I asked five questions of Buffalo Rumblings' Brian Galliford. You'll find his answers below.
DC: Big picture question to start: What is this team's immediate future? You guys have some nice pieces, it looks like Doug Marrone is going to be a quality coach, but the AFC East is tough as long as the Patriots are still good. Do you think the Bills are a perennial playoff team going forward, or would you sound a note of caution?
Brian Galliford: Right now, they're a young football team with a young coaching staff, and Marrone is trying to grow this thing into a winning outfit. Before they can even talk about perennial contention, they need to do two things: make a run at the post-season down the stretch this year, and make sure that EJ Manuel is developing to the point where they can reasonably expect a leap from him in year two. This is a pretty talented roster, but before they can think about seriously contending with New England, they need to make the program more consistent top to bottom and, to put it inelegantly, be proven right about their evaluation of Manuel.
DC: What do you make of EJ Manuel? I know he's had his struggles as a rookie, but do you think he's a franchise quarterback? Does he need more weapons or a better line to really succeed in the NFL?
BG: I, personally, didn't think Manuel was franchise-caliber coming out of Florida State, though he undeniably has a good deal of physical talent. There has, to my eye, been very little to dispel that notion from him this season; I talked a bit about that here, if you're really interested in Manuel's game right now. Where Manuel has been impressive is how he's handled himself week-to-week; he bounced back from a horrible game in Pittsburgh to effectively shred the Jets two weeks ago. The game doesn't look too big for him. At his best, he's decisive and efficient, and able to hurt defenses over the top with the long ball. At his worst, he's skittish in the pocket, his mechanics break down under duress, and he can't put balls in spots for his skill players to make plays. It's all sitting in front of him - he's capable of becoming a quality pro starter - but he has a ways to go.
DC: What is causing the dip in production from the ground game? The last couple of years, F-Jax and Spiller have been terrifying. Has losing Levitre hurt that much?
BG: Early in the season, the Bills were one of the league's five best rushing teams, churning out big yardage on a fairly routine basis. It hurts them statistically that they've had to play the Jets twice, because the Jets' run defense is ridiculously good. It's also hurt them that both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller - and Spiller in particular (high ankle sprain) - have been a little beat up. There's also a new offense in town, and right now it's not utilizing Spiller correctly on the ground; when he's carrying the ball, it's entirely too predictable. Buffalo is a good running offense that has had several off weeks of late, but now that they're healthier on that side of the ball, the hope is that they'll more closely resemble what they looked like early in the season (or even three games ago, when they shredded Kansas City on the ground).
DC: I'm Mike Smith, coach of the Falcons. What do I do to counteract that potent Bills front seven, and what's the best way to attack this Buffalo defense?
BG: The team that did the best work against Buffalo's defense this season was Cincinnati in Week 6, and they didn't do anything earth-shattering: the ball was out of Andy Dalton's hands quickly (to counteract Buffalo's pass rush), they ran the ball effectively, and their immensely skilled backs and receivers made Bills defenders look foolish in space (Giovani Bernard in particular). That should be Atlanta's game plan: get the ball out of Matt Ryan's hands quickly, keep balanced with some semblance of a running game, and take shots down the field.
DC: Predictions for the game and the season?
BG: I'm feeling good about a Bills win on Sunday, with the following caveats: I don't think Atlanta is nearly as bad as their record indicates, and Buffalo has put a lot of horrible football onto the field in Toronto over the years. (Seriously, that venue does the "home" team no favors whatsoever.) In the end, however, I don't see enough big-play ability from Atlanta's offense - this is not a defense that you can necessarily dink and dunk to death - to pile up points, and I like the matchup of Buffalo's run-first offense against this Falcons defense. I'm thinking something along the lines of a 24-17 win for the Bills, and that will hopefully kick-start a winning streak down the stretch as they make their playoff push.
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