2015 AFC Preview: Buffalo Bills
2015 AFC PREVIEW: BUFFALO BILLS
From now until the Patriots begin training camp, Phil Perry looks at the 15 other AFC teams: The biggest question they face heading into the season, their storyline on offense, their storyline on defense, and their "threat level" to the Patriots.
Today's opponent: The Buffalo Bills
THE BIG STORY
Do the Bills have a lose-lose-lose situation at quarterback?
If you've been following along with these previews, you've very likely started to sense a theme here. If a team doesn't have a surefire starter at quarterback, that question mark dominates the majority of the offseason chatter surrounding the club.
It was the case with the Jets, who we profiled yesterday, and it's the case with the Bills as well. There's a three-way fight for the starting job between Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor, and it's anyone's guess who takes the lead in training camp.
All have their flaws, and none of the three have been able to complete 60 percent of their passes during their career. Cassel has the most experience behind center, but it's Taylor whose running ability may gel best with new head coach Rex Ryan's desire to focus on ground-and-pound, ball-control offense that limits mistakes.
With Ryan running the Bills defense, it will likely be among the most effective units in the league once again, but if the team can't get competent quarterback play, their chances of ending the Patriots reign atop the AFC East will be slim.
OFFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
How quickly will LeSean McCoy run out of steam?
Given the options the Bills have at quarterback, their best bet for consistent offensive production will be to hand off to newly-acquired running back LeSean McCoy. But in terms of the number of carries given to McCoy, Buffalo may have to be careful not to overuse the 27-year-old.
At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, McCoy is built more like a waterbug than he is a workhorse, yet he took 314 and 312 carries in each of the last two seasons in Philadelphia. In 2013, he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and ran for 1,607 yards total. Those numbers were down to 4.2 and 1,319 last year.
The Bills, who feature an offensive line with plenty of question marks, may not be able to afford a similar drop in numbers if they want to remain competitive offensively in 2015. That could mean finding strategic ways to give McCoy some rest so that he's not worn down by the time winter hits in western New York.
DEFENSIVE STORY LINE TO WATCH
How will Rex Ryan improve an already stout defensive unit?
Even before Ryan's arrival, Buffalo's defensive front could have made the argument that it was the most well-rounded in football. But now with one of the more creative defensive minds in the game at the controls, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus and Jerry Hughes will be deployed in different ways on a week-to-week basis that will maximize their strengths.
Ryan will use 3-4 as well as 4-3 schemes in order to give his defense a chance to succeed, and if the players take to his system -- from some of the confident soundbites that have come out of Buffalo it appears as though they already have -- they'll be very difficult to play against.
The team's secondary and linebacking corps don't have quite as much star power, but with defensive back Corey Graham and corners Stephon Gilmore and rookie Ronald Darby, they'll have enough to be effective in the limited amount of time quarterbacks will have to throw while facing down the Bills pass rush.
THREAT LEVEL: ELEVATED
Both New York clubs in the AFC East appear to be on similar trajectories this season: Their defenses are primed to be among the best in the league, and their offensive skill positions have been upgraded with explosive talents, but their quarterbacks will very likely hold them back.
Rex Ryan seems to be enjoying the change of scenery in Buffalo, but he may find himself doomed to the same fate he often experienced in Jersey -- a lack of postseason success despite a strong defense -- because of below-average play under center.