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Game preview: Bills-Panthers

Posted Aug 8, 2014

Buffalo’s preseason continues on the road as the Bills square off against defending NFC South champion Carolina.

The Panthers had just four losses on the season in 2013, one of which came at the hands of the Bills. Kickoff Friday is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Short turnaround

Having just played Sunday night the Bills will only get in three practices before facing the Panthers in Charlotte Friday night. The players however, believe it’s enough time to make corrections for any missteps they may have taken in the opener against the Giants.

“A lot of the stuff was small details, not getting our depth on some routes and stuff like that,” said Robert Woods. “That just takes focus. We’ve got to pay attention to it in the game this Friday. But we’ve been able to get a lot of work in.”

As for how their bodies feel, there doesn’t seem to be any concern by the players about recovering in time for Friday’s game. It’s due in large part to the limited playing time for most of the offensive and defensive units.

“I can’t wait to get back out there Friday,” said Sammy Watkins. “Hopefully we play a little longer.”

Chandler, Goodwin plan to play 
Buffalo went into last Sunday’s game with just three tight ends in Chris Gragg, Dominique Jones and Lee Smith. The Bills will at least have their starting tight end back in the fold. Scott Chandler, who had been out for over a week with a groin injury said Tuesday night that he had the “green light” to play in the Carolina game. How much he will play remains to be seen.

“I feel good physically. I felt a little rusty (earlier this week),” said Chandler.  “Just getting back in the swing of it I feel pretty good. I think I got enough time off where the groin healed. I’m just looking to get back in there and contribute.”

Marquise Goodwin, who missed last week’s game as well, also plans to play against Carolina coming off a hamstring injury.

“Just looking forward to getting out there and get a few plays,” said Goodwin. “I didn’t get to play in the first one so I’m just looking forward to this one.”

Tight end Tony Moeaki began to participate in practice this week, but on just a limited basis. His availability for Friday’s game a question mark.

Offensive improvements

The Bills offense will be looking to extend drives a bit longer than they did in the preseason opener. Buffalo averaged just 3.8 yards per play, converted just four of their 13 third down opportunities (31%) and as a result had just four of their 10 possessions last more than six plays.

“I just want to score. That’s the big thing,” said EJ Manuel. “I just want to go out there and kind of get our first touchdown under our belt. Not just a field goal. I know it’s not going to be very long when we’re playing, but we want to still go out there and win as a team. My biggest goal for the offense. We want to go out there and score. If we can get a couple of more series that’s great, but I definitely want to go out there and score before we’re done.”

Knowing it was only their first preseason outing with four more to play, center Eric Wood has faith there will be noticeable improvement as they move through August.

“I have a lot of confidence with where we’re going. A lot of the mistakes were easily correctable,” he said. “There were some mental errors and such, that moving forward will get corrected. It’s not necessarily guys getting beat as much physically as it is some mental stuff.”

Buffalo’s offensive front will get a supreme test when it comes to protections as Carolina’s defensive front led the league in sacks with 60 in 2013. The Bills backs have been working on their protection assignments all week.

“It’s going to be a great test for us and one we’re looking forward to,” said Fred Jackson. “They have a great front four that are going to get after the quarterback. They’ve got active linebackers who are going to be all over the place. So from a pass protection standpoint it’ll be a good test for us going into the season. It will be fun to see how those guys react in those situations.”

Setting the edge

Coming out of the Hall of Fame game, the starting defensive unit was very effective. They sent the Giants three and out on their first possession and got a sack and forced fumble that they recovered. The turnover led to a field goal for the Bills.

“I think the defense, as far as the first unit, went out and dominated. As far as the whole defense, I think we definitely have some improvement, some stuff we need to clean up,” said Brandon Spikes. “We’ve just got to keep working.”

The defensive players were not happy with their performance against the run toward the tail end of the first half. The Giants averaged 4.3 yards a carry on the ground through the first two quarters with Andre Williams’ 21-yard carry ultimately leading to a touchdown.

“We just didn’t really have a great edge of the defense,” said Nigel Bradham. “We just have to come down and set the edge. We were running different plays and different blitzes and some guys we just had mental errors. That was one of the things was mental errors. So we’ve got to get that corrected and just sell out to stop the run.”

The opponent

Though they dropped a last second decision to the Bills in Week 2 last season (24-23) the Carolina Panthers would go on to win 12 of their last 14 games en route to an NFC South title.

They ranked second in the league in defense and led the league in sacks. The Panthers also ranked second in the league against the run and second in points allowed surrendering just over two touchdowns a game (15.1).

Carolina’s top two draft choices were Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin and Missouri DE Kony Ealy. The Panthers targeted experienced veterans in free agency including WR Jerricho Cotchery, CB Antoine Cason and SS Roman Harper.