Training camp is just around the corner, and with off-season additions just about complete and rosters almost set, we preview the opponents the San Diego Chargers will be facing this season. Each team has made different moves in order to improve their roster, and this series will help you become more familiar with each opponent.
In other words, KNOW YOUR ENEMY...
More Opponent Previews: Arizona Cardinals | Seattle Seahawks
2013 was the first year under new head coach Doug Marrone for the Bills. They started the year 2-2 with E.J. Manuel at the helm, their first-round pick last year, losing two games by a combined total of 10 points, while knocking off the Carolina Panthers and the defending Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. The rest of the season seemed like an up and down roller coaster, going 4-8 the rest of the way, and struggling to get wins against the Dolphins, Jets, and Jaguars.
Offensively, the Bills were missing their spark, with C.J. Spiller in and out of the line-up all year, so Fred Jackson ended up with the majority of carries. This is a run heavy team, as they ran the ball 546 times last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, with rushing 15 TDs. Manuel struggled early on, and missed a few games with injuries, however, showed some promise, finishing the year with 1,972 passing yards and 11 TDs. With the departure of Stevie Johnson, Mike Williams and first-round pick, Sammy Watkins, will be relied upon heavily to help the passing attack take off. If Watkins and Spiller can both display the speed and elusiveness they're known, this could be a very fast team.
Defensively, the Bills had four pro-bowlers on their defense last year, but one of them is now gone, with Jairus Byrd signing with the Saints. Mario and Kyle Williams, along with Marcell Dareus, should still create havoc up front, after they racked up 31 of the 56 total sacks this defense had between them last year. Defensive Rookie of the Year Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL this off-season and is reportedly out for the year, but the addition of Brandon Spikes will help. The CB duo of Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore will still leave the Bills with a good secondary, as they ranked 4th against the pass in 2013, according to Pro Football Reference.
Additions: RB Anthony Dixon, CB Corey Graham, OLB Keith Rivers, ILB Brandon Spikes, G Chris Williams, DL Jarius Wynn
Losses: S Jairus Byrd, QB Kevin Kolb
The additions should help improve the run defense, which ranked 28th in the league last year, but the losing Alonso for the year will affect the way this team defends the run. Anthony Dixon could be a serviceable third back in this backfield, as this team ranked 1st in rushing attempts and 2nd in rushing yards last year, so another back would help in case Spiller or Jackson goes down. Not replacing Byrd could be the difference here, as his playmaking skills will be missed, but with a solid CB rotation and a ferocious defensive line, the Bills may only slightly notice his departure.
4. Sammy Watkins WR Clemson
44. Cyrus Kouandjio OT Alabama
73. Preston Brown ILB Louisville
109. Ross Cockrell CB Duke
153. Cyril Richardson OG Baylor
221. Randell Johnson OLB Florida Atlantic
237. Seantrel Henderson OT Miami
Adding one of the best wide-receivers in this years draft should help this offense, but with a second-year QB, there might be some growing pains to start the year. Adding three offensive linemen that have the potential to develop could lead to a bright future for this offense, but the youth and inexperience will show throughout the season. This is still a young team overall, but with a good core of players in place on both sides of the ball, the arrow for this team is pointing up.
Playing the Bills in Buffalo in week 3 will allow the Chargers to avoid cold weather, while facing a team that is still fielding a young offense. However, last year, teams that played the Seahawks would end up struggling the following week, as 9 out of 15 of those teams went on to lose their next game. Even though the Bills aren't considered one of the top teams in the AFC, having to travel to Buffalo to play a 1 o'clock game after playing a physical game against Seattle, could lead to a bad recipe for the Bolts.
The offensive line for San Diego will have their third difficult task in as many weeks, with this match-up quite possibly being the toughest. The Bills defense is known to be able to get to the opposing QB, so protecting Philip Rivers could be the key to winning this game for the Chargers, as is usually the case. With both teams possessing similar styles of rushing attacks, the running backs should be featured often, especially the two selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft on the field, Spiller and Ryan Mathews.
Even though the Bills finished 2nd in rushing yards last season, the Bolts defense was 12th best in rushing yards allowed. Bills' QBs threw 15 interceptions last season, with 9 coming from E.J. Manuel. If the Bolts are able to get pressure and limit the run game, the CBs might get a chance to make some plays on this afternoon, which might be the type of game that gets the fans even more excited about the revamped Chargers' secondary.