2014 BUFFALO BILLS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
August 18, 2014By Brian Cox of INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
2014 BUFFALO BILLS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
HEAD COACH: DOUG MARRONE, 1ST YEAR
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: NATE HACKETT
DEFENSIVE CORDINATOR: JIM SCHWARTZ
OFFENSE PPG: 21.2
TOTAL OFFENSE: 338.1
DEFENSE PPG: 24.3
TOTAL DEFENSE: 333.4
TURNOVER MARGIN: +3
The Buffalo Bills franchise is facing many question marks after the death of owner Ralph Wilson Jr. The Bills have missed the playoffs a league-high 14 straight seasons and like many teams, there is talk of re-locating the franchise. Before any decisions are made about their future, the current regime is looking at the present and they want to win now!
EJ Manuel is back but there are questions about his durability after missing six games in 2013 because of various knee injuries. Buffalo picked Manuel with their first pick in last years’ draft and they are convinced he is their man. Manuel did throw for 11 TD’s, setting a rookie record for the Bills.
Manuel should have plenty of weapons around him after the Bills selected WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson) in the first round of the draft. Buffalo gave up a first round pick in this year’s draft and a first round pick next year in order to move up to get Watkins. Many scouts are comparing Watkins to Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, not in terms of size, but ability. Watkins should start right away for a passing offense that ranked 28th in the NFL last season. Watkins had 240 receptions and holds 23 school records at Clemson. Joining Watkins will be Mike Williams (FA-TB), Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin as the top four receivers. Scott Chandler led the team in receptions (53) and will return at TE. WR Stevie Johnson left for SF as a free agent.
Buffalo has one of the better running attacks in the NFL with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller forming the two-headed monster. Jackson and Spiller combined for 1,823 yards in 2013, both averaging over 4.2 yards per carry. To add depth, the Bills acquired Bryce Brown from Philadelphia.
The Offensive line continues to grow with third-year players C Eric Wood and LT Cordy Glenn. The O-line gave up 48 sacks last season and converted only 34% on third down. Buffalo signed St. Louis LG Chris Williams to help with depth and challenge for a starting job with Doug Legursky. The Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama) and Seantrel Henderson (Miami) to challenge RT Erik Pears.
DC Mike Pettine left Buffalo for Cleveland to be the Browns head coach so former Detroit HC Jim Schwartz was hired to run the defense. Buffalo also hired assistant coaches Pepper Johnson and Fred Pagac to help shore up the NFL’s 10th ranked defense. The Bills had difficulties in stopping the run, but their pass rush was much improved in 2013. The Bills set a club record with 57 sacks, leading the AFC. Buffalo also managed 23 interceptions, ranking 2nd in the NFL.
This year Buffalo will run a 4-3 scheme instead of the 3-4 under Pettine. The Bills were led by DE Mario Williams (13 sacks), DT Kyle Williams (10.5 sacks), LB Jerry Hughes (10 sacks) and DE Marcell Dareus (10 sacks). In the 4-3, Schwartz will use LB Manny Lawson at DE at times with Alan Branch and Corbin Bryant as back-ups. Dareus may not play right away because of an NFL suspension on felony drug charges.
The secondary will be solid again (ranked 4th overall) with Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin anchoring the corners. Buffalo signed free-agent Corey Graham (Baltimore) to provide depth. McKelvin is coming off his best season as a pro. Losing Jarius Byrd (New Orleans) to free-agency will hurt. The Bills will look to Da’Norris Searcy to fill that void. Aaron Williams has converted from CB and will be at SS.
The Bills are strong at LB with Kiko Alonso having a monster season (159 tackles and 4 interceptions). Free-agent Brandon Spikes will start in the middle with Keith Rivers manning the outside. Rookie’s Randell Johnson (Florida Atlantic) and Preston Brown (Louisville) will be given every chance to see time.
Buffalo will need more consistency if they plan are making a playoff run. EJ Manuel must stay healthy and make the most of this opportunity and show why they drafted him #1 last season. Watkins will give Manuel a true weapon on offense and that should make the passing game more of a threat. This team has more talent than their record may show.
For over a month, the Bills were rumored to be interested in trading up into the Top 5, and that's exactly what happened. Here's what it cost to make the move up:
Considered the most explosive receiver in the draft and, by many, the best receiver prospect to come into the league since the 2011 duo of A.J. Green and Julio Jones, Watkins walks into Buffalo as the team's No. 1 receiving target.
With Watkins on board, one of the Bills' most popular and marketable players over the last four years suddenly became expendable.
Trade No. 3
The Bills and the Rams executed a trade in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, then did some more business in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In both instances, the Rams moved up, while the Bills moved down.
A top recruit whose draft stock faltered a bit, Kouandjio received a first-round grade from the Bills, and will almost certainly become the team's starting right tackle in 2014.
Limited athletically, Brown nonetheless has plug-and-play ability as a two-down middle linebacker at the NFL level, which may not be relevant in 2014 as he's slotted to back up Brandon Spikes.
Cornerbacks with size, ball skills and some positional versatility are not easy to come by in the middle rounds; Cockrell gives the Bills much-needed depth at corner.
After eight running backs were selected on the second day of the draft, the Bills finally pulled the trigger on a trade they'd been working on for months, giving themselves some upside and a 2015 Plan B with their top two running backs heading toward free agency.
Trade No. 4
For the second time in the draft, the Bills executed a trade down - but this time, their return yielded a future draft pick instead of one in the same round this year.
A two-time Big 12 award winner for offensive line play, Richardson slid a bit due to some technical issues in need of refinement and a bad Senior Bowl week. The massive, powerful run blocker has a shot to compete for a starting job, perhaps even as a rookie.
The seventh round is all about athletic projects, and Johnson (6'3", 242, 4.6 speed, 38.5-inch vertical) certainly qualifies as athletic. He projects as a strong-side linebacker in the Bills' defense.
Again, the seventh round is all about athletic projects; Henderson, a former No. 1 recruit, has prototypical size and talents for the tackle position, but must overcome concerns about his motivation and, more importantly, a very long line of off-field concerns.