Bills vs. Panthers: Blogger Q&A

Welcome to our next installment of Blogger Q&A as this week we have Brian Galliford from Buffalo Rumblings. Things have been rumbling in Bills territory as they face a number of significant injuries including the loss of QB Trent Edwards.

Question 1: I'm most curious how former Panther Geoff Hangartner is doing? I realize it can be hard to evaluate a center but is he starting? Performing well?

BG: Right now, he's grading out as one of our weakest performers up front - but that's not completely unexpected, given the importance of the center position against NFL teams who use three-man fronts far more often than they have in recent past.  There is no question that Hangartner has been a significant improvement over the Bills' two centers from 2008, Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston.  The difference, really, is night and day.  Hangartner has had some minor back issues and has had some issues snapping in shotgun sets, but he's been a steady performer to this point.

His importance skyrocketed when the Bills lost RT Brad Butler for the season; when the Bills take on Carolina, Hangartner will be centering an offensive line that features four players that may as well be rookies.  LT Demetrius Bell is a second-year player, but he was not active for a single game in 2008.  Andy Levitre and Eric Wood have started just six games apiece as our rookie guards.  With Butler (drafted in 2006) gone, we're starting another rookie, Jamon Meredith (drafted by GB in the fifth round this season), at right tackle.  Hangartner's leadership qualities are being put to a severe test, as he's now by far our most experienced starting lineman.

Hangartner is the elder statesman on the Bills o-line? The Panthers should be able to contain the Bills running game with their new DT additions. Who knows, they might actually be able to get pressure on the QB without blitzing. What a novel concept!

Question 2. Fred Jackson or Marshawn Lynch? Who's the better RB for the Bills and why?

BG: If you're asking which runner needs to carry the bulk of the workload, the answer is clearly Lynch.  He's the more talented of the two backs.  The fact that he can carry the load, however, only highlights the versatility and importance of Jackson.  With Roscoe Parrish falling out of favor in Buffalo, Jackson is now our full-time kick and punt returner.  He also lines up in the slot as a receiver on occasion, and has perhaps the softest pair of hands on the team.  He is Buffalo's leading rusher and receiver.  Getting both of these players playing at a high level is absolutely essential however much success the Bills are able to milk from this 2009 season.  The better running back for the Bills is Lynch, but the more important player is certainly Jackson.

How did I miss Jackson in my FFL draft?

Question 3. If Ryan Fitzpatrick starts at QB for the Bills what does that mean for your offense? Is there anything different the Panthers should be worried about concerning Fitz versus re-injured starter Trent Edwards?

BG: First thing's first: Edwards was not present at team facilities either Wednesday or Thursday, so we can just go ahead and strike that "if" from the question - Fitzpatrick is going to start for Buffalo on Sunday.

Not much will change offensively as the Bills make the temporary transition from Edwards to Fitzpatrick.  They're slightly different players - Edwards is a better pure passer, but Fitzpatrick is a better runner and probably a more savvy decision-maker at this point - but they're executing the same scheme.  We'll run, we'll screen, we'll take the occasional shot down the field - and, as it's par for the course, we probably won't score a lot of points, either.

The fact he is more mobile does change things for the Panthers a tad. The Panthers will need to make sure they don't lose containment straight up the middle.

Question 4: Let's see, the Bills got 6 INT's last week against the Jets and statistically they rank last against the run. Seems pretty obvious the Panthers will run the heck out of the ball Sunday. What do you think the Bills will do on defense to stop the Panthers running game?

BG: Sell out.  Seven, eight in the box at all times.  DT Kyle Williams has been one of our better run defenders for the last 2-3 years, but he'll miss this contest with a shoulder injury.  Spencer Johnson, a former Viking, will replace him in the lineup, starting next to Marcus StroudPaul Posluszny returned to the lineup last week, but the Jets still ran for 318 yards.  Our best back seven run defender might be Donte Whitner, but he hasn't practiced at all this week as he deals with an ankle injury.  We're depleted of our best run defenders, so it'll take numbers to contain the run.  Buffalo will be content to sell out a bit to stop the run, but they won't let the deep pass happen, either - so Delhomme should have backs, tight ends and Muhsin Muhammed at his disposal early and often on Sunday.

We are used to teams stacking the box for sure with Delhomme handing out INT's like Halloween candy. He's bound to try and force a few balls at Smith to keep him happy.

Question 5. After 6 games who is your offensive and defensive MVP so far? I don't suppose on offense its Terrell Owens?

BG: On offense, it's obviously Fred Jackson.  He's the team's leading rusher.  He leads the team in receptions.  He's far and away been the Bills' most consistent threat offensively.  It's really no contest - and if you add in his new special teams responsibilities, he's probably the Team MVP, too.

Defensively, I'm going with Terrence McGee.  He's not a big-name NFL corner because he's not a loud-mouth nor is he arrogant, but he routinely lines up across a team's best receiver, and he routinely shuts them down.  He's solid against the run, he plays through minor bumps and bruises, and most importantly (considering he's lining up to a lot of new guys in the defensive backfield), he knows the system back to front.  He's an effort defender.  The fact that he's been in the lineup and performed at a high level - minus the statistical acclaim - speaks volumes about the importance of his presence to this banged-up defense.

So Smith will draw McGee as his cover guy? Let's see if the kid holds up because I'm betting they take some shots down field early in this game.

A big thanks to Brian Galliford over at SBN site Buffalo Rumblings.

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