AFC West: Buffalo Bills

Chiefs vs. Bills preview

November, 6, 2014
11/06/14
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They're not divisional opponents, but it sure feels like it: The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have met in every regular season since 2008.

The two teams will square off again Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the third consecutive year that the Bills (5-3) have hosted the Chiefs (5-3).

Both clubs are in the playoff hunt, adding importance to a game that kicks off the second half of the season. ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher break it all down:

Rodak: The Chiefs are one of the NFL's hottest teams, having won five of their past six games. What’s been going right for them? How, if at all, is this team different from the one that arrived in Buffalo undefeated last season?

Teicher: After a tough start to their season, the Chiefs have done a nice job of playing to their strengths. They aren't a big-play offense and a lot of times they don't even try for a big play. Quarterback Alex Smith rarely takes a deep drop and throws down the field. But they run the ball well, they rarely commit turnovers and they move the chains. They are a great third-down team.

On defense, they still pressure the quarterback but -- and this is the big change from last year -- they don't blitz as much. They've been a lot more solid at the back end of their defense and they've cut back greatly on the number of big pass plays they've allowed.

The Bills have been playing without their top running backs, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, because of injuries. Spiller won't play against the Chiefs but does Jackson have a chance? And give me a scouting report on Anthony Dixon, who has assumed the featured back role in their absence.

Rodak: I'd say Jackson has a chance, but the odds are still against him playing Sunday. After he was injured in an Oct. 19 win over the Minnesota Vikings, he told WGR 550 radio that doctors expected a monthlong recovery process for a groin muscle that tore off the bone. Jackson, 33, is known as a quick healer and a tough player who can play through pain, so it wouldn't shock me if he played -- but the more prudent move might be to ensure he's healthy for the stretch run. The Bills will need him.

As for Dixon, he was known as more of a situational, short-yardage back in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Given the opportunity to be the workhorse, he is out to prove that he's more of an all-around back. There are signs of that. He has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make players miss, but the strength of his game is still to lower a shoulder into defenders and push for yardage. He's a bruiser.

In some ways, the Chiefs mirror the Bills' current approach: They have a quarterback over 30 years old who is known more as a game manager than a star, a run-first philosophy on offense and a stout defense led by a strong pass rush. How sustainable do observers of the Chiefs think that model is? Do they feel they need a long-term upgrade at quarterback? The Bills might soon face the same question with Kyle Orton, who turns 32 this month.

Teicher: With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs have no choice but to build their team that way. Smith isn't the type of quarterback who will carry a team on his back like, say, Ben Roethlisberger is doing in Pittsburgh and Andrew Luck is doing in Indianapolis. They need to surround Smith with a solid defense and good, complementary players on offense. But they are committed to him. They signed him over the summer to a new long-term contract, and while they can get out of it relatively cheaply after a couple of seasons, that's not the plan. The plan is to coach Smith up to be the best player he can be and build the right team around him.

Orton has one of the NFL's best passer ratings since taking over as the starter from EJ Manuel. Can he maintain that over the rest of the season and particularly against the Chiefs, who pressure the quarterback consistently and don't allow a lot of big pass plays?

Rodak: That's the million-dollar question for the Bills. If Orton continues to put up the numbers that he has since Manuel was benched, the Bills have a strong shot to make the playoffs. Orton is the NFL's fourth-most accurate quarterback on passes over 15 yards and the league's most accurate passer on third downs, when he throws for an NFL-high 11.3 yards per attempt. He has also been fantastic in the fourth quarter. If he can keep up his strong play in critical situations, the Bills will be in a good spot. The problem will be defenses like the Chiefs, who sack opposing quarterbacks on a league-high 10.8 percent of attempts. Meanwhile, the Bills' offense allows sacks on 8.4 percent of pass attempts, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. That's a mismatch.

Over the past month of the season, the Bills rank third in yards per play allowed (4.76) while the Chiefs rank fourth (4.90). What's driving the Chiefs' success on defense?

Teicher: They're getting strong play from unheralded players. End Allen Bailey is in his fourth season with the Chiefs but first as a starter. He's a three-down player who's defending the run and rushing the passer well. Inside linebacker Josh Mauga signed with the Chiefs the day before training camp started. When the Chiefs lost Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson for the season with an injury in the opener, Mauga stepped in and has played well. He, too, is a three-down player and leads the Chiefs in tackles. Free safety Husain Abdullah, a backup last season, won the starter's job in camp and has played well.

In tackle Marcell Dareus and ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, the Bills have three players who are in the top 15 in the league in sacks. That doesn't include tackle Kyle Williams, who had 10.5 sacks last year. That should be of great concern to the Chiefs, who have had trouble protecting Smith. Do the Bills blitz much or do they try to get pressure mostly with their front four?

Rodak: It's been mostly the front four, which is likely the league's best. The Bills blitz on just 22.6 percent of snaps, the sixth-lowest mark in the league. On plays when the Bills do blitz, they've been effective. Opposing quarterbacks have been held to a 25.2 QBR when faced with five or more Bills rushers, the third-worst mark in the NFL. The Bills register a sack on 10.5 percent of dropbacks when they blitz, compared to 7.7 percent when they don't. Both of those marks are in the top tier of the league.

 

Chargers vs. Bills preview

September, 18, 2014
9/18/14
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Few teams in the NFL are as hot as the Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers, who will meet Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills are off to a surprising 2-0 start and sit alone atop the AFC East. They've turned the ball over just once and have limited opposing offenses to less than 16 points per game. Add in strong special-teams contributions -- Buffalo players won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after both games this season -- and the Bills have found a recipe for winning.

Meanwhile, the Chargers (1-1) are hanging tough in the AFC West. With their 30-21 victory last week, they became one of just four teams to take down the Seattle Seahawks since the start of last season. Quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates are still the centerpiece of a dangerous offensive attack.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams preview the game:

Rodak: The Chargers seem to be riding high after knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions. What was the key to their victory and how do you see their performance carrying forward?

Williams:Ccoach Mike McCoy devised an excellent game plan for defeating Seattle. Rivers used the short passing game to control the tempo, and in the red zone, the Chargers got one-on-one matchups with Gates against linebackers or strong safety Kam Chancellor. And for the most part, Gates won. Defensively, the Chargers did a nice job of swarm-tackling Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin in the run game, and they forced Russell Wilson to make plays from inside the pocket. Lastly, San Diego won the turnover battle. It’s a good recipe for winning games on a weekly basis in the NFL, but in order to win on the road, the Chargers will need to run the ball more consistently.

The Bills are 2-0 at the start of the season for the first time since 2011. Can this team break the NFL’s longest playoff drought by making the postseason for the first time since 1999?

Rodak: They have the potential to do it. The Bills might have the AFC East's most talented roster. There are 12 first-round picks and five second-round picks, part of an overall mixture of homegrown talent and pieces added from the outside. The Bills have arguably the NFL's best defensive line -- three players went to the Pro Bowl last season -- and a strong group of offensive weapons surrounding EJ Manuel.

The question has always been about the quarterback, and through two weeks, I'm not sure the concerns about Manuel have been alleviated. The Bills have limited Manuel's pass attempts; he has 48 through two games, the second-fewest in the NFL. They're also 29th in red zone touchdown efficiency, a problem that has been masked by strong defense and special-teams play. The Bills have proven they can win games with that approach, but I still think we'll need to see more out of Manuel before the Bills are considered a strong playoff contender.

The Chargers have no shortage of weapons on offense, yet they often don't get the same attention as some of the NFL's better offenses. Where would you place Rivers among his peers at quarterback and how would you rate his receivers?

Williams: Rivers is a top-five quarterback in the NFL, in my opinion. He is accurate, smart and still possesses plenty of zip in his arm to make every throw on the field. And at 32 years old, he's in his prime. Last season, Rivers led the league in completion percentage (69.5 percent) and finished fourth in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). However, he does not get as much attention as some of the other elite quarterbacks because he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring, and that's how we judge the best quarterbacks in the game.

I also believe San Diego has an above-average group of receivers, led by Keenan Allen, and perhaps the best tight end tandem in the NFL in Gates and Ladarius Green. Add Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown at running back, and Rivers has plenty of playmakers at his disposal to take advantage of specific matchups each week.

Manuel struggled during exhibition play but has been a steady performer during the first two games of the regular season. Manuel has completed 67 percent of his passes, has been sacked only once and has a 95.4 passer rating in helping lead the Bills to two victories. What has been the difference?

Rodak: There is a marked difference at wide receiver that has helped boost Manuel's play this season. Last season, Manuel and top wideout Stevie Johnson never seemed to be on the same page, plus Johnson had some lingering injury problems. Second-round pick Robert Woods was a rookie and third receiver T.J. Graham had a limited skill set that didn't do Manuel many favors. Manuel's leading receiver was tight end Scott Chandler (53 catches, 655 yards), but Chandler has just two catches in two games this season.

Instead, Manuel has fired away at top pick Sammy Watkins. Watkins has 15 targets, the most on the team. In addition, Woods came up with a pair of impressive catches in Week 1 that bailed out Manuel on some less-than-accurate throws. Manuel certainly deserves credit for better decision-making in his second season, but the Bills wanted to improve his group of receivers, and the difference has been noticeable.

The Chargers' defense ranks 30th in yards allowed per play (6.58) and opponent yards per rush (5.56) but has allowed only 19.5 points per game, which is 12th-best in the NFL. Is run defense a problem for San Diego and if so, how have they covered it up?

Williams: The Chargers struggled against the run last season but did a better job against a pretty good running offense (Seattle) Sunday. The key for San Diego's defense is actually how much the offense controls tempo. The Chargers are No. 2 on offense in the NFL in time of possession (35:13), so the defense isn't on the field for long periods of time. San Diego also forced three turnovers in two games -- along with a blocked punt -- and only has one turnover on offense. So the Chargers do a good job of stealing a few possessions each game. Those things help hide other deficiencies San Diego has on defense.

Watkins had a breakout performance against Miami, finishing with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. We know that Buffalo leans on the run game with C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon, but how has Watkins added another dimension to the offense?

Rodak: We didn't see too much of Watkins in the season opener; he had three catches in the first half and Manuel overthrew Watkins on his only target in the second half. Things changed in Week 2. He brings a clear advantage over most other receivers: Watkins has speed that allows him to be a deep threat, sure hands and a large catch radius that allows him to haul in off-target passes, and some shiftiness that makes him dangerous after the catch. The Bills had speed at receiver last season but lacked the route-running and pass-catching ability that Watkins brings to the table.

Live blog: Chiefs at Bills

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
11:00
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Kansas City Chiefs' visit to the Buffalo Bills. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Chiefs at Bills

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
12:00
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Alex Smith and Mario WilliamsAP PhotosAlex Smith will face Mario Williams and a pass rush that have the second-most sacks in the league.
The 8-0 Kansas City Chiefs have some big games upcoming, including showdowns for AFC West supremacy on Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 against the Denver Broncos. But first is Sunday’s game against the 3-5 Bills in Buffalo.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Bills reporter Mike Rodak discuss the game:

Teicher: With the exception of three lost fumbles, it looks like quarterback Thad Lewis is playing better than the Bills had a right to expect. For those of us who aren't familiar with his game, give us a little scouting report with regard to his strengths and weaknesses and things he might be able to do -- if he is able to play Sunday -- that could give the Chiefs some trouble.

Rodak: I think you nailed it. Even though Lewis is still in the bottom third of the league among quarterbacks, the Bills are more than happy with what they're getting from him. Most importantly, Lewis is a heady player with a real strong grasp of the offense. That's what impressed offensive coordinator Nate Hackett when they sat down with Lewis after EJ Manuel's injury and why they chose him. He's physically not the most gifted quarterback, but Hackett likes Lewis' arm strength. We've seen it on some deeper passes Lewis has completed in the past three games, and if he can get the protection, they're going to keep trying that. As a runner, Lewis isn't Terrelle Pryor, but he has the mobility to run the read-option the Bills like to mix in out of their no-huddle offense. The question is, how much will they run him? Lewis got drilled from behind on a designed run to begin the game Sunday, suffering bruised ribs, and his status against the Chiefs is still up in the air. If Lewis plays Sunday, the Chiefs shouldn't have to worry too much about him as a runner.

Adam, I'm sure you've been asked this plenty of times this season, but what has clicked for the Chiefs? Was it the move away from Scott Pioli and Todd Haley/Romeo Crennel to John Dorsey and Andy Reid, or were there personnel changes that made a bigger impact?

Teicher: The coaching and administration moves were huge. For the previous four seasons the Chiefs had a lot of guys with their own agendas, pulling in different directions and focusing on things that didn’t matter. Dorsey and Reid deserve a lot of credit for getting everyone to fall in line behind them. Everyone has the same goals now. Reid has persuaded some players to put aside personal goals for the greater good. A lot of Chiefs players were tired of the losing and the sideshow stuff and were ready to be led in a positive direction. Reid walked through the doors with some impressive credentials and they listened to him. As far as personnel changes, most of the Chiefs' better players are ones who were here when Reid and Dorsey arrived. The only new guy in what you could call a key role is QB Alex Smith. Otherwise, most of their key players (Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry) have been around.

Smith was sacked six times against Cleveland last week and 24 times this season, so pass protection has been a problem for the Chiefs. The Bills are doing a good job getting after the opposing quarterback. What have teams done to try to counter Mario Williams, and do the Bills have anyone else consistently putting pressure on the quarterback?

Rodak: I think the best job an opposing offense has done against Mario Williams was in Week 6, when the Bengals took down the Bills in overtime. They caught the Bills off guard by opting for a shorter passing game, forgoing the chance to attack a shaky (at the time) Bills secondary with A.J. Green. Instead, Marvin Jones had a 34-yard end-around run and a 42-yard catch-and-run in the first seven minutes of the game that set the tone. Williams finished with just one tackle and a half-sack, even with the extra period. The Bills don’t have a player putting up 11 sacks like Williams, but their pair of defensive tackles -- Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- are among the better duos in the league. Each has four sacks. Overall, Mike Pettine’s defense thrives on generating pressure from many different sources, including the defensive backs. Andy Reid is a veteran coach and knows his offense will have to be ready for the blitz from start to finish Sunday.

Adam, would you say the Chiefs are effective in spite of Alex Smith this season -- he has posted just an 82.1 QB rating -- or because of him? Is their success through the first half of the season sustainable even with Smith at quarterback?

Teicher: There are things Smith can be doing better, but they’re 8-0 because of him, not in spite of him. Among the things Smith has done exceedingly well are protect the ball and run from trouble. Smith has thrown only four interceptions, so he’s not forcing the ball into tight situations or otherwise taking risks with it. He’s fumbled just once, and the Chiefs even recovered on that one. For him to handle the ball on every offensive play and have only four turnovers is amazing. When he’s been sacked, he’s holding on to the ball. Smith is the Chiefs’ second-leading rusher and has scrambled out of trouble a number of times. It’s fair to say they wouldn’t be 8-0 without his running ability. It’s been that valuable. That said, Smith needs to complete a higher percentage of his passes. Right now, he’s only at about 59 percent. Getting that into the low to mid 60s would make a big difference for the passing game. The Chiefs also have trouble getting touchdowns in the red zone. That can’t all be blamed on Smith, but he can be more efficient inside the 20.

I can’t figure out why the Bills aren’t better defensively. They’ve been solid against the run, have strong pass-rush capability, create a good number of turnovers, yet still have allowed 20 or more points in every game. I know they’ve allowed some big pass plays. Is that the only reason they haven’t been better defensively?

Rodak: I think the big plays are part of it, Adam. The Bills have allowed 14 receptions of 35 yards or more, the most in the NFL. But the Chiefs have allowed 12, the second-most, so there’s more to it than that. I think the first place to look is on the other side of the ball, where the Bills' offense averages just 27:41 in time of possession. That’s the fourth-lowest mark in the league and is putting stress on the defense. The Bills have a creative mind in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and talent at all three levels of their defense. But their offense, between injuries and inexperience, has been so ineffective at some stretches that the defense just can’t hold up. This is a defense that has put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and forced some turnovers, but they’ll need to prevent the big play and have their offense pick up some slack going forward.

Adam, what do you think it will take for the Chiefs to lose Sunday?

Teicher: Opponents have started to give the Chiefs their best shots. Houston did two weeks ago and Cleveland did last week, and each team came close to knocking off the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. So if the Texans and Browns can keep things close in Kansas City, it reasons that the Bills can beat them in Buffalo. The Chiefs have played the past couple of weeks, and particularly against Cleveland, as if they’re weary of the burden of being the NFL’s remaining unbeaten team. They took a 13-0 lead against the Browns, then looked like they ran out of energy. They’ll need to bring more Sunday in Buffalo or they certainly could be in trouble. The Bills could make things easier on themselves by getting an early lead. The Chiefs have led much of the time this season and have been able to play the games on their terms. When they’ve been behind, it’s never been by more than a touchdown. Kansas City has trailed in the fourth quarter in just one game, that being by four points early in the final period on Oct. 6 in Tennessee. That deficit didn’t last long, so it would be interesting to see how they do if they need to play catch-up late in a game.

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