So here we go:
1) We both had tough losses to favored teams this past Sunday. What should the Panthers learn from that game in order to beat the Bills this Sunday?
Brian: Nothing earth-shattering, I assure you. New England won because they crushed the Bills in time of possession (thanks to a big advantage in third-down conversion rate and a better day running the football), minimized Buffalo's big plays offensively (C.J. Spiller in particular) and created a couple of timely turnovers that they converted into points. Most teams in this league are more experienced - particularly in key areas - than Buffalo is, so if you take care of the basics, you've got a good chance at winning the game.
I like our defenses chances against their offensive line. Considering how much pressure we got against a good Seahawk line we should be able to pressure the rookie QB.
2) I expected the Bills running game to perform better than last Sunday. What was the issue with CJ Spiller and is there a concern going forward?
Brian: I'm glad you singled out Spiller, because Fred Jackson actually had a pretty effective day running the ball. With Spiller, it was a combination of factors - New England's game plan clearly singled him out, his run blocking was much less consistent than what Jackson dealt with, he lost a fumble on his second play from scrimmage, and he wasn't seeing the field the way he's capable of seeing it. I wrote a lot more about Spiller's bad first game in our weekly All-22 breakdown here.
When the slower guy has a better day you have to admit the faster guy just was not on his game. I'm hoping he stays that way for another week.
3) What is your take on your new HC Doug Marrone so far? What did you like or dislike the most about the Bills game plan vs. the Patriots?
Brian: Marrone's a to-the-point coach that probably identifies with a very young roster much better than his immediate predecessors (Chan Gailey, Dick Jauron) would have. He brought Mike Pettine in as the defensive coordinator, who has installed the Rex Ryan defense built on attacking, mixing coverages and blitzing from a bunch of different angles. Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett married a West Coast offense with some vertical elements and the no-huddle attack, but they're so young on that side of the ball that things are gelling slowly, leading to a lot of consistently. I've liked previous Bills coaches philosophically and as men, but in the end we all know that what matters is winning; Marrone has a lot riding on EJ Manuel.
We should be ready for a no huddle offense after the Eagles preseason game. Otherwise if we can keep Spiller in check we should be able to hold these guys to just a couple scores.
4) What was your impression of rookie EJ Manuel’s performance in his first start?
Brian: Manuel was mostly good in his pro debut. Make no mistake, Buffalo's offensive game plan was very conservative as Manuel returned to the lineup two weeks after minor knee surgery. He made some bad throws and some bad reads, but also made a couple of great throws for touchdowns, showed escapability on the rare instances he was pressured, and looked very much in command of the offense. Defenses will become more aggressive than New England's this year - starting with Carolina - and he'll be in charge of more aggressive game plans. His development process is only just beginning, but it's tough to argue that it was anything other than a rock solid start.
Though I think Manuel was the best QB in this class I think he is still raw and needs time to develop. I expect him to be mistake prone and a little erratic in his throws.
5) If there is one person on the Bills defense the Panthers must neutralize who is it and how should they try to do it?
Brian: Honestly, there isn't anyone that the Panthers need to game plan specific things to eliminate. They probably will pay extra attention to Mario Williams just to be on the safe side - he's still very capable of taking over a game - but my guess is that they'll spend much more time studying Pettine's play-calling tendencies than anything else.
The Bills did get some pressure on Brady so I would expect the same this week. It will come donw to Newton making the proper reads and avoiding the rush. Of course a running game would help and there is some hope there given Fred Jackson was able to find room.
Brian's Game Prediction: Buffalo seems to have gained some confidence from their contest against New England, despite the last-second loss. Carolina presents a very different set of issues for the Bills to game plan for, but to my eye, they're an easier matchup for the young Bills - particularly on defense, where New England's offense is more complex, diverse and better-helmed than Carolina's (no offense intended, of course). That said, Carolina's a step up defensively from New England, as well. I expect another close game, but with a more desirable outcome for the home team.
Bills 23 Panthers 20
Obviously I'm thinking something a little different. I'm predicting the Panther defense gets a couple key turnovers that lead to points. While we won't hold them to under 13 like we did the Seahawks (though quite possible) I think the offense turns things around enough for a solid victory.
Panthers 27 Bills 17
Bonus questions submitted by BW Smith with answers by Brian:
1. Why is your mascot a Buffalo but your nickname is the Bills? Shouldn’t you be the Buffalo Buffaloes, or is that why you’re the Bills because being the Buffalo Buffaloes is really confusing? Which Bill (or Billy) are you named after: Hickok, The Kid, Idol, Barou, or Clinton? (Note: I really hope the answer is either Idol or Barou because that would be really cool. And, if the answer is Barou, is it the putter from Caddyshack or the nachos from Moe’s?)
Brian: From 1946-1949, the AAFC (All-America Football Conference) had a team called the Buffalo Bills that were named for Buffalo Bill Cody, a famous figure of the wild west that earned his nickname for his reputable bison-hunting skills. That team eventually merged with the Cleveland Browns, and when Ralph Wilson founded an AFL franchise in Buffalo, a local contest was held to name the team. The winning bid effectively re-named the AFL franchise after the AAFC team. While the AAFC team celebrated their ties to Buffalo Bill Cody, however, the current iteration of the Bills has never linked themselves to the famous figure.
I like 'dollar bills' better as an explanation but hey, it's not like Buffalo Bill Cody can complain at this point given he's dead and all.
2. Why does the Buffalo on your helmet have a red stripe running down its side? Is it to signify motion or speed? If so that’s kinda dumb. Buffaloes aren’t fast, are they? I would imagine not since they’re huge and near-extinct. If they were fast it seems they would have outran their poachers and still be hanging out all over the place, but they’re not. What I really hope is that the red stripe is actually a laser and the Buffaloes have lasers shooting out of their eyes. If so I would like to see them get in a laser fight with the sharks from Austin Powers. That would be fun.
Brian: Bison can run roughly 30 miles per hour. That's not touching the speed of most large cats, I realize, but the males are 2,000-pound animals, and they run in herds. So yeah, that red stripe signifies both motion and speed, among other things - and while it might seem "kinda dumb" from afar, I'm betting that most people would choose not to have one of those horns up their backside. Also: bison are not technically an endangered species.
Laser eye beams? I'm thinking buffalo are faster than me, which is not saying much and I certainly don't want to take one of those horns upside the keester.