The 0-1 Carolina Panthers head into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday looking for their first victory of the season. Much like the Bills, the Panthers lost in Week 1 by less than a touchdown to a team considered among the league’s elite. What do the Bills need to do in order to defend their home turf against Carolina?
Find Cam Newton‘s Kryptonite
Cam Newton is one of the mot dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL. He does it both with his arm (at least 3,800 passing yards in each of his first two seasons) and with his legs (at least 700 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons). A skill set like Newton’s give defensive coordinators nightmares…so what can the Bills do to contain Superman?
It’s a simple, yet extremely difficult task: the defense must remain disciplined. When a team runs the read option with a quarterback like Newton, the entire offensive scheme is built around trying to make the defense over-commit to its assignments. If the linebacker commits to stopping the running back, Newton simply keeps the ball instead of pitching it for easy yardage.
If the Bills have any hope of containing Newton, their defensive line will need to effectively collapse Newton’s pocket, while simultaneously containing him within it. Much easier said than done.
Deploy The Hurry Up (Correctly)
Last week the Bills offense went no huddle/hurry up for much of the game against the New England Patriots. Unfortunately for Bills fans this often looked like when I play Madden on the PS3, hurrying for the sake of hurrying.
Instead of the wearing down the opposing defense, all the Bills did was hurry the ball back into Tom Brady‘s hands. If they hope to win this week, they will have to at least attempt to win the time of possession battle, which means either playing more effectively in the hurry up, or changing up the pace once in a while grinding down the clock.
Get CJ Going
Heading into the 2013 season, the one player more integral to the Bills success or lack thereof is CJ Spiller. As evidenced in Week 1, if Spiller struggles to get the ground game going, the Bills will struggle to move the ball. If the Bills are struggling to move the ball that means the opposing offense will get more shots at the Bills defense, including the beaten down secondary.
If the Bills have any hope of taking this game from the Panthers, they need their star running back (and his offensive line) to take advantage of his touches, and be the CJ Spiller that we saw last season, consistently breaking tackles and getting into the defenses second level.
The Carolina Panthers front 7 pose a difficult test for Spiller and the Bills offensive line, but without establishing the run game, it could turn into a long Sunday for the Bills.
Last week E.J. Manuel had a solid, albeit unspectacular NFL debut against the New England Patriots. Manuel didn’t blow anyone out of the water, but he also managed to not blow the game for the Bills, which when talking about rookie (Bills) quarterbacks, is a small victory in itself.
Manuel’s lack of “wow” factor plays can at least partially be attributed to the conservative play calling of head coach Doug Marrone. Marrone was clearly trying to protect his young quarterback and put him in a position to succeed, the play calling was a detriment to the Bills offense.
Almost all of Manuel’s pass attempts were in the short to intermediate range. If the Bills want to win this Sunday vs Carolina, they will need to take the reins off Manuel and let him stretch the defense. Completing a couple of long passes will force the safeties to respect Manuel’s arm, and open up the running lanes for Spiller to do his thing.
Keep It Close
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera is a notoriously poor play caller and clock manager that likely still only has a job due to the antics of Cam Newton over his first two seasons in the league. Rivera is 2-12 in games decided by seven points or less in his two seasons as head coach, a record that once may have been attributed to bad luck, but is now clearly becoming something that can be pinned on Rivera.
If the Bills are able to keep it close into the 4th quarter like they did last week against New England, they may be facing the one head coach in the NFL who’s incompetence could possibly trump the fact that the Bills are cursed when it comes to close games in the 4th quarter.
Between the Bills penchant for blowing it no matter who is on the team and who is coaching, and Ron Rivera’s inability to coax close wins out of his team, something has to give…either that or the game will end up as a tie.