COMMENTARY | The Buffalo Bills played much better than what was expected of them in Week 1 against the New England Patriots. Entering the game as a double-digit underdog, the Bills were in a position to defeat the mighty Patriots until New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit a 35-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 23-21 lead and win.
The game was very encouraging for the Bills, a team thst has not made it to the playoffs since 1999. Rookie quarterback (and hopeful future face of the franchise) E.J. Manuel played with poise and generally was in control of the offense. In addition, it is clear that the players have bought in to the schemes being implemented by the entirely new coaching staff, as the units on both sides of the ball gave maximum effort in utilizing the new approaches.
That being said, the Bills can undo much of the goodwill established in Week 1 by losing to the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 and falling to 0-2. The Panthers, who could not get anything going in a 12-7 Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, travel to Orchard Park for a Sunday afternoon game that neither team can afford to lose.
This is especially the case for Buffalo. Starting 0-2 would take away much of the momentum and excitement the new coaching staff brought with it, especially if both losses come at home and one is to the less-than-imposing Panthers. Here are the three main things the Bills will have to do on Sunday to avoid that outcome.
Establish C.J. SpillerEntering training camp, most of the focus on the Bills offense revolved around running back C.J. Spiller. Universally accepted as the Bills' most talented offensive player, new Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett went as far as to say that the offensive would involving handing Spiller the ball until he threw up.
Things did not go according to the script in Week 1. Not only were there no reports that Spiller lost his lunch, he was generally ineffective against the Patriots, gaining only 41 yards on 17 carries. In addition, he did not do much receiving either, tallying just 14 yards on five receptions. The Panthers, like the Patriots and every other defense looking to stop the Bills this season, will likely focus the bulk of their gameplan on slowing down Spiller.
It is crucial that the Bills get Spiller going in Week 2 (and in every other week until Spiller retires) because their new offensive scheme is built on quick plays designed to get playmakers the ball. When the number one playmaker is not making plays, that is obviously a problem. It will be a challenge to get Spiller going against Luke Kuechly and an underrated Panthers front seven, but the Bills will have to be up to the task if they want to score enough points to take the win.
Pressure Cam Newton in the Pocket
Points may be needed for the Bills, because Buffalo enters the Week 2 game with injuries to its two best players in the secondary, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Jairus Byrd. Gilmore remains out with a wrist injury and will not play. Byrd has plantar fasciitis in both feet and his status remains unknown; however, even if he plays, his effectiveness with the injury is in doubt.
At the same time, the Panthers seem ripe to try to take advantage of the banged up secondary, as head coach Ron Rivera admitted that the Carolina offense played too conservatively in their Week 1 loss. It stands to reason that they will respond by trying to open up the playbook and take chances down the field. Quarterback Cam Newton certainly has the arm to do so, and the playmaking wide receiver in Steve Smith.
Due to the limits caused by injury, the Bills secondary may have a tough time dealing with Smith and the complimentary Panthers receivers. As a result, it is imperative that the Bills pash rushers get heat on Newton and not allow him to get comfortable enough to throw the ball down the field. Due to Newton's quickness and ability to shed tacklers, the Bills will need to focus on funneling Newton into the pocket before he can either get set to pass, or take off to the outside on the ground.
Limit the Mental Mistakes
As encouraging as the Bills' Week 1 effort against New England was, there were nonetheless many mental mistakes that contributed greatly to the defeat. Of key importance were the 10 penalties the team was charged with, which set them back a total of 75 yards. Worse yet, the infractions were at times more mental than physical, such as having 12 players on the field on more than one occasion. That kind of sloppiness will not get it done in the NFL.
Obviously, things will need to be smoother against the Panthers in Week 2 if the Bills want to get into the win column. While that is not to say that the team must play a perfect game with no penalties, there clearly cannot be the kinds of inexcusable mental mistakes that occurred in Week 1. Luckily, with a disciplined coaching staff and the first game jitters out of the way, it is likely that this is something that will fix itself as time goes on.
If the Bills can take care of these three aspects of the game, they should not have much of a problem with the Panthers in Week 2. That being said, it will not be easy, and the game is shaping up as one of the most exciting on the Week 2 schedule.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Upstate New York resident and follower of the Buffalo Bills. He has been attending games since childhood and more recently writing about the team as a Yahoo Contributor. Follow him on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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