The Buffalo Bills are only a pair of days away from their next contest, and after being on the road for two weeks, they’ll get to do it at home from New Era Field. The Bills are up against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and will hope to extend the winning streak to four games.
In the week leading up, the Bills had a few separate roster notes from practice and head coach Rex Ryan meeting with the media. Five takeaways from the week:
1) Likely no Dareus for the sixth straight weekend
- All was fine at the Friday practice ahead of the game against the Los Angeles Rams, and the Bills were looking forward to finally having defensive lineman Marcell Dareus back in the lineup from his four-game suspension, That was, until Dareus tried to chase quarterback EJ Manuel during a rep, pulled his hamstring, and had to miss his fifth consecutive game. Rex Ryan alluded to a “pull” of the hamstring, but later retracted and wondered aloud if he misspoke. However, Dareus confirmed that it was indeed a pulled hamstring, and that pulled hamstring has kept him off the practice field the entire week. Hamstring injuries are tricky enough as it is, but when you have a 330-pound defensive lineman trying to fire off the snap, a hamstring injury can not only slow him down significantly, but it can also do more damage if not treated properly. As a result, the Bills have all but officially shut him down for Week Six against San Francisco, ruling him ‘doubtful’ to play — which would be his sixth straight contest that he is unable to play. Considering the type of injury that it is, I would even think he’s in jeopardy of not playing Week Seven against Miami, either. It really all depends how the hamstring reacts to some work on the field, if they’re willing to take that step next week.
2) Zach Brown appears fine to play, but what’s the contingency plan?
- No one could have imagined this being the case five weeks into the season, but inside linebacker Zach Brown — the replacement to rookie Reggie Ragland — was not only tied for the lead league in tackles after five weeks of play… he’s looked incredibly good doing it, too. Following his standout performance against New England, Bills fans have kept a close eye on Brown… which is why there was some cause for concern when he wasn’t able to practice on Wednesday due to a foot injury. Luckily for the Bills, Brown got back to practice on both Thursday and Friday and seemed to be moving around well enough to play on Sunday. However, with him even being gone for one practice, that got me to thinking: What do the Bills do if he is unable to play at any point in time? It really isn’t the same scenario with Preston Brown, because his responsibilities and playing style is similar to backup Brandon Spikes, although Spikes is not near the same level of Preston Brown at this point in his career. No, an injury to Zach Brown would be concerning because the Bills would be putting a major unknown on the field. They would either play Spikes next to Preston Brown, and with a distinct lack of Zach Brown-like athleticism for either of those players, it would cause the coverage of tight ends and running backs to be downgraded significantly. The Bills could also keep Spikes on the bench, and instead play Ramon Humber in Brown’s spot. Humber has started 18 games over seven seasons before this one in Buffalo, but is largely a special teams commodity. The fact that he’s never stuck around a starting lineup this long in his career indicates a large drop-off could be the case. Either way, Zach Brown might just be the player the Bills can least afford to lose to injury on the defensive side of the ball.
3) Mixed messages on Justin Hunter
- Only a little more than a week went by of wide receiver Justin Hunter being on the team, before the Bills decided to give him a role on offense. Not only was he in on red zone opportunities — and securing his lone target for a touchdown — but he also received some time in the base offense as an outside-the-numbers receiver. Considering that the Bills are without both Sammy Watkins and Greg Salas perhaps for the rest of the season, they haven’t gotten much out of both Marquse Goodwin and Walt Powell over the last three weeks. Between the two, they’ve managed only 11 receptions for 81 yards over three games. The production, to a large degree, is lacking which means a change could be on the way. Hunter, who has flashed big ability in the past but never actually turned the corner since entering the NFL, looks like an ideal candidate. However, Rex Ryan cast some doubt on that when asked if Hunter could be in line for a bigger role:
“Yeah maybe so, he caught a couple balls out there, maybe missed several others so we’ve got to get—somewhere along the line, you’ve got to catch everything. You know, I mean, I’d like to see him catch everything.”
As you can tell, that doesn’t exactly bode well for a player when a head coach offers up that information. But, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn seemed to differ from Rex.
“Justin is playing faster. He’s played faster all week because he’s been here. He understands the terminology and the system and what we’re doing now. So we’re definitely going to get him more involved, and he’ll have an opportunity to make some plays this week. More plays, let’s just say,” Lynn said, before being asked about the drops in practice. “I evaluate him from here going forward. He’s done a heck of a job with us so far, and we’d like to get him involved.”
….Ok. Confused? You’re not alone. Those are two completely different messages. However, considering that Hunter plays on offense and Rex is a defensive coach through and through, despite the line about dropped passes I’d expect Hunter’s snap count to go up this week. Who knows, if he does well enough with it during the game, the No. 2 receiver job is certainly there for the taking.
4) Kouandjio on the mend; a move coming?
- The Bills welcomed back their top reserve offensive tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, to the practice field on Friday. He was a limited participant, but it was good enough for him to be listed as ‘questionable’ for the upcoming 49ers contest. When pressed on his availability for Sunday, Rex Ryan made it sound as though that Kouandjio likely wouldn’t be active for the game. However, it would be fair to expect the Bills getting Kouandjio back for Week Seven against Miami, which would allow them to finally unleash one of the 11 offensive linemen on their roster — a total that’s greater than what most teams keep at that position. With Shaq Lawson coming back from the Physicall Unable to Perform list next week, Rex Ryan hinted that the offensive line would be the group to lose one player in order to make room for the rookie pass rusher. If I had to guess, I think Gabe Ikard is probably the guy. He’s been inactive each of the last two weeks and Patrick Lewis has practiced all this week, which means Ikard is that much further from seeing the field or even being active for a game.
5) Shaq on pace to return, but not the WRs
- As I just mentioned, Lawson is still right on track to not only return from the PUP list, but to even play in his first week back. He’s been doing work with the strength and conditioning coach for weeks on end now, and the Bills will slowly work him back into the rotation. The same cannot be said for two other players in similar situations: wide receivers Kolby Listenbee and Marcus Easley. Listenbee, who has been on the Non-Football Injury list with after having double sports hernia surgery in the pre-draft process, has at least been spotted working to the side with Lawson quite a bit. He is not, according to the Bills, on track to make a similar return like Lawson though. Listenbee will likely remain on his current reserve list next week, and the Bills will probably re-assess the situation for Week Eight. As for Easley, it seems he’s a bit longer out from a potential return than Lawson as well. Easley hasn’t done much of anything on the field during practice with trainers, as he’s still trying to come back from a gruesome knee injury. With Colt Anderson now on Injured Reserve, they could certainly use some additional help from Easley on special teams, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for the upcoming week.