How Buffalo Bills can maintain first place in AFC East

With a 29-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills improved to 2-0 and now sit atop the AFC East. With two solid wins under their belt, the Bills have opened up the season remarkably well and face an important test in Week Three against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

If the Bills are going to continue leading the AFC East, they’ll need to improve on a few key aspects of their game.

Continue to get pressure and penetration from their defensive front

The Bills did a fantastic job of hurrying Ryan Tannehill in their game against the Dolphins. Early in the game, Buffalo was able to set and reset the pocket while defensive linemen like Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes manhandled the Dolphins’ front five. The stats substantiate the evidence that can be seen on film. As a team, Buffalo recorded four sacks, four hits and 10 pressures against the Dolphins. Combine that with three sacks, three hits and seven hurries against the Bears and the Bills have had an excellent start to the season on the defensive line.

If Buffalo wants to keep up its dominance on the front lines, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will need to continue to draw up creative blitz schemes at the appropriate times. Granted, the team can get a decent rush with just four blitzers, but Schwartz has utilized linebackers like Nigel Bradham to make Buffalo unstoppable on third down. Over the next four weeks, the Bills defense will face quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady. If the team can get those signal callers out of their respective comfort zones in the pocket, don’t be surprised if Buffalo continues its winning ways.

Finish off drives with touchdowns

Although many Bills fans rejoiced when the team jumped out to a 9-0 start against the Dolphins, EJ Manuel’s inability to score in the red zone frustrated the close observer. Granted, Manuel led the team into scoring position and his well put-together drives facilitated points. There’s no arguing Manuel’s early efficacy between his 20 yard line and that of the Dolphins. However, the quarterback was unable to make the necessary plays in the red zone that would have staked his team out to a huge lead before halftime.

A strong defense can only take this team so far; Manuel will need to connect on more of his throws when his team gets near the end zone. It’s time for the quarterback to take the next step and become an efficient passer all over the field. His footwork has been a point of contention for some analysts and there’s a school of thought that has Manuel as the worst starting quarterback in the league. The Bills won’t be winning any championships with a player that poor under center; he’ll need to take a big step forward or take a step aside.

Feed Sammy Watkins

For all of the negative talk about EJ Manuel, the Bills have some notable bright spots on offense. CJ Spiller has been solid and his kickoff return touchdown against Miami was electrifying, but it’s Sammy Watkins who deserves a good amount of credit. Watkins has acclimated nicely to the NFL, making all sorts of catches and running great routes, too. He’s a dangerous weapon at every level of the field and it’s astounding to watch him find ways to get open on a consistent basis.

Per Pro Football Focus, Watkins is the sixth-highest graded receiver in the league right now. That puts him in the same category as players like Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson. The Bills need to realize the talent they have on their hands and keep getting the ball to Watkins. In only his second game, the Clemson product put up eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. The sky is the limit for this young rookie and Buffalo will need to find him on all different kinds of patterns if it wants to continue dominating the air.

Find ways to close out and win games

It may seem simple and obvious but there’s no better way to win games than to…well…win games. Against the Bears in Week One, the Bills found a way to gut out an overtime victory. It wasn’t pretty but the triumph showed that Buffalo has the moxie to put down opponents when it matters. While the Bills dominated the Dolphins in all facets of the game this last Sunday, their win against the Bears may have been more impressive.

Buffalo has some tough games coming up, but with the right amount of guile and drive, the team can steal wins over the next few weeks. Beating teams like the Patriots and Chiefs would go a long way in helping Buffalo establish itself in a tough AFC. Look for Doug Marrone and co. to work on some of the things outlined in this piece as the Bills plan to navigate a strong schedule on their own terms.