The Bills and Panthers will square off in a battle of 0-1 teams on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Both teams played their opening opponents closely, but neither did enough to win their respective game.
Buffalo and Carolina have faced off five times since the Panthers joined the league in 1995. The Bills hold a 4-1 series lead with their only loss coming in 2005, a 13-9 loss. The teams have only squared off one other time in Week 2: A 31-9 Bills win in 1995, the Panthers’ first season.
Even though the game is being played in Orchard Park, Carolina is being favored by three points. How can the Bills beat the Panthers? Here are some keys to winning the game.
Limit Cam Newton on the Ground
Cam Newton is the first mobile quarterback that the Bills will square off with in 2013. While the Bills look more athletic than they have in years, it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles Newton when he scrambles.
In last week’s loss to the Seahawks, Cam Newton ran the ball five times for 38 yards and was held to 125 yards threw the air. Seattle may have the best secondary in the league, so the Seahawks’ front seven was able to keep Newton at bay.
Buffalo’s secondary is extremely banged up as the team will be without Jairus Byrd, Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks. To keep the secondary from getting torched, the Bills will send pressure, but the team needs to be smart. The defense needs to place a spy on Newton when they blitz. If Newton avoids the pressure and gets out into the open field, it will be a long day for Buffalo. The job of a spy will be limit Newton’s rushing yards, but that’s easier said than done.
Keep Greg Olsen’s Production Low
The Bills didn’t face much of a challenge from New England’s tight ends in their season opener, but they will be tested by Greg Olson. The Panthers tight end is their second target in the passing game behind Steve Smith. While limiting Smith is very important, there’s no doubt he’ll get his fair share of receptions. Preventing Olsen, Newton’s second favorite target, is the next best thing for Buffalo’s defense. Olsen will be a player for the defense to focus on in 3rd and short situations. After seeing Buffalo’s struggles across the middle, Olsen will be used in the slot often. Last season, Olsen had 34 receptions on 52 targets in the slot for 368 yards and two touchdowns per Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required). Olsen ran 285 of his 463 routes (61.6%) in the slot so it’s something the Bills need to be prepared for.
Get the Ball in C.J. Spiller’s Hands
The Bills gave Spiller plenty of opportunities in the run game with 17 carries, but Spiller couldn’t get going against the Patriots. Spiller was held to a measly 41 yards (2.4 yards per carry) and was just as ineffective in the passing game with 5 receptions for 14 yards. Against Carolina, the Bills need to get Spiller involved early and often to try and get him established. Carolina has a strong front seven, so Spiller will have to earn his yards on Sunday.
Stretch the Field
In Week 1, the Bills were the only team in the NFL to not register a play of over 20 yards offensively. The team had two touchdown receptions of 18 yards and a Scott Chandler reception of 19 yards, but 20+ yard plays are the benchmark of big plays. Against Carolina, the Bills need to take more shots down the field. Unfortunately, the team will be without its fastest player, Marquise Goodwin, but T.J. Graham, Robert Woods and C.J. Spiller can all stretch the field in the passing game. Early in the game Manuel needs to show the willingness to go deep. Even if he’s intercepted early, it’ll keep Carolina’s defense honest.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Bills will have a 20+ yard play against the Panthers, but to win the Bills need multiple big plays.
The Bills are going to have their hands full against the Panthers on Sunday, but look for the Bills to eek out a 27-24 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
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