AFC East: T.J. Graham

The Buffalo Bills plan to waive wide receiver T.J. Graham prior to Saturday's cut-down deadline, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, was buried on the Bills' depth chart this summer and had been on the trading block. The Bills did not find any takers, per Caplan:


If Graham clears waivers, the Bills have the option of re-signing him to their practice squad as soon as noon Sunday. Graham is eligible for the practice squad under the NFL's new rules this season, but it's unclear if there would be mutual interest between him and the team.

In two seasons in Buffalo, Graham played in 31 games, making 17 starts. He had 23 catches for 361 yards and two touchdowns last season.

The Bills upgraded their wide receiver position this offseason, trading up for Sammy Watkins and later dealing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Mike Williams. That pushed Graham down the depth chart.

Graham is known for his speed, but has shown inconsistent pass-catching ability.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have kept wide receiver T.J. Graham on the trade block for the past several months, sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

It's not a surprise. The Bills bolstered their receiver group this offseason by drafting Sammy Watkins and trading for Mike Williams. Even with the departure of Stevie Johnson, there likely wasn't room for Graham.

Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, started 11 games his rookie season, catching 31 passes. He started six games last season and finished with 23 catches and two touchdowns.

After sitting out organized team activities following offseason groin surgery, Graham saw limited action with the first-team offense in training camp. Though he has proven to be a deep threat early in his NFL career, Graham has inconsistent hands and has struggled with drops this summer.

If the Bills are able to deal Graham, it would likely be for a late-round, conditional choice.

Teams might also be waiting for Graham to hit the waiver wire. Unless the Bills keep seven receivers, Graham could be waived by this weekend.

Behind top receivers Watkins, Williams, and Robert Woods, the Bills have Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, and Marcus Easley to round out their depth chart. Easley and Hogan finished first and third, respectively, in special teams tackles last season.

Bills Camp Report: Day 26

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Given the circumstances -- being in enemy territory and at the end of their fourth, long week of training camp -- this was probably the best the Bills' offense has looked this summer. The operation in 11-on-11 moved more quickly than Wednesday. Coaches were vocal about players getting in and out of the huddle, and when the ball was snapped, EJ Manuel was quick and accurate as a passer. There was only one penalty -- an apparent false start on tight end Scott Chandler. Very crisp.
  • While there were several scuffles in Wednesday's practice, especially early, things cooled down Thursday. There was less talking from the Steelers' defense and less extracurricular hitting after plays, at least in 11-on-11s between the Bills' offense and Steelers' defense. On the other practice field, the Bills' defense and Steelers' offense had a sideline-clearing incident at one point, although it was tough to see who was at the center of the action.
  • All eyes were on Manuel after Doug Marrone was defensive about Manuel's performance Wednesday in his pre-practice news conference. Marrone said he charted Wednesday's practice as Manuel's best to that point in camp, citing a 60 percent completion rate and a 56 percent "accuracy rate." A 60-percent completion rate would have ranked 26th in the NFL last season, so in a sense, it wasn't a glowing endorsement of Manuel's practices prior to Wednesday. In this view, a 60-percent completion rate isn't anything the Bills should celebrate, but Manuel's 77-percent rate Thursday is deserving of praise.
  • The Bills have been cycling through receivers with their first-team offense. Thursday was no different. Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins were the first pairing, but we also saw Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan, as well as T.J. Graham mixing in. Part of that could be tied to the absence of Marquise Goodwin, but perhaps it's too early to count out Graham. He's seen more reps since the start of camp.
  • Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has struggled for much of training camp and by all accounts had a rough afternoon Wednesday in one-on-one pass-rush drills. That changed Thursday when Kouandjio had some quality reps in that same drill. Coming back from his final rep, he got a fist bump and a pat on the back from coach Doug Marrone. It's a sign of progress.
  • The same players who were held out of practice Wednesday did not participate Thursday, a group including Goodwin, tight end Tony Moeaki, and guard Chris Williams.
  • The Bills are off Friday before meeting the Steelers for a preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday night.
Before the Buffalo Bills kicked off their preseason in the Hall of Fame game, we identified six offensive players to keep an eye on during the contest.

Let's circle back on their playing time and performances Sunday against the New York Giants:

T.J. Graham -- As they've done lately in camp, the Bills gave Graham plenty of action Sunday night. He played in 25 snaps -- second-most of any Bills receiver -- entering late in the first quarter and playing through the end of the first half. The same deficiencies that the Bills have seen from Graham the past two seasons cropped up again. On his first play, Jeff Tuel targeted Graham down the left sideline. The ball was slightly underthrown but at 5-foot-11, Graham didn't have the catch radius to haul it in, instead batting it down to prevent an interception. In the second quarter, Graham had a pass on a quick slant go through his hands. On a similar play later in the quarter, a Giants cornerback reached in front and deflected a pass into the air, causing an interception. Graham's hands and concentration need improvement.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJeff Tuel had a decent showing against the Giants, going 12-of-17 for 74 yards.
Jeff Tuel -- Played 26 snaps, entering late in the first quarter and playing through the end of the first half. Tuel has arguably had a stronger training camp than Thad Lewis, the top backup last season, which may have earned him the No. 2 job on Sunday night. He had the Bills' highest QB rating of the night (74.1) and completed 12 of 17 passes for 74 yards. His best throw came on a 3rd-and-15 in the second quarter, when a pass protection breakdown forced him to scramble. On the run, he fired an accurate pass to Graham along the sideline. Graham came up a yard short of the first down, but it was the right throw. Tuel also showed off his underrated wheels on a 13-yard scramble. Not a bad night, and one that puts Tuel in the lead for the No. 2 QB job.

Seantrel Henderson -- As expected, Henderson started in place of Cordy Glenn at left tackle. He played 30 snaps, exiting before the final drive of the second quarter. Henderson held up well against Jason Pierre-Paul on the first two drives, with the exception of a second-and-11 play where there looked to be a mix-up with running back Fred Jackson, leading to Pierre-Paul getting in EJ Manuel's face to bat down a ball. Pierre-Paul then beat Henderson on the first play of the third drive to pressure Tuel. As a run-blocker, Henderson was solid. Overall, it wasn't a flawless night, but an encouraging one from a seventh-round pick in his first NFL game against one of the league's better pass-rushers.

Chris Gragg -- He played in 46 snaps, more than any player on either team. That was expected, as the Bills were without top tight ends Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki, while Gragg is very much on the roster bubble. Gragg was in the game from start to finish, playing with all three quarterbacks. His four catches for 24 yards all came in the second half, from Thad Lewis. One of those catches came when Gragg was lined up in the backfield and flared into the flat. He wasn't used much in pass protection and didn't have any breakdowns in run blocking that we noticed.

Cyrus Kouandjio -- He played in 41 snaps, second-most of any Bills offensive lineman. He entered the game late in the second quarter and played the remainder of the contest. Kouandjio's struggles from training camp carried over quickly, as he was caught off-balance on his second play, leading to Damontre Moore sacking Tuel. On the next play, Moore beat Kouandjio inside to force a scramble. Kouandjio also allowed a sack in the fourth quarter when Kerry Wynn used a double-move to shake Kouandjio and take down a hurried Lewis. Kouandjio held up better as a run-blocker. Overall, Sunday night was a reminder that the 21-year old is a young, raw prospect who needs a lot of technique coaching.

Cyril Richardson -- The fifth-round pick played in 29 snaps, entering the game for Kraig Urbik at right guard late in the first quarter. Urbik came back into the game for the final two drives of the second quarter and again for one drive in the third quarter. Richardson was then replaced by J.J. Unga in the fourth quarter. The rotation indicates that there is a battle between Urbik and Richardson (and potentially Chris Hairston) for the starting right guard job. He generally showed well in the running game, especially as a drive blocker, but had a breakdown on a third-and-1 in the third quarter that led to a run being stopped in the backfield. Richardson could also improve his blocking in space, especially when pulling for outside runs and screen passes. Yet it was an encouraging night for Richardson, who wouldn't look out of place as the opening day starter at right guard.

Bills Camp Report: Day 2

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • There has been a throng of national media watching Bills camp through two days and they've seen Sammy Watkins put on a show. After catching every pass thrown his way in Sunday night's practice, Watkins continued to impress on Monday. He strode past Leodis McKelvin for a would-be touchdown grab early in practice and made a catch over three defenders look effortless later on. It's not just the deep game, either: he used his long arms to snag a pass on a crossing pattern, through traffic at one point as well. Watkins has that rare size and speed combination that can make him a dangerous weapon against opposing defenses. His height, long arms, and make-it-look-easy strides remind me of Randy Moss.
  • Speaking of height and speed, I've been impressed with Bryce Brown thus far in camp. The 6-foot running back has long legs and shows some burst getting into the second level. The Bills coveted Brown for more than a year before acquiring him in May. It remains to be seen how many carries the Bills can siphon from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to Brown, but he adds depth to a backfield that didn't have much of it last season.
  • Nigel Bradham continues to see first-team reps at linebacker, a surprise given how his role virtually evaporated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season. Even coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change in Bradham's work ethic. "Honestly, I think last year Nigel struggled at times with us," Marrone said Monday. "I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for." The Bills are giving Bradham the first crack at replacing Kiko Alonso and he seems to have impressed the coaching staff. The issue with Bradham may be his abilities in stopping the run: The Bills turned to Arthur Moats last season against heavier offenses and rookie Preston Brown is knocking on the door for playing time on defense. It's a battle we'll continue to monitor closely.
  • After missing all of organized team activities and minicamp, T.J. Graham is back practicing this week. The results have been up-and-down. He made the play of Sunday's practice when he caught a deep bomb from Jeff Tuel, but in one of his first routes Monday he had a pass fall right through his hands after beating a defender on a similar deep route. Graham is the top "bubble" player for the Bills and can't afford those sort of plays.
  • Cordy Glenn remained out of practice Monday and the Bills are still mum on what landed him on the non-football illness list. "It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not," Marrone said. "I’m just waiting for the doctors and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football. I’m planning on playing and right now he’s not there, so I have to play with him not being there. When they tell me he’s there then obviously we’ll plug him back in."
The shorts and flip-flops are out in Buffalo, which can only mean one thing: training camp is right around the corner.

While an exact date hasn't been announced, the Buffalo Bills will begin training camp as early as the third weekend in July. That's sooner than usual because the Bills will play in the Hall of Fame game in early August.

Even before the Bills kick things off at St. John Fisher College, players can get in valuable work over the next three weeks during organized team activities. While the emphasis is on teaching and installation -- not so much evaluation -- players who excel in OTAs could carry that momentum into training camp.

Obviously, it's beneficial for every player to attend OTAs, pick up the system quickly, and build a head of steam entering the summer. Yet for some Bills, it's even more important that they don't fall behind in the coming weeks.

In our view, here are the players who will be under the microscope the most in OTAs:

EJ Manuel: This is a no-brainer. Unlike Geno Smith, his 2013 draft counterpart in New York, Manuel won't face veteran competition during training camp. It's a move designed to take some pressure off Manuel, whose health and up-and-down rookie season have been well-documented. Yet it keeps the spotlight squarely on Manuel, as backups Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel don't pose a challenge to supplant Manuel as the opening-day starter. How Manuel and Sammy Watkins, the Bills' 2014 first-round draft pick, fit together during the three weeks of OTAs will be of top concern from an outside perspective.

T.J. Graham: Graham could face an uphill battle during training camp this summer and will need to be sharper than most players over the next few months. He can't control how Mike Williams fares in training camp, or how Marquise Goodwin's role within the offense changes in his second season. Those two players are Graham's main competition. Goodwin is a near-lock to make the roster, while Williams' guaranteed salary makes him an unappealing cut come August. Yet if Graham can leap-frog either on the depth chart, it will help his case to stick. What Graham can control, then, is how he can become a more complete receiver. He's mainly a speed threat, but improving his pass-catching and route-running abilities should be his top goals.

Erik Pears: Pears turns 32 next month and while he proved durable last season with the Bills, his health and conditioning should be of prime concern as he preps for training camp. Pears faces stiff competition at right tackle from second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. Like Graham, Pears' fate could be out of his control. If Kouandjio develops well over the next few months, then I don't think the Bills will hesitate to make him their starter at right tackle. If Kouandjio is slower to come along, then Pears could hold onto his starting job. He struggled as a run-blocker last season and while OTAs don't involve contact, improving his technique should be tops on his list.

Marcell Dareus: The Bills exercised Dareus' fifth-year option for 2015 in April and within two weeks he was arrested for felony drug charges in Alabama. Dareus' court date hasn't been set yet and since he faces felony charges, the legal process could be drawn out. In the meantime, Dareus must make a good impression on the coaching staff if he participates in OTAs. He ended last season on the wrong note when he was suspended for parts of the final two games. OTAs are voluntary and the coaching staff can't discipline players for not taking part, but I can't imagine too many around the Bills' facility will be happy if any of Dareus' issues from last season carry over into OTAs or minicamp.

Duke Williams: The Bills want to give Williams a chance to make an impression and earn a starting role. As we've noted previously, Williams didn't take advantage of his opportunities last season. The Bills weren't able to re-sign Jairus Byrd and didn't sign any veteran to replace him. That leaves a gaping hole in the secondary. While the Bills signed Aaron Williams to a contract extension and praised him as their next young star, he will need to continue to prove it. Even then, who will start alongside Aaron Williams? Duke Williams has the chance to take over that spot but he'll need to take steps forward during OTAs, minicamp and training camp to lock down that role.
The Buffalo Bills' trade Thursday night that netted Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins has implications beyond its steep cost.

In moving up five spots to select Watkins, the Bills gave up their 2015 first- and fourth-round picks, limiting their ability to add players in next spring's draft. The implication there? The Bills better make the playoffs, or there could be another group of decision-makers calling the shots next season.

There are more immediate effects, however. Let's dive in:

No excuses for Manuel: To borrow a line from "Wedding Crashers," quarterback EJ Manuel must follow rule No. 76: "No excuses, play like a champion." If the Bills are right about Watkins, then Manuel has his No. 1 receiver. Calvin Johnson makes Matthew Stafford better, Julio Jones makes Matt Ryan better, and A.J. Green makes Andy Dalton better. If Manuel doesn't improve this season, it will be hard to justify the Bills keeping him as the starter into 2015. But it's very realistic to expect Manuel to improve. The Bills have given him what he needs to be successful and it should be a fun training camp and preseason as we potentially see Manuel mature.

What to do with Stevie? When asked about Stevie Johnson's future Thursday night after the trade, general manager Doug Whaley told reporters that they could "pontificate" about that as they wished. Well, why not? The Bills aren't going to publicly say it, but it makes plenty of sense for the team to listen to trade offers for Johnson. He's not the Bills' No. 1 receiver anymore and with Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin looking to take a step forward in their second seasons, there could be less opportunities for Johnson. He still has three years remaining on his deal, which means the Bills wouldn't have much of a salary cap benefit by trading or releasing Johnson this offseason. I would expect the Bills to entertain offers in the coming weeks and months and make a decision by training camp if they want to do a deal or not.

What about Graham? Remember T.J. Graham? He's now buried on the Bills' depth chart at wide receiver. A former third-round pick, you could argue Graham is now as low as No. 6 on the Bills' depth chart. He won't push Watkins, Woods, or Johnson (if he remains) for playing time and barring Mike Williams being a complete disappointment, Graham won't surpass his playing time, either. Graham will need to push Goodwin for a role, but it still would be shocking if Goodwin was cut after just one season. With special teams captain Marcus Easley also part of the mix at wide receiver, Graham will need to hope for an injury or Johnson's departure if he is to make the team. Graham started six games last season, and aside from a few deep catches was generally a disappointment.

Tight end, tackle skipped over: We'll go more in-depth into the Bills' second- and third-round options later Friday, but by trading up for Watkins, the Bills passed up selecting a tight end or offensive tackle at No. 9. They could target either of those positions on Day 2, but for right now, Scott Chandler remains their starting tight end, with Tony Moeaki his only true competition on the depth chart. The Bills remain shaky at right tackle, with Erik Pears and Chris Hairston potentially battling for the starting job if the Bills don't pick up a lineman Friday night.

Marrone 'pissed' as Bills slide in finale

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Perhaps it was appropriate that the Buffalo Bills' season finale was played in a steady rain, because any momentum built by back-to-back wins was washed away with a 34-20 loss Sunday to the New England Patriots.

Coming off their first consecutive victories this season, the Bills had a chance to make it three straight and start their offseason on the right foot. That didn't happen.

"I think it would have been much different if we ended on a three-game winning streak," coach Doug Marrone said. "I think this game kind of burst that bubble."

More accurately, it was Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount who sent the soggy Bills back to Buffalo on a losing note. Blount set a Patriots franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards, slopping through the wet turf for 189 rushing yards, including a pair of long touchdown runs.

Otherwise, the Patriots were not as sharp as they could have been. Quarterback Tom Brady finished with a 68.4 quarterback rating, throwing a fourth-quarter interception that gave the Bills life late in the game -- until they were forced to settle for a field goal.

It was the kind of game that exemplified the Bills' season. Just when things were starting to go right, something immediately went wrong. There may have been no better example than late in the third quarter, when T.J. Graham caught 12-yard touchdown pass -- only for Blount to return the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to set up a Patriots touchdown.

"Right now I'm pissed," Marrone said after the game. "I am upset. ... I mean, I'm mad. I have to smile because that's what I have to do. [That's] the media training."

The Patriots were heavily favored in this game. The Bills were starting their backup quarterback, Thad Lewis, in a venue where the team has never won, against a coach and quarterback -- Bill Belichick and Brady -- who have walked over their division rivals time and time again.

Still, Marrone liked his chances.

"I actually had in mind coming in here and winning the game. I really did. I felt really good about coming in and winning this football game," he said. "I felt that we had good plans. I felt that we had a good formula for what we needed to do to win."

That's not unusual -- find a head coach who enters a game planning to lose it -- but Marrone had a point. The Patriots have looked susceptible all season and Sunday was no different. Consider that C.J. Spiller rushed for more than 100 yards and Lewis completed five passes of 20 yards or more, and the gap between the AFC East's best and worst team doesn't look so wide.

"Do I feel that, you know, we can beat them? Yes, I do," Marrone said. "But today we didn't. And the first time we played them, we didn't."

The teams' first meeting, the season opener, was decided on a Patriots game-winning drive and field goal late in the fourth quarter. Sunday's loss wasn't quite that close, and in both cases, the Bills walked away with a defeat.

To Marrone, nothing else needs to be said.

"You've got to go out there and do it at the end of the day, and we haven't done that," he said. "To say that you are closer or anything like that, until you win, you really don't have a leg to stand on."

Graham, Goodwin quiet in December

December, 20, 2013
Earlier this week, we noted that Buffalo Bills receiver T.J. Graham played 32 percent of the snaps in Sunday's win in Jacksonville, the least he's been on the field since Week 4.

With top receiver Stevie Johnson not expected to play Sunday against Miami, it could provide Graham with an opportunity to have a bounce-back performance.

In the past three games, Graham's production has been down. But he hasn't been alone; rookie speedster Marquise Goodwin has also been quieter than usual.

Combined, the two young receivers have been targeted 11 times in the past three games and have no catches.

Here's a look at their contributions this month:

Snaps vs. Atlanta: 66 percent
Targets vs. Atlanta: 2
Catches vs. Atlanta: 0

Snaps vs. Tampa Bay: 69 percent
Targets vs. Tampa Bay: 3
Catches vs. Tampa Bay: 0

Snaps vs. Jacksonville: 32 percent
Targets vs. Jacksonville: 2
Catches: Jacksonville: 0

Snaps vs. Atlanta: 36 percent
Targets vs. Atlanta: 4
Catches vs. Atlanta: 0

Snaps vs. Tampa Bay: 39 percent
Targets vs. Tampa Bay: 0
Catches vs. Tampa Bay: 0

Snaps vs. Jacksonville: 20 percent
Targets vs. Jacksonville: 0
Catches vs. Jacksonville: 0

So why is the duo struggling to produce? Part of that is the quarterback play -- EJ Manuel had his worst game of the season against Tampa and got off to a slow start in Jacksonville. Some of it may be penalty flags. While neither has a catch in December, both have drawn defensive pass interference calls.

There is also the idea that Graham and Goodwin may be one-dimensional receivers at this point in their careers. Both have breakaway speed but have been used sparingly as underneath receivers, where precise route-running and catching ability are more important.

Are big plays backfiring for the Bills?

December, 12, 2013
Big plays, big results, right?

Maybe not.

Some of the Buffalo Bills' most memorable moments of this season have been long touchdown passes, particularly by receivers T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin. When the two speedsters have been able to connect on long balls, the resulting big plays have been the strongest evidence supporting the Bills' new offensive style.

But when those deep plays aren't there, the Bills' offense has struggled. Buffalo ranks 30th in the NFL in red zone efficiency, lacking an ability to punch the ball in when they can no longer use the speed of Goodwin and Graham to take advantage of opposing defenses.

That's a troubling trend. Consider this statistic: The Bills average the most yards (26.7) per touchdown reception in the NFL, but they have thrown the third-fewest touchdown passes in the league -- just 13.

On the surface, averaging nearly 27 yards per touchdown catch might suggest an explosive potential within an offense. But in reality, the Bills aren't in good company among the NFL leaders in that statistic. Of the teams who rank in the top ten for yards per touchdown reception, only two -- the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles -- have winning records. Moreover, seven of those ten teams are also among the ten teams with the fewest total touchdown passes.

For the Bills' offense, having the big-play, scoring potential isn't a negative, but it needs to be balanced by an ability to move the ball -- and score in the red zone -- when the deep game isn't in play. That responsibility falls more on receivers Steve Johnson and Robert Woods, as well as tight end Scott Chandler, and collectively the results haven't been there this season.

As for Goodwin and Graham, who have combined for six touchdown catches this season, they're not off the hook, either. Part of the problem is that Goodwin and Graham force the offense into being one-dimensional when they're on the field, as neither has been productive when they're not using their speed in the deep game.

"I think that we have to find ways as an offense where we can get them the ball. Obviously it can’t just be throwing go routes," coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. "Now we’ve got to make sure we’re doing things with them where teams aren’t getting beat with just run and gos. Put it up there a little bit where we can use their speed and get them in."

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 14

December, 9, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Bills must take hard look at Spiller: Here we are again. For the fourth time this season, running back C.J. Spiller averaged 2 yards or fewer per carry. Since the Bills did not list Spiller on the injury report last week, it's hard to blame injury for his performance, unless Spiller comes out this week and says he wasn't fully healthy entering the game. Of Spiller's 11 carries Sunday, seven gained 2 yards or fewer, a disturbing trend that puts the Bills at a crossroads with their former first-round pick. Spiller is signed through the 2015 season, but it's going to be hard for the offense to move forward unless Spiller can become a more consistent runner. We saw his explosive potential again Sunday, when he had an 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown called back by a penalty. However, the Bills must ponder whether those plays are worth the harm his running style causes the offense on an all-too-regular basis.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Bills have a decision to make in the offseason regarding the future of receiver Stevie Johnson.
Ditto for Johnson: The Bills will need to decide this offseason on wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who is due a $1.75 million roster bonus for 2014. Johnson is the Bills' leading receiver, but that's not saying much within one of the NFL's worst passing offenses. Johnson has been hurt by three factors: (1) inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel, (2) a bevy of injuries that have caused him to miss two games this season and limited him in others and (3) critical mistakes, including a lost fumble near the end of the Bills' loss in Toronto and a pass off his hands that was intercepted by the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Bills must consider, then, whether their quarterback will be better, whether Johnson can stay healthy next season and whether Johnson can limit his costly errors. If not, they might move on with their second-round pick this past April, Robert Woods, as their top receiver.

Hedging Manuel in 2014: The one player who we know will still be with the Bills next season is Manuel. They won't move on from their first-round pick anytime soon. There have been times this season when he has looked promising, particularly three weeks ago against the Jets. Yet that's not enough. The Bills must hedge their bets and contemplate adding insurance for Manuel next season. Whether that comes through drafting another quarterback or signing a veteran backup is a topic for later, but if Manuel is having the same problems at this time next season that we're seeing now, and the Bills haven't improved their depth at quarterback, it will be a tough spot for the franchise. While Manuel has plenty of time to turn things around, there needs to be a backup plan in place going forward.

What about Graham? Like Johnson, the play of T.J. Graham has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the Bills' situation at quarterback. However, for Buffalo's third-round pick last season, Graham seems to be heading nowhere fast. He's a speed threat, no doubt, but the Bills have seen that come to fruition far too few times this season. More specifically, it's easy to get excited about his 40-yard touchdown catch against the Jets or his 47-yard grab against the Bengals, but Graham has exceeded two catches in only one game this season but has gone without a catch in three others, including the past two. You can point to either Graham or Manuel (or both) for such a lack of results, but either way, it's not a good sign for the Bills.

Did Jets pick bad time for field trip?

November, 17, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets collectively scoffed at the notion that Saturday's team trip to a Dave & Busters in suburban Buffalo fueled the Buffalo Bills with added incentive.

"I don't know why that's added motivation," Rex Ryan said after the 37-14 loss Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. "We do different things when we're on the road. We did different things in Atlanta, did different things wherever, so I don't know how that would give added motivation. Your players go out in groups or whatever. We went out as a team."

After dropping three of their first four on the road, Ryan decided to shake up the travel routine. Instead of afternoon offensive and defensive meetings at the team hotel, they traveled by bus to a nearby Dave & Busters. They returned to the hotel in time for the evening team meeting. Team trips happen a lot in training camp; it's unusual during the regular season.

"The fact is, we haven't been doing well on the road and you have to try different things to figure it out," tackle Austin Howard said. "I applaud Rex for trying to do something different, trying to figure out why we haven't been doing as well on the road as we have at home."

Guard Willie Colon said, "Rex wants us to stay together and we're trying to build team camaraderie. Rex wants to break the monotony of us being on the road and he wants guys to get to know each other. It was a team-bonding moment, that's all it was."

But the Jets were sensitive about the trip and didn't want it to become public, perhaps fearing it would create the perception they were taking the Bills lightly. It was first reported by the New York Post. On Saturday night, a team spokesman refused to confirm or deny the trip.

The Bills could've perceived it as a slight. Coach Doug Marrone said he was aware of it, but claimed he never mentioned it to his team until after the game. Several players said they had heard about it before the game. Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham said they do similar things on the road.

"We go out before games when we travel," Graham said. "Anytime you can travel to a new city and do something different, (it's OK). There's a time for work and there's a time for play. If you have time off, you get to free your mind. No disrespect on that one."

Graham said his initial thought was "it was kind of lighthearted and they kind of took it easy (Saturday) night, but it's not disrespectful. They tried to free up their minds and get away from the game."

The Jets (5-5) have other problems, mainly a lack of consistency. They became the first team in history to alternate wins and losses through its first 10 games.

"We're running out of time," Colon said. "However we want the season to end, we have to turn it around now."

Wide receiver David Nelson attributed the up and down nature to "a lack of maturity. We have to grow up, especially on the road. It seems like whenever we're on the road, our intensity drops off."

The Jets are 1-4 on the road, including losses by 25, 40 and 23 points. The bad news is, they still have three away games, starting Sunday at the Baltimore Ravens.

W2W4: Jets at Bills

November, 15, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It's hard to believe, but the Buffalo Bills' home schedule is nearing an end.

In what will be their second-to-last game at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season, the 3-7 Buffalo Bills will try to snap a three-game losing streak as they host the 5-4 New York Jets.

Like the first meeting between the two teams, when the Jets came away with a 27-20 win, there are are plenty of storylines in this one: two divisional opponents, two rookie quarterbacks, and two defensive minds -- Jets head coach Rex Ryan and Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- who are all too familiar with one another.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesThe pressure is on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to show marked improvement throughout the Bills' remaining games.
Here's what to watch for:

1. How does Manuel bounce back? With the Bills' playoff hopes on the ropes, this is a game where fans want to see improvement not only for what's left in this season, but for next season. No player needs to get better more than EJ Manuel, who is coming off a disappointing outing in Pittsburgh. The Bills made it clear this week that they're going to let Manuel take his lumps and keep him on the field, so it remains highly unlikely that another sub-par performance would jeopardize his starting job. Still, the Bills' decision-makers would obviously prefer coming out next week and celebrating Manuel's progress rather than having to come to his defense once again.

2. Who catches passes? With Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods both out for Sunday's game, the Bills' passing offense, already among the NFL's worst, is in a major bind. The pressure will be on T.J. Graham to help fill the void, but the reality is, Graham hasn't proven to be much more than a speedy, deep threat. If he can show some versatility as a receiver capable of working the underneath part of the field, it will take pressure off Manuel. Otherwise, the Bills will have to turn to rookie Marquise Goodwin, another speed demon, or Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley, who have limited experience on offense. The odds are heavily stacked against Manuel with his group of receivers.

3. Getting to Geno: The strength of the Bills is their defensive line and pass rush, so if they want to take heat off the offense, forcing Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith to turn the ball over is a great place to start. Smith has been sacked 30 times, fourth-most in the NFL, while he has been intercepted 13 times, third-most in the NFL. The Bills have forced just one turnover in their past three games, and putting pressure on Smith is one way to force him into mistakes. Smith wasn't sacked in the teams' first meeting this season.

4. Monitoring Gilmore: Big plays were a big reason why the Bills lost in the Meadowlands back in September. Smith had four completions of 40 yards or more, targeting a hobbled Bills secondary that was without Stephon Gilmore. This time around, Gilmore is healthy and back at his post as the Bills' top cornerback. The problem for Buffalo, however, is that opposing quarterbacks haven't been afraid to throw at Gilmore in recent weeks. Pettine's defense requires cornerbacks with strong man-to-man coverage skills. Gilmore has that ability and as much potential as any cornerback in the NFL; he'll just need to step his game up Sunday. More successful deep passes or long catch-and-runs will hamper a defense that is getting good play from its front seven.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJeff Tuel completed 18 of 39 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown on Sunday.
Hackett simplifies Tuel's reads: One possession after Jeff Tuel threw his game-changing pick-six, the Bills drove to the Chiefs' 36-yard line, facing a long fourth-and-2. Instead of trying to run for almost 3 yards, the Bills opted for a quick lob pass down the left sideline. Receiver T.J. Graham appeared to have trouble finding the ball, which dropped between his arms and fell incomplete. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was asked after the game why there was such a risky play call on a fourth-and-short. "I took it all off of [Tuel]. I made it so he was throwing to one guy and one guy only," Hackett said. "We had already thrown a bunch of slants and they were getting beat up a little bit. We weren't getting some calls, so they were all up on him. I figured the best chance we had was to run by them in that situation."

Pass-rushers silenced: Anyone else surprised that, in a game featuring the two teams with the NFL's most sacks, there were just two sacks in this contest? With Kiko Alonso credited with a 1-yard sack after forcing Alex Smith out of bounds in the first quarter, it was Jerry Hughes who owned the game's only "true" sack. It wasn't Mario Williams, or Tamba Hali, or Justin Houston, who all entered the game with double-digit sacks. Hughes forced Smith to fumble, and if cornerback Leodis McKelvin was able to corral the loose ball instead of having it squirt away, we could be talking about a different result Monday morning.

Marrone defends Gilmore: Of the Chiefs' 210 total offensive yards, 163 came from running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. Part of it may have been Smith's lack of other options, but Bowe was targeted 12 times Sunday, almost double that of any other Chiefs receiver. On the surface, that doesn't reflect well on Bills top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who allowed Bowe to finish with seven catches for 67 yards. After the game, though, coach Doug Marrone didn't blame Gilmore for Bowe's performance. "I think [Gilmore] is playing, doing the best he can. He’s going out there against a guy, you’ve got to remember that’s Dwayne Bowe out there and he’s covering him man to man in a lot of situations," Marrone said. "He did a good job; at the end of the day when you look at it, they had three points. So how could you say anyone on defense didn’t do a great job out there?"

Chiefs perspective: Many Bills followers saw this game as an opportunity, facing an undefeated Chiefs team that has looked very beatable at times this season. The result Sunday in some ways validated that opinion, leading some to believe that the Chiefs have been "lucky." For those wondering if Kansas City views the win from a similar perspective, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher's column is worth a read.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 5

October, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns:

Johnson, Graham should be OK: Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson has a lumbar strain, head coach Doug Marrone said Friday. Johnson left in the second quarter of Thursday night's game and did not return. Marrone said Johnson is "already better than expected" and should be ready to play on Oct. 13 against the Bengals, following 10 days' rest. The Bills also appeared to dodge a bullet with wide receiver T.J. Graham, who briefly left the game with an apparent neck injury but later returned. Having a healthy group of receivers -- one that could also include rookie Marquise Goodwin -- will be a major factor in determining how the Bills' "interim" starting quarterback performs.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
AP Photo/Tony DejakBuffalo center Eric Wood was upset with the some Browns players for the way they reacted when Bills QB EJ Manuel was injured in the third quarter.
Hang time an issue with Powell: Marrone said hang time on punts hurt the Bills in their loss to the Browns, when Cleveland's Travis Benjamin returned one punt 57 yards and another 79 yards for a touchdown. "When you’re covering balls that are under four seconds, it’s very difficult to cover. It’s only a matter of time in this league before you get exposed," Marrone said Friday. Benjamin set a Browns franchise record for punt-return yardage, and the Bills released their punter, Shawn Powell, on Friday. Buffalo will have 10 days to find another punter. No word yet on whether they're interested in bringing back longtime punter Brian Moorman, who is a free agent.

Marrone explains botched challenge: The Bills were docked a timeout in the second quarter of Thursday night's game when Marrone tried to challenge a play that was nullified by an illegal-contact penalty against Buffalo. Marrone said Friday that it was "my mistake," saying that he saw an official's hat come off, signaling that Browns receiver Jordan Cameron had stepped out of bounds. However, Marrone explained that the rules only allow that sort of penalty to be reviewed when the receiver who stepped out of bounds makes contact with the ball. Since the pass never reached Cameron, the Bills couldn't challenge the call.

No taunting call against Browns: Center Eric Wood was upset with the Browns on Friday, calling some of their players "classless" for how they acted after quarterback EJ Manuel was injured in the third quarter. Marrone was asked for his reaction Friday, and simply said that he can't control what the other team does. He did say, however, that he asked officials if there should have been a taunting call against them on the play and they told him no.