AFC East: Jamaal Charles

Hope and Concern: Buffalo Bills

September, 11, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills were throttled by the New York Jets in a 48-28 loss in Week 1. The Bills will try to bounce back and get to .500 with Sunday's home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here is a reason to be hopeful and a reason to be concerned about Buffalo in Week 2:

Reason for hope: RB C.J. Spiller

Spiller was like a rainbow shining for Buffalo in midst of a dreary day. Spiller is currently the NFL's rushing leader after gaining 169 yards and a touchdown against a tough New York defense. He looks ready to turn it up in his third year and will get that opportunity with Fred Jackson (knee) out at least a month. With injuries to Jackson and receiver David Nelson, the Bills should let Spiller do his thing early and often this week. He is a home-run hitter who can take it the distance at any time.

Reason for concern: Defense

New York's offense, which couldn't score a touchdown in the preseason, pretty much did what it wanted against Buffalo's defense. The $100 million acquisition of Mario Williams registered just one tackle. The secondary couldn’t cover anyone and the young corners were exposed. Maybe it was just a bad week. The Bills will do everything they can to fix things defensively in practice. But the Jets' offense was by no means a juggernaut. The Chiefs can present more problems on paper with running back Jamaal Charles, receiver Dwayne Bowe and others. Buffalo's defense needs to be more detailed and feed off the energy at home.

Don't go changing: Bills show faith in O

May, 18, 2011
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At some point, the unlikely collection of NFL teammates struck somebody as unusual, and they began to sort out who the highest draft pick was.

Together last month for a mini passing camp near quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's home in Arizona, eight Buffalo Bills players laughed about their long-shot backgrounds.

Sophomore receiver Marcus Easley was the closest thing to a bonus baby, and he was a fourth-round draft choice with zero NFL games. So who was next in line? Backup quarterback Levi Brown was the answer, a seventh-round pick last year, 209th overall, and unable to make the roster out of training camp.

Bills practice
Courtesy of David NelsonBills players (L to R) Naaman Roosevelt, Levi Brown, Steve Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, David Nelson, Donald Jones and Marcus Easley pose for a picture following a workout last month.
Wide receiver Steve Johnson went 224th, Fitzpatrick 250th. Running back Fred Jackson and receivers David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt weren't drafted at all.

"This is testament of who we are as a group," Nelson said Tuesday night from his home in Dallas. "We all believe in each other. We all push each other. We all compete with each other. We know we're against the odds. We're a bunch of guys nobody gave a chance to."

The Bills have a couple of first-rounders in their offense who didn't attend the workouts. Running back C.J. Spiller and receiver Lee Evans are important components, but it's impressive to consider such a big contingent of overlooked players making up a team's offensive core.

Nelson and the rest of that gang can speak with a little more conviction about their futures in Buffalo now. When they gathered for some casual workouts, there was plenty of doubt about the direction of the offense.

The draft hadn't taken place yet, and the Bills owned the third and 34th selections. There was considerable talk about a quarterback being a serious option. If Auburn star Cam Newton still were on the board, could the Bills pass him up? Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert might have been a possibility, and it was anybody's guess who would still be on the board in the second round.

"I'm sure Fitz was bracing for something," Jackson said Tuesday of the pre-draft mood. "Everybody had to be."

One thing was for sure among the Bills' players: They were rooting for the front office to stand pat at quarterback.

"We've been talking about it as a receiver group for a while," Nelson said. "We were hoping that they would stay away from quarterbacks in the draft because we have all the confidence in the world in Fitz and what he can do. We like the direction we're headed in with him."

The Bills gave their offensive players a major vote of confidence last month. Of their nine draft choices, only two play offense. They drafted Clemson tackle Chris Hairston in the fourth round and North Carolina running back Johnny White in the fifth round.

The Bills will acquire more offensive players whenever free agency dawns. General manager Buddy Nix has said they will sign another quarterback, but the club sent a strong message about Fitzpatrick's standing when they didn't draft one.

"They showed they have a lot of faith in Fitz," Jackson said. "Me and my teammates all have a lot of faith in him, too. We're excited about that. I'm looking forward to working with him and trying to build on what we did last year and making that playoff push."

Fitzpatrick and Jackson will enter the 2011 season with substantially more juice than they had last summer. Both of them were considered backups.

"You have to say that it had some kind of affect on us," Jackson said. "We weren't on the same page when we got in the lineup, but that's part of the game, and we have to adjust.

"It does hurt to not get the reps, but as long as you mentally prepare like you are the No. 1 guy, you can hit the ground running. Hopefully, now we can get those reps and go into this season as the No. 1 guys and put this team on our shoulders and make some plays."

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesThe Bills are confident in Ryan Fitzpatrick's ability to lead the team.
Fitzpatrick won over the Bills' locker room and much of their fan base last year. Trent Edwards' presence had worn thin everywhere. The man known as "Captain Checkdown" was uninspiring at best. He was frequently injured and rarely showed a hint of nerve.

New coach Chan Gailey backed him in the beginning. Edwards took most of the offseason reps and was named the No. 1 quarterback when training camp opened. Edwards started all four preseason games.

Fitzpatrick, Brown and Brian Brohm fought over the scraps. Fitzpatrick attempted 23 passes before the season.

Asked at the NFL scouting combine in February whether he regretted those decisions, Gailey replied, "Shoot, yeah. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have done that."

At 0-2, the Bills made an abrupt change. They waived Edwards.

Fitzpatrick was a jolt to the huddle, to the Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd, to the community. He grew a bird's-nest beard and called himself the "Amish Rifle." He wore his wedding ring during games. He actually threw the ball downfield.

He made the games entertaining again, even the defeats. Fans forgave him for occasional reckless interceptions.

Jackson was in a similar situation despite rushing for more than 1,000 yards the previous season.

He was in a crowded backfield with Marshawn Lynch and hotshot rookie Spiller and didn't start the first four games, carrying the ball 20 times for 87 yards through the first quarter of the season.

When the Bills traded Lynch for a 2011 fourth-round draft choice and a conditional 2012 sixth-round pick, the door opened for Jackson again.

"Right now, I feel like I'm the No. 1 guy and C.J. will come in and get a lot of plays," Jackson said. "I feel like I'm going to be the guy that's carrying the load and has got to make that running game go.

"I'm sure C.J.'s working hard and will [have] the opportunities as well, but I just got to shoulder the load and take the pressure off Fitz and make us a balanced offense. I want to be that guy."

Spiller generated preseason buzz for rookie of the year honors, but he had a disappointing campaign (283 rushing yards and no touchdowns, 157 receiving yards and one touchdown) and still has much to prove.

Jackson rushed for 614 yards in the second half of the season, tying with Ray Rice for sixth in the NFL in that span. The running backs ahead of them were Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles, Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Nice company.

The Bills ranked 25th in total offense, 18th in run offense and 24th in pass offense. Not too swift compared to the rest of the NFL.

But all of their best offensive superlatives in 15 categories (points, first downs, yards, etc.) happened Oct. 24 or later. The same can be said about individual player superlatives, aside from Fitzpatrick's 71.4 completion percentage in Week 3 against the New England Patriots.

The Bills obviously found enough there to make a commitment, and the players aren't crying for help. They're thrilled the group will stay together.

"We did some good things on offense last year," Jackson said. "We feel like if we could get back on the field healthy and get another crack at this thing, we'll continue to have some success."

Fans cut Woodhead from 'Madden 12' race

April, 11, 2011
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I doubt Danny Woodhead will pout about it.

He's not the type.

Woodhead's quest to be on the cover of "Madden NFL 12" is over. The New England Patriots running back had fun with the campaign but received only 44 percent of the votes in his head-to-head matchup with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis took three out of every five votes against Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and advanced to meet Rodgers in the final four.

On the other side of the tournament bracket, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick got 61 percent of the vote to eliminate San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson collected 62 percent against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

Woodhead alive, Sanchez out in 'Madden 12'

April, 4, 2011
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New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead advanced to the quarterfinals in the "Madden NFL 12" cover tournament, and if he can make it to final four, then you have to like his chances to win it all.

Woodhead received 57 percent of the fan vote in his tournament matchup against New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks and advanced to face Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the elite eight.

Rodgers is a difficult foe in a popularity contest, but Woodhead is a fan favorite, too. Woodhead's drawing from the Boston and New York markets because he endeared himself to Jets fans before the club cut him last year.

A victory over Rodgers would allow smoother sailing ahead. Woodhead would face either Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles or Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis -- each of them advanced with just 51 percent -- in the final four.

Woodhead is the last AFC East representative still alive in the bracket.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was annihilated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who received 61 percent of the votes.

Long giving Sanchez a run in Madden vote

March, 24, 2011
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You still have a few more days to select which players advance from the first round of the Madden 12 cover tournament.

ESPN.com video game writer Jon Robinson blogged some updates Thursday, and New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is having a tougher time than expected with Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long.

Other surprises include Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow getting thumped by Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

The battle between Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson and New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead wasn't mentioned.

If you're a gamer who wants a sneak preview, you can watch the Madden 12 highlight videos for each of the 32 entries in the bracket.

I've included the Woodhead video below. Click on the other three AFC East nominees to see theirs: video

Running back rankings and how I do them

March, 15, 2011
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ESPN.com debuted its positional power rankings series last week with wide receivers. The two articles I wrote about my ballot (and my breakdown of the AFC East) sparked lively discussions about my process.

Readers demanded to know my criteria. My explanation seemed to chafe a few. I stated that my ballot simply reflected my personal taste about how they performed last season.

Stats are a part of equation. They must be to an extent. But if I wanted to go purely on stats, then I would post a link to ESPN.com's fantasy leaders.

I steer clear of metrics. You can pick and choose a specific mathematical equation and make it support any case -- even though you might be comparing a slot receiver catching passes from an elite quarterback to a No. 1 receiver who's constantly double covered on a run-oriented offense. Can't do it.

In the end, it comes down to subjective judgment. Feel free to disagree. An exchange of ideas is the whole point. I don't need to agree with you, and you don't need to accept my list as gospel. Agents won't use the AFC East blog in contract negotiations. The Pro Football Hall of Fame won't use my power rankings to determine induction.

In response to a question about underrated Buffalo Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist for the documentary "Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League," legendary runner Jim Brown summed up my sentiments.

"Who gets compared to me and all of that, I couldn't care less about," Brown said. "I don't compare a rose to a petunia. They both have their own kind of beauty. It all depends on what you prefer."

And for those who require statistical reasoning, I share with you a quote another Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer told me a couple months ago for a story about Andre Reed's induction hopes.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," said Paul Warfield, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work. You're supposed to be able to do a lot of things.

"As a receiver, catching the ball is primary and important. But I don't think it takes very much skill or maneuverability to step a couple yards off the line of scrimmage and someone pops you with a pass several times."

So, as you peruse my ballots the next several Tuesdays, that's where I'm coming from.

This week's power rankings position is running back.

My ballot:
  1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
  2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
  3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
  5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
  7. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
  8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
  10. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

The most obvious omission was St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. I thought long and hard about including him, but I couldn't talk myself into it. Jackson scored only six touchdowns and had little impact in the passing game. Of the 17 backs who rushed for 1,000 yards, his 3.8 yards per carry were better than only Cedric Benson's average.

Some might point out that defenses girded up to remove Jackson from the game, but there are other runners on that list who had worse quarterback situations than the Rams did. I think people still see Jackson as the all-around superstar from 2006.

Hillis was another tough call because of his fumbles. But he was Cleveland's entire offense. Opponents still couldn't stop him. He also added 61 receptions for another 477 yards and a couple touchdowns, numbers that get overlooked.

I'll come back later Tuesday with a ranking of AFC East backs.

Tom Brady aside, who merits OPOY love?

February, 1, 2011
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The Associated Press will announce its 2010 offensive player of the year on Tuesday.

Some might assume it's a foregone conclusion New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will win the award because he's virtually guaranteed to be named MVP on Sunday and, well, he plays offense.

Frequently, though, the MVP and the offensive player of the year do not match. The reason is that MVP is a more transcendent honor that goes beyond stats and includes team success, while the offensive player of the year award generally is based on prolific production.

Brady
Since the AP began naming a top offensive and defensive player in 1972, the OPOY and MVP have differed 16 times. They've differed 13 times since 1986 and six times since 1999.

For instance, quarterback Peyton Manning was voted MVP the past two seasons for guiding the Indianapolis Colts to dominant regular seasons. But Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (record 2,509 yards from scrimmage) was OPOY for last season. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (15 yards short of Dan Marino's passing yardage record) was OPOY for 2008.

The last player to match? Brady in 2007.

There's a good chance he'll win both again for 2010 because he posted amazing personal stats while quarterbacking the Patriots to a league-high 14 victories. Brady led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and a 111.0 passer rating (fifth all-time) while throwing a league-low four interceptions. He broke the record for most attempts without an interception.

The AP panel made Brady a unanimous selection at quarterback, but he'll probably lose some votes for OPOY. Top candidates to snag some include Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (led NFL in rushing yards and TDs), Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (6.4 yards per carry) and Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White (led NFL in receptions and second in yards).

Since nobody else in the AFC East deserves a look for OPOY, let's narrow the focus to the division only and set Brady aside for the sake of discussion.

Who had the second-best offensive year in the AFC East?

That's a tough call.

Patriots back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the only 1,000-yard rusher, albeit barely, and scored 13 touchdowns.

Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall tied Patriots receiver Wes Welker for the division lead with 86 receptions and gained 1,014 yards but scored only three touchdowns. Welker had 848 yards and seven touchdowns.

Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson had a fabulous season with 82 receptions, 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The New York Jets spread the ball around so much, nobody recorded staggering numbers, but receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards each had great campaigns.

Who do you think had the best season among those not named Brady?

Wrap-up: Chiefs 13, Bills 10

October, 31, 2010
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Some thoughts about the Buffalo Bills' 13-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

What it means: Heartbreak again. For the second straight week, the Bills hung tough with a team many expected to annihilate them and went into overtime before losing by a field goal. The Bills are 0-7.

Torture: In sudden death, Bills kicker Rian Lindell missed a 53-yard attempt. On the ensuing possession, Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop missed a 39-yard try before closing them out as bonus time expired.

Live and die with Fitzpatrick: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick extended his streak of touchdown passes to eight games, tying the game with a 4-yard toss to Steve Johnson in the fourth quarter.

Then the Bills had the ball on the Chiefs' 41-yard line with 32 seconds left in regulation. Eric Berry intercepted at the 27. In overtime, Fitzpatrick was flagged for intentional grounding on a third-down play from the Chiefs' 42-yard line, forcing a punt rather than a possible field goal.

Bills defense pro and con: The Bills held the Chiefs to just 10 points in regulation time, but they also got trampled for 254 rushing yards by Jamaal Charles (177) and Thomas Jones (77).

Johnson's streak intact: His touchdown reception gives him at least one score in five straight games, tying a club record held by Elbert Dubenion (1964), Eric Moulds (1999) and Lee Evans (2004).

What's next: The Bills play their annual "home game" in Toronto in Week 9. The Chicago Bears will be their opponent.

Bills at Chiefs predictions

October, 29, 2010
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ESPN analysts Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi examine the Buffalo Bills' game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.

Both predict the Chiefs will win. Bruschi says "this one may be a blowout" because the Bills are so poor at stopping the run, while the Chiefs have Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles.

Bills' offense not enough versus Chiefs

October, 28, 2010
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AccuScore's computers weren't overly impressed with the Buffalo Bills' offensive explosion last week against a respected Baltimore Ravens' defense.

In a departure from Las Vegas' line of thinking, AccuScore forecasts the Bills as the second-biggest underdogs of Week 8. They will play the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.

AccuScore's 10,000 simulations project the Chiefs as 67 percent favorites. Only the Indianapolis Colts have a greater probability this week in their game against the Houston Texans.

Some other AccuScore predictions to consider for the Bills: hot quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a 61 percent chance of throwing at least one interception, and if he does, then the Chiefs become 73 percent favorites.

But if Fitzpatrick throws no more than one interception and the Bills' atrocious run defense can keep Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles under 5 yards a carry, then the Bills turn into 56 percent favorites.

Does Buffalo have shot to stop a stampede?

October, 28, 2010
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey responded with an expression that said Yeah, no kiddin'! when I brought up the adversity his defensive line will face Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Buffalo still owns the NFL's worst run defense despite morphing its 3-4 scheme into more of a four-man front a few weeks ago. Kansas City ranks first in rushing yards per game.

The Chiefs have a pair of running backs who can sting a defense. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have combined for 950 yards and five touchdowns already. Charles is averaging 6 yards a carry with two touchdowns. Jones is averaging 4.7 yards a carry and has three touchdowns.

The Bills have been particularly vulnerable between the tackles, surrendering a league-high 476 yards on rushes up the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

For Gailey, there's only one answer for his D-line.

"You've got to whip the blocker and get off the blocker and make the tackle," Gailey said. "You've got to do what you're responsible for in your gap. That's the one thing we've got to continue to get better at is getting on the block so that they can't knock you off the ball and then getting off the block and getting to the tackle.

"That's the No. 1 thing about playing defense: Can you get off the blocker and get to the ball without giving up your gap responsibility? That's it in a nutshell. It’s not that easy, but it's an easier explanation than it is to do."

Video: Greene versus Charles, 'Man 2 Man'

August, 17, 2010
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In the latest edition of their "Man 2 Man" series, ESPN fantasy gadabouts Matthew Berry and Eric Karabell debate the merits of a pair of running backs projected for the second round: Shonn Greene of the New York Jets and Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.

They also give their take on LaDainian Tomlinson and goal-line carries.

Karabell goes with Charles: "The second half of last season, he was arguably the best running back in all of fantasy not named Chris Johnson. Charles was terrific, and I think the reason why people were scared of him is because Thomas Jones is there. Thomas Jones may or may not be on top of the depth chart. Don't worry about that. Charles is really, really good. He can catch passes. He can break long runs. ... I almost have Charles in my top 10. I trust that Thomas Jones is going to be the backup. Charles is going to get at least 75 percent of the rushes."

Berry prefers Greene: "Last year, 607 rushing attempts for the New York Jets. No other team came within 50 of that, the most in the NFL. Third-most rushing touchdowns last year. There were three games Shonn Greene got at least 19 carries, and in each of those games he had at least 128 rushing yards, and he scored in each game. He's running behind one of the best offensive lines in football on a team that is going to run the ball."

Report: Second-rounder gets Lynch

April, 13, 2010
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According to a report by Yahoo! Sports writer Charles Robinson, the Buffalo Bills haven't been actively trying to move running back Marshawn Lynch, but they'll entertain offers and are open to trading Lynch for a package that includes a second-round pick.

Marshawn Lynch
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesIn three seasons with the Bills, Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 2,601 yards, but he has run into trouble away from the field.
Yeah, good luck with that.

A second-round pick?

Robinson, citing an unnamed sources, reports the Seattle Seahawks have had internal discussions about making a play for Lynch.

Lynch has the potential to be elite. That's why the Bills drafted him 12th overall three years ago. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons and made a Pro Bowl.

But Lynch, much like Santonio Holmes, is one misstep away from a long suspension. Lynch began last season with a three-game suspension for repeated misbehavior. He was involved in a hit-and-run incident in Buffalo and made a plea deal on gun charges in California. He has been accused of other transgressions, too.

A second-round pick for a player with Lynch's rap sheet seems expensive. The Scouts Inc. draft board projects Cal's Jahvid Best and Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster as second-round picks in this year's draft.

Talented running backs aren't that difficult to discover. Lynch eventually lost his starting job to Fred Jackson, a Division III product who wasn't drafted at all.

Here's a list of running backs who have been drafted in the third round: Shonn Greene, Frank Gore, Steve Slaton and Jamaal Charles. In the fourth round: Marion Barber, Brandon Jacobs and Darren Sproles.

If you'll allow me to mix up positions, the New York Jets acquired Holmes for a fifth-round choice. There's a belief the Denver Broncos will accept a high second-round pick for Brandon Marshall.

Buffalo might very well pull the trigger on a Lynch trade, but if the front office can finagle a second-round draft pick out of another team, then it will be a substantial coup.

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