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Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Getting to know the Bills, again

By Field Yates

In an odd scheduling situation, the New England Patriots’ regular season is bookended with matchups against the Buffalo Bills.

They began the 2013 season with a come-from-behind win over the Bills back in Week 1, a game that feels like it took place an eternity ago. They’ll wrap up the regular season against Buffalo, this time playing host to the Bills, who find themselves in the basement of the AFC East entering Week 17, but heading in the right direction.

Buffalo has had some promising moments, including a 23-20 win over the Ravens, a sweep of Miami and a November thrashing of the Jets.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, the team’s top draft choice in April, has dealt with three knee injuries, though coach Doug Marrone previously has guaranteed that Manuel will play this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

The former Florida State signal-caller is a critical piece of the Bills’ future, as they are hopeful he can stabilize the offense and give the new coaching staff the dependable quarterback it needs to successfully implement its system.

For more on the Bills, here’s a look at names and faces of note that were not included in our first “Getting to Know the Bills” post.

Record: 6-9 (fourth in AFC East)
Head coach: Doug Marrone (first season)
Offensive coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett
Defensive coordinator: Mike Pettine

THREE MORE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE

1. RB Fred Jackson. Many (this reporter included) supposed that Jackson would slide into a complementary role under Marrone, with C.J. Spiller taking over as the workhorse in Buffalo. But as Jackson has done for so many seasons, he continues to be productive and steady. A dependable receiver as well, Jackson is well over 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season and is a player the Patriots' defense will need to account for on Sunday.

2. LT Cordy Glenn. A starter from Day 1 of the 2012 season -- his rookie campaign -- Glenn is a massive blindside protector, standing at 6-foot-6 and nearly 350 pounds. While many surmised that Glenn would settle in as a right tackle or guard in the NFL after a strong career at Georgia, he has been largely used on the left side of the line, helping to soften the blow of losing Demetress Bell in free agency before the 2012 draft (it’s been a favorable switch for the Bills). Glenn will be counted on to protect Manuel for seasons to come.

3. WR Robert Woods. A rookie out of USC, Woods was speculated to be a player the Patriots were interested in during the second round, a spot where they ended up taking Aaron Dobson instead (Woods was no longer on the board). He’s led the Bills in receiving yards in consecutive games and four times this season, with season totals of 39 catches for 560 yards and three touchdowns. He scored his first career touchdown in his lone catch of Week 1. He was ejected from the Bills' Week 16 game against Miami for punching Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.

THREE MORE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE

1. LB Kiko Alonso. Born in Newton, Mass., Alonso finds himself in the middle of the defensive rookie of the year race as the quarterback of the Bills' defense and a tackling machine. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 145 tackles to go along with four interceptions and two sacks. Alonso was a second-round pick out of Oregon who came on immediately for Buffalo, providing every-down dependability as both a pass- and run-coverage player.

2. CB Stephon Gilmore. The second-year pro was not able to play in Week 1 as he recovered from a preseason broken wrist, but he’s back now and playing at a very high level. Gilmore played well in two games against the Patriots last season and gives the Bills the type of perimeter cornerback who can stand toe-to-toe with top targets on an opposing offense. He has the agility to handle quicker receivers too.

3. CB Nickell Robey. The Bills invested wisely in Gilmore with a first-round pick last year, and they added another promising cornerback this past offseason. That player, Robey, went undrafted after coming out of USC, but he has played standout football as a slot option for the Bills. He lacks size at just 5-7, but he’s extremely quick, pesky and has enough ball skills to be a disruptive nickel (no pun intended) corner. He has three sacks in his past two games.

OTHER NOTES: The Bills lead the NFL with 56 sacks, including seven last week against Miami. ... Sunday marks the third time in six seasons that the Patriots and Bills have played in the regular-season finale. ... J.J. Unga has taken some snaps in relief of starting right guard Kraig Urbik, who has been battling a foot injury. ... Jerry Hughes, acquired in a trade this offseason, has 10 sacks. That gives the Bills a trio of double-digit sackers (Mario Williams and Kyle Williams as well). ... In the event Manuel does not play, Thad Lewis would be under center for Buffalo. ... The Bills have a terrific duo of interior defensive tackles: Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, both of whom are capable of rushing the passer. ... Veteran wideout Steve Johnson may return after sitting out Week 16 due to the passing of his mother. ... Free safety Jairus Byrd, who was inactive in Week 1, has four interceptions in 2013. He received the franchise tag this offseason, and is expected to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.