by Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
September 10, 2009 (updated 2:06 PM)
The Buffalo Bills came into training camp with high hopes. But their preseason has been a tumultuous one. The revival of the old Buffalo hurry up offense and pressure defense has been overshadowed by questions and changes. The good news is the season starts anew for them Monday night.
But still, one wonders where they’re headed after such an unsettled preseason. The practice games did not do much to ease a fan’s worries. The offense struggled to score and quarterback Trent Edwards did not show the progress that was hoped for. The team went 1-4 in the exhibition season averaging only fourteen points per game and towards the end, unexpectedly fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, who threw some parting shots of his own at head coach Dick Jauron on the way out. Then, just the weekend before the opener, owner Ralph Wilson summoned Jauron, GM Russ Brandon and two assistants to his home to discuss the poor preseason performance. It was hardly a vote of confidence for a coaching staff and front office already on shaky ground.
Needless to say, all the early optimism in Buffalo has been tempered by these developments. And the reality is they’re probably heading for a long season. Though they have talent, they are young in too many spots, and just not good enough in others. Now, they head into an opener against a foe that has been particularly deadly to them in recent years, the New England Patriots. But, as they say, it’s a long season, and everyone is 0-0. So let’s take a look at some of these Bills.
Monday night will mark the Buffalo debut of star WR Terrell Owens. It will be the start of his 14th season in the NFL and the first game with his 4th NFL team. But surprisingly, it’ll mark only his 4th career game against the Patriots; the second in Foxboro and just the first at Gillette Stadium. He’s never beat them. Owens first game against the Pats came in 1998 when he had 3 catches for 61 yards and a TD in a 24-21 Patriots win at the old Foxboro Stadium. They didn’t see him again until the 2004 season when they matched up with the Eagles at Super Bowl 39. Owens, of course, had a great day with 9 catches for 122 yards, but it wasn’t enough as the Pats prevailed 24-21 in that one as well. Finally, the Patriots had a much anticipated duel in Dallas in 2007 where Owens asked everyone to “get their popcorn.” It was an entertaining game and Owens had 6 catches for 66 yards and a TD, but the Patriots prevailed 48-27.
Bills rookie corner Ellis Lankster began his career with a bang by intercepting two balls in less than a minute in the second pre-season game, the second of which he returned for a touchdown. Lankster, a seventh round pick out of West Virginia, has quickly gained a reputation as a playmaker amongst Bills coaches and fans due to his pre-season performance in both practice and games and made the Bills squad as a 7th round choice.
Another Bills rookie in the secondary, Jairus Byrd, was a teammate and fellow starter with Patriots rookie Pat Chung at Oregon. Byrd, like Chung, was a second round pick and will play safety for the Bills.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has regularly raved about Bills special teams coach Bobby April. Its pretty clear Belichick thinks a lot of his coaching ability and his units traditionally have been tough and well coached. They were ranked as the best special teams in the NFL by Dallas Morning News columnist Rich Gosselin in three of the past five years. This will be his 18th year coaching in the NFL and 6th with the Bills.
Bills Offensive Line
The Bills are likely to start two rookies at guard, Andy Levitre and Eric Wood. They’re also likely to start a center, Geoff Hangartner, who is a career backup. Finally, the inexperienced Demetrius Bell has replaced the just-released Langston Walker at left tackle and it’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots defensive line can get the upper hand against this potential Bills weak spot.
The last week of training camp the Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert and replaced him with Van Pelt. Van Pelt played as a backup QB for a long time with the Bills. He’s called plays before, in NFL Europe as an assistant. It’ll be interesting if he can revive a moribund Bills offense.
Bills rookie TE Shawn Nelson has good speed and receiving ability. It’s important the Patriots not overlook him in coverage, because he runs like a receiver and has the speed to beat many of the Patriots linebackers. Could be a sleeper factor in this game if the Patriots don’t watch him and focus only on the Bills excellent wide receivers.
The last 11 meetings between these teams have been unsually lopsided, with the Patriots winning all 11. During that period of time the Patriots have outscored the Bills by an average of more than 3 touchdowns per game. The total point differential is 321 to 96 (or an average of 29.2 to 8.7 per game). The Bills have not scored even 20 points in any one of the 11 games, with their highest output being 17.
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