In Week One of the 2017 regular season, the Buffalo Bills did exactly as they were supposed to do. They beat a bad team, at home, and they didn’t beat themselves in the second half like we’ve seen in Buffalo so many times before.
Instead, the Bills stuck with it and secured the victory — even with a second-half charge by the New York Jets. Now, the Bills are in 1-0 on the young season, in sole possession of the AFC East lead, and have a much bigger test in Week Two.
How do they stack up with the Carolina Panthers? Five things to watch for in Sunday’s contest:
1) Tyrod Taylor test times two
- One week into the most important professional season to date for Tyrod Taylor, things went fairly well for the Bills starting quarterback. In a brand new offense, Taylor did the things that the coaching staff asked him to do throughout the buildup to the regular season. He threw it over the middle of the field, he was finding tight end Charles Clay and looking for him quite a bit, and he hung in the pocket a lot more than we’re accustomed to. Still, there are some things he needs to work on: leading his receivers well enough (general intermediate accuracy), and he still looks uncomfortable on three-step drops from under center. Last week though, the Bills were up against the Jets — who despite having a good defensive line, give up a lot of ground through their linebackers and secondary. Basically, there was a lot of open space out there — something that won’t exist nearly as much against the hellish front seven the Panthers employ. Things that were there last week won’t be as easy this time around, and he’s going to need to prove he can do similar things against one of the better defenses in the entire National Football League. His performance against the Jets should have instilled cautious optimism into the fan base — despite the early interception. If this Panthers defense does what it’s capable of, fans might be back to the drawing board on their thoughts of the starting quarterback. However, if he is as efficient as he was last week and perhaps shows even a bit more progress against a great defense, perhaps he’s got a fighting chance.
2) Attack the edges
- The more you look at this game, the more it becomes clear that defense will likely dominate the day. After watching the Panthers win over the San Francisco 49ers, their offense really left a lot to be desired. There wasn’t much of a push in the early going for the run game, Cam Newton was missing passes he should have been making, and most importantly for the Bills, the Panthers offensive line was susceptible to a lot of pressure off the edge. That leads us to one of the biggest mismatches in favor of the Bills: defensive end Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson against the two Panthers offensive tackles. The biggest mismatch might be with the second-year player Lawson going up against right tackle Darryl Williams. Despite the Panthers not giving up a sack, Williams was beaten quite a bit throughout the game by the 49ers defensive ends. To me, he was clearly the weak link on the line and someone to try and attack for the Bills. On the other side, the Panthers went out and signed former top ten pick Matt Kalil to a free agent contract, but he really hasn’t been impressive since entering the league, and that continued in his Panthers debut. He seems to really struggle with speed, which is right in line with what Jerry Hughes does best. If Newton hangs onto the ball in the pocket as much as he has shown to do in his career — and with him not utilizing his legs nearly as much as he used to — the potential is there to hear Lawson and Hughes’ names called by the announcers during the game.
3) Bills WRs need to have a bigger role
- There is little doubt that the Panthers front seven is maybe as good as a unit as the Bills will see all season, which is saying something. However, for the Bills to have some success on the offensive side of the ball, the one area they should really look to attack is through the air and on the outside. The middle of the field will likely be locked down by those impressive linebackers, which means the Bills have to utilize their wide receivers a heck of a lot more than they did last week. The Panthers cornerbacks, although young and talented, seem to be the weak link of the talented defense. Of the James Bradberry and Daryl Worley duo, the one I’d target would be Worley. A good, crisp route runner can get him in his head a little bit — much like the way Pierre Garcon did to him in Week One. He’ll certainly make some plays, but I’m looking at rookie Zay Jones and his route running ability as a prime candidate to work against Worley. If the Bills want to win this week, four receptions to their wide receivers will not suffice.
4) Battle of the tight ends
- Looking at these two teams, the strength of both is within the defense — which leads me to believe this will be a close, low-scoring contest. However, if these offenses were to loosen up a little bit and start having some success, both tight ends — Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Buffalo’s Charles Clay — could have a solid impact on that. For the Panthers, Olsen can have a lot of success as a zone-busting option over the middle of the field versus the Bills slower linebackers. In my mind, there’s a strong likelihood that he leads the Panthers in receiving in this game. For the Bills, Clay will likely have less success over the middle of the field than he did last week. However, if the Bills get Clay lined up split out wide, that will force a safety to come down and take him — and their safeties (specifically Mike Adams) can give up some ground off the line of scrimmage to more athletic tight ends. This will be the area that the Bills must get Clay involved because it’s clear that Taylor has developed quite a solid rapport with his tight end.
5) Short & Kuechly: Gamebreakers
- I’ve already written quite a bit about how good this Panthers front seven is, but why is it so good? They’re talented, they’re fast, and they have more than just a couple of guys that do a great job. Among those groups, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, Wes Horton, Star Lotulelei, and Mario Addison all do a great job as role players. However, they’re taken over the top by their two-star defenders: defensive tackle Kawann Short and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. By now you know about Kuechly — one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL. He can play with the eyes of the quarterback over the middle of the field, making them think something is there and then has the athleticism to take it away. He sniffs out run plays with his instincts and preparation. In fact, head coach Sean McDermott said Kuechly’s truck would always be the first one in the building and one of the last to leave throughout his years in Carolina. McDermott called him one of his favorite players he’s ever coached. He is a nuisance to the opposition. As is Short, who has become one of the best defensive tackles in the league. In today’s NFL, disruption of the pocket from the defensive line is what earns the big bucks — and the normally frugal Panthers dished out a contract that pays Short along with the same lines as what Marcell Dareus was given by Whaley (~$16 million average per year). Against both the run and the pass, Short’s ability to work through the offensive line in as fast a fashion as you’ll find makes him the biggest mismatch of any in the game when he’s lined up against one player in particular: right guard John Miller. The third-year player had a rough go of it in the first game of the season, struggling to move the way the zone blocking scheme calls for and often getting beat by his assignment. If the Panthers try to isolate that matchup — which I would expect — that’s the type of mismatch that can make Tyrod Taylor worried in the pocket, that can make LeSean McCoy bounce runs outside, and that can potentially flip this game in the Panthers’ favor. Short is that good if you don’t properly account for him.
OUT: DT Jerel Worthy (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Leonard Johnson (quad)
No players listed
Prediction: Panthers over Bills
- I believe this game will be a lot closer than Vegas, and some other people believe it will be. The way these two teams are built — and from the way they performed in Week One — this has all the makings of a low-scoring, defensive, close contest. I think LeSean McCoy is matchup proof just based on the type of touches he’s likely to get, but the Bills are also likely going to struggle in throwing the ball against this defense. Equally, I expect Carolina’s offense to struggle in the early stages of the game. However, I have to give them the edge in this game because how their defense is built, and I think we’ll see an improved Cam Newton from the one we saw last week.
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