Even though the Buffalo Bills suffered a tough loss to the New England Patriots in Week 1, there were a number of good things that came from that game. EJ Manuel looked poised in the pocket and in control of the offense. The defense did a good job of getting pressure on Tom Brady and defending in the red zone.
This week, Buffalo welcomes Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to western New York. The Bills will need to build on these positives while adjusting to defending a mobile quarterback in Newton. The three keys on defense will be to keep the running game in check, force turnovers and keep Cam Newton contained in the pocket.
Against New England, the Bills defense did a good job keeping the Patriots passing attack in check but got beat up on the ground. Shane Vereen was one of only two running backs in the NFL to surpass the 100-yard mark in Week 1. This week, they face DeAngelo Williams, who racked up 86 yards against a tough Seattle defense. With Cam Newton's ability to scramble, Buffalo's front seven will need to step up.
Even though Mike Pettine relied heavily on six and seven defensive back sets against New England, it would make sense that they would go with a bigger front seven against Carolina. In theory, this would keep running lanes to a minimum and keep the ground attack of Williams and Newton in check.
One reason Buffalo was able to stay in the game against the Patriots was because of their ability to create turnovers. The Bills recovered two fumbles, including one on the goal line, and they picked off Tom Brady once.
Last year, the Panthers turned the ball over 22 times and lost two fumbles against Seattle last week. This will need to be a point of emphasis again this week, and Buffalo will need to capitalize when the opportunities presents itself.
The third key is usually easier said than done when facing mobile quarterbacks. Against the Patriots, the defense got after Brady with two sacks and seven quarterback hits. Against Carolina, Buffalo will need to rush Newton with controlled aggression and keep Netwon contained in the pocket.
They can't just put their head down going full speed trying to sack the quarterback and end up running by the play. They will need to work as a unit when rushing the quarterback so they don't open running lanes for Newton as soon as the play starts to break down.
Offensively, Buffalo looked good considering the fact they had a rookie at quarterback who had missed the last two weeks of preseason due to knee surgery. This week against Carolina, the offensive game plan will need to focus on sustaining long drives, opening up the passing game and figuring out a way to get C.J. Spiller going.
In Week 1, Buffalo only had one drive with seven or more plays and that came on the first drive of the second half when the offense went 11 plays for 80 yards. That was the only drive that the offense stayed on the field for more than three minutes.
If Doug Marrone wants to continue to run an uptempo offense, they will need to find a way to put together long drives. One area that really hurt Buffalo was third down when the offense was only able to convert four of 13 opportunities. These quick drives will only tire out the Bills defense by forcing them to be on the field more, as evident by the 89 plays run by the Patriots offense.
Carolina has an impressive front seven led by Luke Kuechly, who held Seattle's rushing attack to 70 total yards and an average of 2.7 per attempt. This means C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could have a tough day trying to find running lanes on Sunday.
One way they can open up the running game, though, is by attacking a less-than-stellar secondary. Against Seattle, they gave up over 300 yards passing to Russell Wilson. This is clearly Carolina's weak spot, and if Manuel is able to make some big throws early, it could force the Panthers' to drop defenders more into coverage. This should open up more running room in particular draw plays and delayed hand-offs.
The Panthers showed, at least for one week, that they are stout against the run. This in no way means the Bills can abandon that part of their offense. Against New England, Fred Jackson stepped up against the Patriots averaging 5.2 yards per carry and over 100 total yards. C.J. Spiller, though, only had an average of 2.7 yards per carry but is the team's best back and they need to find a way to get him going against Carolina.
One way to get him going will be through the passing game. Spiller was targeted six times against New England, and I expect this to continue against the Panthers. They will hopefully put Spiller in motion a lot on Sunday and line him up in a number of different spots. This should create mismatches that the running back can exploit.
Buffalo has a great opportunity to grab their first win of the season at home against the Panthers. This game in no way will be easy and will most likely come down to the final minute as these two teams look evenly matched. If the Bills are able to be successful on the keys pointed out in this article, Buffalo should be heading to MetLife Stadium in Week 3 to face the New York Jets with a record of 1-1.
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