The New England Patriots are the heavy favorites for the Week 1 rivalry tilt against the Buffalo Bills, but that doesn’t mean the Bills chances of victory are impossible. There are a few intriguing players to watch for on offense, with C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson being the two most important players to watch. Spiller is clearly one of the most talented rushers in the game and if anyone can have a big day against the Patriots tough run defense, then Spiller would be the one to do it. Stevie Johnson made some innane comments regarding the Patriots secondary, but the Pats will definitely have their hands full covering him. The Bills will be using Johnson in the slot in three-wide sets, which should lead to some great mis-matches for Johnson against Kyle Arrington, who isn’t tall enough to face a guy like Johnson.
At this press conference yesterday, Bill Belichick took the time to speak about both C.J. Spiller and Johnson, and he also praised rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, who will be making his debut. As we expected, Manuel was cleared to play by the Bills, and Doug Marrone seems confident in him. But rookie quarterbacks, especially those making their debuts, have even less success than normal when facing the New England Patriots, so I would expect to see the Bills run it often with Spiller.
Belichick said of Spiller, “Very difficult. He’s one of the most explosive players in the league. He has great run vision, speed, catching the ball, he can line up out of the backfield like a receiver, can run receiver routes out of the backfield. He’s a combination of a back and a receiver. He’s a hard guy to tackle, a hard guy to cover; a versatile player who has a lot of skill. He’s one of the toughest players in the league to match up against.”
Whenever Belichick is asked a question about an elite back (see: Martin, Doug), he goes off on a nice chunk of praise for that player, and Spiller is certainly deserving of that. He is a weapon in every sense of the word, and this is a guy who can take it to the house every time he catches the ball. Spiller has the versatility to catch passes, and Belichick is a huge fan of this pass-catching ability. The Bills star is also an incredibly efficient rusher, and Belichick certainly gave some effusive praise to the agile Clemson product.
He said this of the Buffalo Bills outspoken, star receiver, “He’s an explosive player. He’s got great quickness, catching skills, good route runner. He’s a hard guy to cover.”
Both Spiller and Johnson will have to be great in order for the Bills to spark an upset against the Patriots and keep up with the Pats high-powered offense, and it will also be up to rookie passer E.J. Manuel to put Johnson in the position to make plays. He will need to continue to show off his confidence and leadership, and he will also need to avoid making critical mistakes against a turnover-hungry defense. Here’s what Belichick said about Manuel, “An athletic guy. He hasn’t played a lot; he played against Indianapolis. Good arm, good athlete and a very productive player in college.”
The two most praised traits of Manuel’s are his athletic ability (mostly rushing) and arm strength, but we should also remember that E.J. Manuel has a lot of the mental tools that a quarterback needs to have.