The Buffalo Bills are 2-0 and preparing for a home litmus test against the equally 2-0 New England Patriots. After re-watching both of the Bills' games to date - a 41-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and a 38-35 win over the Oakland Raiders - twice each, I've got some thoughts heading into this big Week 3 contest. Let it serve as a sort of mental reset for the Bills' new work week.
1. C.J. Spiller's role will increase, but probably not as a true wide receiver. With Roscoe Parrish landing on IR on Tuesday, the Bills lost a lot of pure speed for an offense that, quite frankly, doesn't have a lot of it. Insofar as speed players go, Spiller's all the Bills have at this point, and that's an asset that the team will need to have on the field more often if they want to remain at levels of peak production.
Still, calls for Spiller to "play wide receiver" are misguided, even if it's only a matter of semantics. Spiller has lined up split wide quite frequently within the scope of his very limited playing time - and in the very likely event that his playing time increases, he'll still be lined up out wide on occasion. However, defenses typically operate according to personnel package more than alignment, so when Spiller's on the field, they'll likely change how they defend the Bills as opposed to trotting out Ruvell Martin as a fourth receiver.
Early in the second half against Oakland, the Bills used a personnel package that featured Spiller in the backfield with Fred Jackson lined up almost as a tight end - moving in motion across the formation behind the line of scrimmage. The team had its top three receivers on the field in this package, as well. This is a highly versatile package, thanks largely to Spiller and Jackson, who can both carry the ball and line up at receiver. Expect Chan Gailey to get more use out of this package going forward - it'll serve the dual purpose of getting Spiller more playing time without pigeon-holing him into the fourth receiver slot.
2. The Bills may be upgrading at right guard with Kraig Urbik injured. Back on August 1, I was sitting at training camp at St. John Fisher College with MRW. We were talking about Urbik, and MRW expressed optimism about him as the starting right guard. I told MRW then that I thought Chad Rinehart was the better player, which got MRW's eyebrows up in the air a bit.
Rinehart is now taking over for Urbik, which he did for the vast majority of the Oakland game, and he played very well. It's the same position he played in 2010 when Urbik went down, and he closed the season very well in that spot. He's not as big as Urbik, but he's a better move blocker, which fits well with the line's mentality, specifically while run blocking. The transition will be seamless, Rinehart will play well, and I wouldn't be shocked if Urbik is left to be a primary reserve when he returns to health - particularly if he's out for a month.
3. If the Bills have been saving Shawne Merriman, now is the time to cash in. By my count, Merriman got 23 reps off against Oakland - and thankfully, they didn't need much more from him, because the Bills seem convinced (at least publicly) that Merriman isn't ready to play a full game's worth of snaps. In Week 2, Merriman was again pretty blah rushing the passer, though give Jared Veldheer some credit for that - he has the look of becoming an elite left tackle.
Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the Bills are saving Merriman. Certainly, Gailey alluded to that idea, saying that they'd like to keep him fresh all season. If there's any game that Merriman should be "unleashed," so to speak, it's this one. Right?
4. Expect many more looks from Buffalo defensively this week. Against two fairly straightforward (yet effective) AFC West offenses, Buffalo has been fairly milquetoast defensively. They have not blitzed much, have not run many coverages, and haven't even used many different personnel packages.
Expect that to change Sunday against Tom Brady. That's a player that you can't stop, but you have to try to slow down to keep your own team in the game. That can be accomplished by giving him looks he's got to think about, and if you accompany it with pressure - whether by blitz or not - it'll help your cause. The Bills have been very basic through two weeks. This is the game that they can broaden their horizons defensively, all in the name of trying to slow down the game's best player.
5. Don't sleep on Brad Smith. Gailey has dialed up a passing play for Smith in each of the team's first two games. In Kansas City, he threw a deep ball intended for Roscoe Parrish that, while right on target, was also intercepted and thrown into double coverage. Against Oakland, Smith caught a lateral in the flat from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but declined to pull the trigger despite having two receivers wide open in the same area of the field. That play resulted in a six-yard loss on third-and-long when Smith tried to scramble.
Smith has carried six times for 20 yards thus far, and has converted first downs on four of those carries. For now, he has been effective as a short-yardage back, and he's played enough where Bills fans aren't forgetting about him. I think it's fairly apparent, however, that Gailey is itching to get bigger plays out of his Wildcat quarterback.