Sunday, September 15, 2013

Four Point Stance: Panthers at Bills


After a disappointing result in a highly-anticipated home opener, the Buffalo Bills look to turn things around before taking on another divisional opponent on the road. To do that, however, they're going to have to get through a Carolina Panthers team looking to make up for a slow start of their own.

Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel had a solid outing in his first start, completing 66 percent of his passes with a pair of touchdowns. More impressive was the fact that he avoided any interceptions against a defense that was plus-25 in the takeaway department last season. Carolina's defensive secondary is less daunting, which Manuel and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett may exploit given the ability of the Panthers' run defense. The Panthers are likely thinking the same thing about the Bills' banged-up secondary. (Photo: Mark Runyon | Pro Football Schedules)


Better play from C.J. The Bills' star running back had a surprisingly poor start to his season last week against New England, mustering just 41 yards on 17 touches. It was clear that the Patriots had focused their defensive game plan around shutting down the elusive back, and don't be surprised to see the same thing this weekend from Carolina. The Panthers held powerhouse Marshawn Lynch to just 43 yards last week, and its front has been much improved since the addition of Star Lotulelei in this year's draft and Luke Kuechly last year. If Spiller can't get back to breaking off big gains like last season, Fred Jackson's touch totals may continue to rise.

Battered secondary. As if the absence of playmakers Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd wasn't enough, the Bills' secondary lost another body to injury last weekend, cornerback Ron Brooks. That leaves Buffalo pretty thin on the perimeter puts some pressure on newcomers Brandon Burton and Johnny Adams to contribute. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will lean heavily on veteran Jim Leonhard to keep the crew in line, with Leodis McKelvin and Aaron Williams forced to step up their respective efforts, as well. The Panthers ranked sixth in the league last season in passes of 20 yards or more (58).

New plan for Newton. Former rookie of the year Cam Newton had a pretty forgettable outing in Week 1 against the Seahawks, throwing for only 125 yards and gaining less than 40 yards on the ground. Carolina is 4-14 when Newton rushes for less than 50 yards, so expect to see a lot more rollouts and options from the dual threat on Sunday, particularly in the red zone. A bulk of the 24-year-old's touchdowns in his career have come from inside the 10 yard line, so keep an eye on Kiko Alonzo and the Buffalo linebackers if Newton and the offense start knocking on the door.

Third's the word. While Buffalo's offense struggled to convert a number of key third downs in its opening day loss (30.8 conversion rate), Carolina's offense had far less issues. Newton and company went five for 11 on third down, though the team struggled to get into the red zone. With the Bills defense allowing 11 third down conversions against the Pats, that number could certainly rise. Buffalo's defense struggled on third down throughout the 2012 season (worst percentage in the AFC), and the unit was visibly tired at times against New England last week. The pressure will be on Pettine to dial up the right plays to keep Carolina from moving the chains, which has historically been a tough task against the versatile offense.
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