Friday, November 1, 2013
W2W4: Chiefs at Bills
By Mike Rodak
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Despite his team losing by 18 points to the New Orleans Saints last weekend, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone this week was as upbeat and loose as he's been all season.
Part of it may be the Bills' record; at 3-5, they have endured an injury-plagued first half of their season and are still in the hunt. In fact, there are 19 teams -- almost two-thirds of the league -- at or below the .500-mark, so the Bills have good company.
The other part of it may be the opportunity the Bills have Sunday. In their first home game in three weeks, they have a chance to take down the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Either way, Marrone sent a message this week: there's no doom and gloom around the Bills. We’ll see Sunday if Marrone’s demeanor has injected the right attitude into his team.
Here's what to watch for:
1. Does Lewis play? No better place to start off, right? The Bills' starting quarterback remains entirely up in the air, even into Friday afternoon. Lewis' condition Saturday may decide whether he can play Sunday. If not, the Bills will decide between Jeff Tuel and Matt Flynn. While Tuel received the majority of first-team reps in practice this week, don't count out Flynn. The Bills have veered away from Tuel more than once this season, so it wouldn't be surprising if they went that route again. While he's only started three NFL games, Flynn has been in the NFL for six seasons and might provide a steadier presence against a tough Chiefs defense. But if it's Tuel, that means the Bills have seen enough improvement in practice since his performance against Cleveland to warrant him getting the nod.
The Bills must be wary of the pass-rushing duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who have combined to make 20 sacks.
2. How do the Bills halt Hali and Houston? The Bills will not face a more capable pass rush this season than they will against Kansas City. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are both near the top of the NFL's leaderboard in sacks, and overall, no other team has taken down opposing quarterbacks more than the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Bills allowed Lewis to be sacked an NFL-high 13 times over his three starts. Center Eric Wood, a team captain, deflected some blame for that total away from the offensive line this week, even noting that there was a Saints sack allowed last week "by the tight end." That tight end was Scott Chandler, who will have his hands full on the outside Sunday. Look for the Bills to use a heavier dose of Lee Smith, their blocking tight end, to stem the pressure off the edge.
3. Spiller's second chance: After suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 4, the Bills allowed their high-profile running back, C.J. Spiller, to play through the injury for three weeks. Besides a 54-yard touchdown run in Cleveland, it was a risk that didn't pan out. They sat Spiller against the Saints and, barring any late setbacks, he'll be back on the field Sunday. The Bills need Spiller to put his injury in the rearview mirror, but if it remains an issue against the Chiefs, expect the groans to begin again from fans. It seems realistic that Spiller's carries will still be limited; it's what he does with those carries that will count. An average of 0-2 yards per touch will hurt an already reeling Bills offense.
4. What about Mario? With the cloudy forecast at quarterback the headline this week, it was easy to overlook a late addition to the Bills' injury report Friday: defensive end Mario Williams, probable, hip. Williams participated fully in practice, but after an ankle injury limited him earlier this season, the latest ailment is something to watch for the Bills. Williams' snap counts have been in the 90-percent range in recent weeks. The injury could cause that to dip Sunday, and if so, Williams' chances of matching the pressure generated by Hali and Houston will be diminished.