Week two pits the Bills against another 9-7 team from last season; another team Buffalo edged out for the final AFC playoff spot last year. It’s the Bills and Chargers in the home opener Sunday.
Here are eight things Bills fans should keep an eye on this weekend:
1. ROOKIE QUARTERBACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Now it’s time for the second member of the 2018 draft quarterback class to take over as starter. Josh Allen got relief work in Baltimore last Sunday, and now the Bills throw him into the lineup to provide a jolt to their attack.
The seventh overall pick in the draft has impressed with his arm strength for years, but longtime ESPN NFL analyst Chris Mortensen says Allen has more to offer than just a cannon for an arm.
“It's not just the fact that he can throw it 75 yards,” Mortensen said this week on One Bills Drive. “He can make intermediate throws and his athleticism, in this day and age, quarterbacks do have to be a little more athletic than they used to be – it will allow for the offense to breathe a little bit. It's not going to be pretty all the time. But I think Josh Allen has the mental toughness to live with the ups and the downs.”
This week’s opponents, the Los Angeles Chargers, have a quarterback who will turn 37 years old later this season. So, they kept an eye on quarterbacks in the draft. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco says Allen got their attention.
“We did a lot of work on him in the draft,” Telesco said on the radio show. “We know where Philip (Rivers) is in his career—so we have to know these quarterbacks coming out. We really liked Josh. We saw a lot of him, did a lot of work on him. From what I’ve seen of him in Brian Daboll’s offense, he can do some things with the football. He’s going to be a big challenge this week.”
Mortensen, with more than 30 years experience covering the NFL for ESPN, says Bills fans have to be patient with Allen as the quarterback.
“My advice to the fans is I think you’ve got a special one,” he said. “I happen to believe Josh has a chance to be great. But it’s got to unfold over time. And time doesn’t necessarily mean this year.”
2. WHY SO SERIOUS?
The loss in Baltimore made for a tough week in Bills Nation. Who better to lighten the mood than Stevie?
Former Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson returns to Orchard Park this week as the ‘Leader of the Charge.’ Stevie started his NFL career in Buffalo and played six years for the Bills. He finished in 2015 with the Chargers. He considers Buffalo his true NFL home, and he told One Bills Live he hasn’t been around Orchard Park since he was traded away four years ago.
“No, I haven't been back. So, I’m looking forward to being in that vibe again, I miss it,” he said. “There used to be a time where I would dread having to get on a flight for five hours but now I can't wait to be out there and smell the air and be around that eclectic vibe.”
3. CHARGERS CAN RACK UP YARDAGE, BUT DO THE POINTS FOLLOW?
The Chargers offensive output last week in their opener against the Chiefs was eye-opening. Their yardage output anyway, not their points.
Los Angeles racked up 541 yards in offense against Kansas City, but lost 38-28. Shaky defense, four drops, and some special teams blunders prevented L.A. from winning.
It’s the same problem the team had last year. The Chargers had the fourth-best offense in the NFL last year based on yardage. But they finished 13th in points scored.
They scored two touchdowns on two trips inside the red zone last week. But last year, the Chargers were 28th in the league in red zone production. They can move up and down the field with efficiency but keep an eye on their ability to punch it into the end zone.
4. ORCHARD IN ORCHARD PARK
There’s a chance Shaq Lawson may be on the sidelines Sunday with his hamstring issue. So, the Bills signed veteran defensive end Nate Orchard this week to join the defensive line rotation and maybe bring some pass rush pressure to the defense.
Orchard is a former second round pick of the Browns in 2015. He was released by Cleveland on the final cutdown two weeks ago.
He had 25 career sacks in his college career at Utah and has five sacks in 34 games played in the NFL. The Bills defense, lit up by Joe Flacco and the Ravens last week, will take anything Orchard has to offer in the pass rush department.
5. COULD SPECIAL TEAMS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE?
The Bills received positive special teams play in last week’s brutal loss in Baltimore. They got good kick return work from Marcus Murphy and rookie punter Corey Bojorquez was solid in his NFL debut.
On the other side, the Chargers may have issues again this year. Los Angeles gave up a 91-yard punt return touchdown to the Chiefs Tyreek Hill on the game’s first punt last week. Rookie J.J. Jones muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, then fumbled it at his own two-yard line, leading to a Chiefs score. And new kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a long field goal to prevent any late comeback.
The Chargers have struggled on special teams for three years now. Last year, they had the worst field goal percentage in the NFL (66.7 % from four different kickers).
6. THERE’S DIRT TO BE DEFENDED
Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott made it a priority last year—protecting home field advantage. He preached ‘Defend our Dirt’ to Bills players, and they followed.
The Bills won their first four home games last year and finished the season 6-2 at New Era Field. Sunday’s game is Buffalo’s last home game until October 7, so it would behoove the Bills to take advantage of home field as soon as they can.
7. CHARGERS HAVE DOMINATED IN RECENT MATCHUPS
More then 50-years ago, the Bills and the Chargers would see each other in AFL title games. Their meetings are much more rare these days.
But the Chargers have the edge. They’ve won their last three games against the Bills, all by double digits, including last year’s 54-24 drubbing in L.A.
The last five times these two teams have played, L.A. has won four times, and have forced 13 turnovers in those games. The one-time classic AFL rivalry has gone the Chargers way of late.
8. JOSH ALLEN HERE, SAM DARNOLD THERE
The Bills take the wraps off their first-round quarterback (as a starter) this Sunday—the New York Jets did it last week.
And this week, the Jets put quarterback Sam Darnold on the field at home, to go up against the Miami Dolphins.
Darnold has become an instant superstar in New York, after leading the Jets to a 48-17 Monday Night Football win in Detroit. And he did it after watching his first NFL pass go for a pick-six interception for the Lions.
NY Daily News beat writer and NFL columnist Manish Mehta told One Bills Drive Darnold wasn’t rattled at all after starting the game with an interception.
“What you saw the rest of the game is the typical poised Sam Darnold that at least I saw in the offseason,” Mehta said. “He’s got a tremendous future ahead of him. I think you can honestly chalk that first pass up to nerves. He admitted that he was nervous entering the huddle and making that first pass but because of the dynamics of this game, that play in a weird way really helped him and calmed him down and, in some ways, galvanized the team.”