that ball inside.

“The players have responded well to it and have done a nice job up front. I think that’s something that we need to continue to do and play well.”


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Run ‘D’ emphasis in practice pays off

Posted by Chris Brown on August 9, 2014 – 2:20 am

The men on Buffalo’s defense weren’t happy with the way the Giants were able to run the ball at times against them in the Hall of Fame game last week. With a short turnaround and just three total practices before Friday night’s game at Carolina defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz set out to make their run defense a top priority. Mission accomplished.

Carolina’s run game was stymied from the get go by Buffalo’s first, second and third defensive unit. The longest run of the game was a quarterback scramble that went for 11 yards. At halftime the Panthers were averaging 1.7 yards per carry and at game’s end they had just 2.9 per rush.

“There was a big emphasis on that,” said Manny Lawson. “We wanted to correct last week moving on to this week. Being consistent more than anything in the run game and it’s one thing we really focused on in practice.”


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 8-8

Posted by Chris Brown on August 8, 2014 – 12:02 pm

Hey Bills fans. My apologies for the brief hiatus that Fan Friday took the past two weeks, but we’re back. So keep firing off your questions on email to AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills

Here’s the latest edition of your questions.

1 - Chris,
Thanks for the piece on Jeff.  I was wondering how he was progressing.
He impressed me at the SJF scrimmage last year.  Seemed to get the ball out quickly and made good decisions.
He reminds of Alex Van Pelt but a better athlete.  He impressed again against KC until the pick 6.  He appears to be the fastest and most elusive QB on his feet.  Finally, the Bills protected him all last year with a roster spot so they saw something they liked.
What if he outplays EJ in the preseason again?

Thanks for the good work.

Dan Malwitz
Orchard Park

CB: Tuel has looked good in training camp, picking up where he left off in the spring minicamp. His first preseason game performance was also encouraging. This past week in practice leading up to tonight’s game Tuel gave way to Thad Lewis for second team offense reps. I expect Lewis to be in the backup quarterback role tonight against the Carolina Panthers.

As good as Tuel has looked this competition is a marathon not a sprint. We’ll need to see how Lewis fares tonight with the second unit. Through the first three weeks of training camp practices, Tuel has been the more consistent performer and the better decision maker. But there are still almost three weeks of camp left so there is a lot of time for things to change.

As for Tuel’s chances of unseating EJ Manuel, it simply won’t happen. This organization has put all their eggs in the Manuel basket to lift the offense to new heights. Tuel, or Lewis for that matter, will only take the field in the regular season if Manuel is injured and cannot play. Priority number one is getting Manuel ready to lead the offense this fall.

 

2 – Dear Chris,

I do believe our receivers are some of the most diverse in the NFL. We have Sammy who is very versatile and I think is worth what we gave up in the future for him. We have Mike Williams who we traded for from the Bucs for a late round pick who can be very reliable in the end zone. We also have the help from Robert Woods in the slot who can be a reliable replacement for Steve Johnson. Then we have Marquise Goodwin who is somebody who can break the top off the roof with his lighting fast speed. To top it off we have Marques Easley who helps big time on special teams. The question I have is how do you think Coach Marrone is going to incorporate all these wide receivers to make a winning group who can help Manuel exceed to be the franchise QB I believe he can be?
Thanks,
Bill

CB: I think your description of diverse is very accurate. I believe it’s what GM Doug Whaley had in mind in changing some of the pieces. He got two boundary receivers in Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins, who have large catch radiuses to pull in passes that may not be right on the money. Watkins and Williams are also experts at winning jump balls. Robert Woods and Chris Hogan are both good separation receivers, who can get yards after the catch. Goodwin and Graham offer deep speed to stretch a defense and you’ve already mentioned Marcus Easley’s strengths.

All of that talent is on the roster to provide Manuel with the confidence to let it fly and trust his playmakers. Williams and Watkins are capable of making plays even when they’re covered. Woods and Hogan have a high percentage of route wins meaning they’re usually open for Manuel to make use of and Goodwin and Graham are always threats to get behind a defense.

The bottom line however, is it’s on Manuel to make them successful because no matter how effective any of the receivers are at winning their matchups, those wins do not add up to anything if Manuel doesn’t target them and make the right decisions. The success of the receiving corps is ultimately dependent on Manuel’s on field decision making and accuracy.

 

3 – Hi Chris,

Thanks continuing to answer questions concerning the Bills. Many fans including myself really enjoy seeing your answers to what sometimes are very difficult questions. This question may qualify as a difficult one.

With 4 running backs on the team, what’s chances someone gets traded?

Thanks,
Bob Hammond
CB: Appreciate the kind words. As for the running backs on Buffalo’s roster, the natural speculation is that the staff will not keep all four on the squad when the roster is reduced to 53. I think what most casual observers are not considering are two important factors.

First, this team ran the football more than any other NFL club in the league last season. That heavy workload was part of the reason both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller succumbed to lingering injuries that compromised their effectiveness in 2013.

The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to fortify their running back stable in the offseason so in the event that injuries crop up again this season there will be little to no drop off in their rushing attack. Bryce Brown and ‘Boobie’ Dixon provide such depth.

Barring a catastrophic injury situation at another position that could require them to move one of their running back assets to fill a void via trade, I believe all four will be on the roster come September because at its core this offense will be defined by their run game.

And teams that are run heavy are quickly realizing that if one of your top two backs goes down to injury the identity of your offense will be dramatically impacted. Having these four backs protects against such a setback.

 

4 – Chris,

A – With the signing of Anthony Dixon and his power and size as RB, does that pose a threat to the FB position and the job of Frank Summers?
B – At this point who is considered the 1st Backup Center to Eric Wood?
C – Has it been disclosed by the team as to the health issue Chris Hairston had?  Can he play both guard and tackle positions which would drastically improve his chances of making the roster?

-Joe

CB: I think Dixon is a lock to make the roster, and if the numbers do not allow for a true fullback in Frank Summers, then yes it’s likely that Dixon would serve in the fullback role when such play calls on offense require one.

Backup center to Eric Wood is Doug Legursky at this point.

Chris Hairston medical situation from last season has not been revealed due to HIPAA laws. It is only up to Hairston as to whether or not he wants to make his condition, which is he over now, to be disclosed. As has been seen in training camp, he’s been lined up at both guard and tackle, with tackle being his most recent position. That is where he feels most comfortable since guard is new to him. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares tonight with the expectation that he’ll line up as the second team left tackle.

 

5 – Hi Chris,
As always, thank you so much for all of your excellent work. The opportunity for Bills fans to stay informed from afar is just excellent. I want to begin by saying I have all the faith in Jim Schwartz and the Bills defensive personnel, but I would like your insight on something. I understand that the exotic blitz packages of the Pettine era will not continue and that there needs to be a balance. We clearly weren’t where we needed to be against the run nor on third down efficiency. In the July 4th Fan Friday you mentioned that you would trade 10 sacks for the top 3rd down defense and top 10 run defense. I completely agree, but what I haven’t heard mentioned by anyone is how that would affect our secondary.

I was very impressed with the play of our secondary, even without Jairus Byrd, and especially by the number of turnovers they generated. My question is, by reducing the QB pressure, don’t we sacrifice more than just the sacks? I worry that we open ourselves up for more deep plays from the opponents passing game. I believe there is a perfect balance in there somewhere and I truly believe Jim Schwartz is deserving of the respect he is given around the league, I am just curious to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Thank you,
Cory in VA

CB: The only point I was trying to make was I would rather have more balanced production defensively across the board. I didn’t mean to infer that 10 fewer sacks would need to happen to have a better run defense or better third down defense. What encourages me is Jim Schwartz strives to have across the board production with his defense. And I don’t believe that you have to sacrifice sacks to be better in those other areas.

Schwartz has been a successful DC because he has found that perfect balance in his career as a defensive play caller. It’s my belief that he’ll be able to do that here perhaps more than anywhere else he has coached in his career. The main reason why is because this is the most talented secondary he has ever had in his career as a defensive coordinator.

When you have a secondary capable of man coverage it helps the pass rush and when you have a front four that can generate effective pressure it allows you to drop seven into coverage. Schwartz will take those two advantages and creatively use play calling to keep opposing offenses guessing.


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Schwartz tempering enthusiasm for pass rush

Posted by Chris Brown on July 28, 2014 – 12:33 pm

Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is as eager to see what kind of success Buffalo’s pass rush can have in his scheme as anyone else, but he’s not going to get giddy about successful plays in the practice setting of training camp.

On Saturday night there was a third and long team segment where the defense logged eight “sacks” in 17 plays. Schwartz is all too aware of the talent on his defensive line, but he’s not going to make any false assumptions knowing practice only replicates a real game so much.

“You don’t want to read too much into it,” he said. “We’re going to have a good rush group. We can rush with four. We can bring blitzes. They’re hard to handle. There are three Pro Bowlers up there and right now the fourth guy was a double-digit sacker from last year so that gives us a lot of optimism with where we can be with that pass rush. It’s hard to really judge too much in practice here because we’re not hitting the quarterback so it’s hard to finish pass rush moves. You don’t want to hit him or hit his hand when he’s trying to throw. But then again offensive linemen are doing the same thing. Also quarterbacks really are not trying to make you miss so let’s not read too much into it right now.”


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Kyle likes Schwartz’s approach

Posted by Chris Brown on July 19, 2014 – 4:09 pm

Bills Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams spent most of the spring around his new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Heading into training camp he’s already developed an affinity for the defensive play caller’s coaching style.

“During minicamp and OTAs, it was intense,” said Williams of Schwartz’s approach. “Getting after guys and expecting a lot out of guys, which is great. It’s what we need. You have to push guys and challenge guys. It’s what you need as a leader and as a coordinator of the defense. I think we have some really good players and a guy that can do that and push guys and get them going is going to be an asset to us.”


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Schwartz: Defense will have different identity

Posted by Chris Brown on July 9, 2014 – 10:49 am

Jim Schwartz has worked hard to maintain a measure of continuity wherever possible when it comes to the scheme he’s bringing with him to Buffalo’s defensive side of the ball. He admits there’s a degree of carry over that should help the players, but where he does want and expects change is with the unit’s identity this season.

As profiled in Bills Focus presented by Atwall Eyecare Buffalo’s defensive coordinator has a lot of faith in the group he inherits after spending just a couple of months on the field with them in the spring. Forging their own identity however, under Schwartz is what the veteran coach sees as a key factor in their success this fall.

“This team will have a completely different identity and it will be developed through the blood, sweat and tears of the men that are in that locker room,” Schwartz told Buffalobills.com. “It’s going to be a different one this year. Whether you have a coaching change or not every year is a little bit different. We’re going to have to be good in all those third down situations. It’s extremely important, red zone, third down, turnovers, things that stop drives. To get off the field defensively we put a lot of emphasis in those areas and if we can succeed in those areas it’ll go a long way into helping our team win.”


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Schwartz feels corners will be key to run ‘D’

Posted by Chris Brown on July 9, 2014 – 9:44 am

Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a long track record of success defending the run with his defensive units. What’s interesting is what he feels is a key to a strong run defense. It’s not a mammoth nose tackle or a top flight middle linebacker. It’s top end cornerbacks. That’s why he’s excited about what he can do with this Bills defense. Here’s his explanation.

“I think what gives me confidence there is the fact that we have corners who can cover,” said Schwartz in his belief that the run defense can be much improved this season. “It’s hard to stop the run unless you have some corners that can win on the outside. It’s hard to get an extra safety in the box if you’re trying to protect your corners. With Gilmore and Leodis and also Corey Graham and Brooks has had an outstanding run in OTAs. We have some real talent at corner, guys that can win one-on-one on the outside part of the field. I think if you look across any run defense that’s a common ingredient and I’m excited for those guys.”

With corners who can cover in one-on-one situations the defense can commit a safety to the run front more often than not. Add in some of the other factors we covered in our Camp Countdown on how much the run defense will improve and Buffalo’s defense stands a good chance of being in the top half of the league in that all important category.


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Analytics point to LB Bradham as star in waiting

Posted by Chris Brown on July 2, 2014 – 12:29 pm

Even before the devastating ACL injury suffered by Kiko Alonso Tuesday in an offseason workout, which will likely cost him the 2014 season, there was some buzz about Bills third-year LB Nigel Bradham. ProFootballFocus had Bradham listed as their Secret Superstar for Buffalo in 2014. Now Bills fans are hoping that becomes the case now more than ever.

In an appearance on the John Murphy Show this spring, PFF writer Peter Damilatis explained why they expect Bradham to have a breakout season in 2014.

“The one thing I like about Bradham is I feel he can sit in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense, but I think he can be a solid 4-3 strong side linebacker,” Damilatis said. “He has a fearlessness in attacking the run at the point of attack. We would see a lead blocker like a fullback coming in to clear the way and Bradham would stick in there and stonewall him and blow up the entire play.

“Despite playing a quarter of the snaps of a lot of other guys like Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams he actually had the best run defense grade of any linebacker on the Bills roster and the eighth best run defense grade of any inside linebacker in the NFL, which is pretty remarkable for someone who played just 26 percent of the team snaps.”

Bradham lined up mainly as a strong side linebacker in Buffalo’s defense under DC Jim Schwartz in the spring practices, and that job could be his to lose with Keith Rivers expected to replace Alonso on the weak side.

Damilatis said that Bradham’s numbers for tackling efficiency and yards allowed in coverage also indicate the third-year linebacker is in for a big season in 2014 if he gets on the field more.

“When you add it up his tackle rate is among the top 10 linebackers as well. He’s a very sure tackler,” Damilatis said. “One thing I also saw from him is he have some pretty good coverage skills too. He was in the top 10 for yards allowed on coverage snaps. Buddy Nix talked about Bradham being a capable three down linebacker and our metrics indicate that.”

 


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Posted in Inside the Bills

Fan Friday 6-27

Posted by Chris Brown on June 27, 2014 – 11:42 am

We’re in the quiet period of the offseason, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues about the team to discuss. Here now are your latest questions from email at AskChris@bills.nfl.net and on Twitter @ChrisBrownBills.

1 - Hey Chris,
My question is about the defense and new DC Jim Schwartz.  I know Marrone has said that they will keep the terminology the same for the players, but what does that exactly mean?  I know Schwartz and Pettine have different philosophies but do you foresee Schwartz maybe trying to become more innovative with his D?  In my opinion I think that Rex Ryan and Mike Pettines defense is spreading into the league and can be a new look for NFL defenses.  I know the Chiefs acquired Bob Sutton who has a Jets backround and the Saints have Rob Ryan.   I really like the way Pettine disguised plays and also the way he looked for players that can be versatile.  It just seems like it’s a defense that is spreading into the league and it is very aggressive style, something that needs to match the explosive offenses that are continuing to evolve.  So I guess my question is do you think that Schwartz watched film and talked with Marrone about keeping some of the same looks and ideas that Pettine installed last year and maybe just putting his flavor on it?  What are your thoughts about it?

Thanks, Jillian

CB: I think coaches inherently trust the elements of their schemes that made them successful coordinators or coaches in this league. Jim Schwartz was a coveted head coaching candidates a half dozen years ago because of the way he ran his defense. It’s a scheme that has a long running track of success on third down and against the run, two of the chief problem areas for Buffalo’s defense.

In speaking with Schwartz on a couple of occasions it’s my belief that he’s been in the league long enough to know that you have to adapt to changing trends in the NFL or you’ll be left behind. I do believe some of his defensive scheme has adopted some of the language from Pettine’s scheme for the sake of continuity, but Schwartz believes in his system and he should. The Lions finished sixth against the run and first in third down defense last season.

So while I think there is a healthy respect for the schemes run by Pettine and the Ryans, there are other ways to be successful on the defensive side of the ball. Knowing Schwartz’s scheme is likely to address the two most glaring problems of Buffalo’s defense leaves me feeling encouraged that the team’s new defensive coordinator will have the right answers, they may just be different from what you witnessed here last season.

 

2 -  Hey Chris,

I love your work.  Everyday I look forward to the latest Bills news.  Thanks for keeping us updated.  Living in Dallas, all I get is Dallas Cowboys news.

Here is my question for you, “Can you give any insight on exactly what and how players are graded during the OTA practices?”

Thanks
Shawn Sieracki
Dallas, Texas
CB: Happy to help Shawn and thanks for the compliments. I’m going to turn this one over to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who I believe effectively explained what’s evaluated in the spring practices when there are no pads.

“The only thing we’re really evaluating with players now is their ability to grasp scheme and things like that,” said Schwartz. “The stuff that you’re seeing on the practice field, we’re not judging players on how they finish plays.  It’s a non competitive situation.  We want to learn, we want to learn their role in the defense.  We want to learn how everything fits together, and they are being judged on that and their work ethic.  But the on field stuff, it’s all about technique right now.  When we get to training camp, we’ll start judging them more on wins and losses.  Wins-whether it comes to a coverage or a pass rush or things like that—you have to be careful about judging too much on that stuff out there.  It’s non-contact; it’s not really football.”
3 - Chris

Thanks for your coverage of the Bills.  Is Buddy Nix still affiliated with the Bills? What is his role and did he have any input in the recent draft?

Regards,
Ron Jacobs

CB: Yes, Buddy is still affiliated with the Bills. He no longer works in the office, but is a special assistant to the personnel department. I know that GM Doug Whaley called on him a few times in the pre-draft process to scout a few prospects near his region where he lives in Tennessee.

He was also present in the draft room for all three days of the 2014 draft, sitting in the first row. Having been in the draft room for the whole weekend, Doug Whaley and Russ Brandon went to speak to him on about a dozen occasions.

Many of them appeared to deal with the conversations that Whaley and Brandon had with other NFL clubs concerning trade talks, and as you know Whaley made a handful on draft weekend. It’s clear to me that Nix is still a respected veteran voice in Buffalo’s personnel department.

 

4 – Chris,
Given the new additions on offense do you see the Bills being run heavy or pass heavy? With Dixon and Brown there won’t be enough carries to go around. Getting 4 RB’s the ball seems like a tough task. Given the league is pass heavy and Watkins is in the fold how is the ball going to go around. It’s a pass heavy league and EJ will need to throw 300 yards often. How do you see this shaking out?

CB: Here are the things you need to consider when weighing this question. Will the Bills simply have EJ Manuel carry the offense and throw it all over the field? It’s unlikely. Doug Marrone is a head coach who believes in a run game. Unless he’s got an all-world quarterback that will be his approach. The only difference is Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett will run it at a pace that no one can keep up with.

The pace of the offense last season was compromised by inexperience when injuries struck at quarterback and a new signal caller was starting seemingly every week. All three quarterbacks are a year invested in the system so that is no longer an issue.

So provided they gain the yardage they believe they on the ground consistently, it’ll translate into more first downs, more plays, more yardage and ultimately more points. With more plays there are more carries to go around.

Running as much as Buffalo did last season (they had more total rushes than any team in the NFL in 2013) they’d like to run more this year, as they only ran the ball 48 percent of the time. Keeping the injury factor in mind (See: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson in 2013), Buffalo now has the depth at running back to carry on should one or two of their backs suffer injuries.

The offensive line has also been beefed up with size and strength not only among the starting unit (Chris Williams), but among the reserves (Seantrel Henderson, Cyril Richardson, Chris Hairston, Cyrus Kouandjio). Pass protection is part of it knowing the Bills gave up the fourth-most (48) in the league last year, but it’s about being able to run the ball even when the opponent knows it’s coming.

C.J. and Fred will be the principal players in the run game, but Spiller and Jackson are both versatile talents and will be utilized in the passing game as well. With the depth at running back as well it wouldn’t surprise me if there are multiple backs on the field at the same time.

Hackett always talks about putting the five best skill position players on the field with the five linemen and the QB. One would think that Spiller and Jackson more often than not would be among that group with Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon not far behind.

 

5 - @ChrisBrownBills

What is the competition for RT looking like right now between Pears and Cyrus?#bills

Z_bass10

CB: It’s hard to really make a call on it before the pads are on in training camp. I will say that early in the OTAs, the coaches rotated Kouandjio in with the first unit for a bit less than half the snaps. By the close of OTAs, Kouandjio spent most of his time with the second unit outside of a day when he spent a practice at left tackle due to a lack of numbers on hand.

Kouandjio has to adjust to the speed of NFL pass rushers. He found going against the likes of Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes challenging as you might understand. Pears held his own in the spring practice setting.

For me it’s a competition that’s going to have to wait until St. John Fisher when the pads are on and perhaps well into the preseason.


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Posted in Inside the Bills