Around the AFC East: Looking Ahead Week
By Scout.com Staff
It's a road game, but not exactly.
The Bills, who lost their road opener at Tampa Bay two weeks ago, face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, in San Antonio, Texas, a rare neutral site affair in the NFL.
The Saints have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina and have made the 65,000-seat Alamodome their home base for the season. The Saints are playing three games in San Antonio and four at Tiger Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
So what will the atmosphere be like on Sunday when the 1-2 Bills and Saints meet?
"It'll be an emotional game for that team," Bills coach Mike Mularkey said. "It's really their first home game. They're playing in front of their families who are down there. So this is about as close as they're going to get to playing a home game. But I know (coach) Jim (Haslett), and he'll have these guys very excited about it and we will be, too."
While the Saints have become the new "America's team," in the wake of the hurricane disaster, the Bills can't be swept up in the emotions off the field.
"It's tough for them, obviously, to have to play their home games away from home. They deserve all the publicity and support they're getting," defensive end Chris Kelsay said. "At the same time, this is our job and we have to go to work and try and get back on track with a win."
--RT Mike Williams missed Thursday's practice, the fifth full-scale workout he's missed since injuring his ankle against Tampa Bay two games ago. Williams did not play against Atlanta and is looking like a scratch for the New Orleans game Sunday.
--SS Coy Wire sat out his second practice of the week on Thursday with a deep thigh bruise. With starter Lawyer Milloy playing with a broken thumb, the Bills need a healthy Wire to back him up. Wire's injury also weakens Buffalo's special teams.
--TE Mark Campbell, who has just three catches for 18 yards, could become more of a factor Sunday against New Orleans. The Saints will be without starting veteran SS Jay Bellamy (shoulder), and will likely start Mel Mitchell in his place.
--WR Eric Moulds, who is averaging just 8.3 yards per catch on eight receptions, is beginning to voice some concerns about the play of QB J.P. Losman. "I still believe in him, but I think there comes a point where a light has to click on," Moulds said.
--P Brian Moorman is posting some good numbers again (43.3 average, two punts inside the 20) but it hasn't been the best of starts for the Pro Bowl alternate. Moorman has had several short efforts, putting his team in poor field position, and also has four touchbacks when he couldn't angle the ball out of bounds inside the opponent's 20.
Dolphins coach Nick Saban is trying to see the positive side about his team's early-season penchant for penalties.
Miami entered its bye having committed 34 penalties for 295 yards, which was tied with Tampa Bay for the third-highest number of infractions committed by a team after the season's first three weeks. Oakland and New Orleans were tied for first with 36 penalties.
While not thrilled about such standing, Saban has praised his team for being able to overcome such problems more often than not in compiling a 2-1 record entering Sunday's game against Buffalo.
"We have shown an ability to bounce back and overcome adversity and there certainly was a lot," Saban said following his team's 27-24 victory over Carolina. "Some they created, some we created by errors or mental errors. We have to work on having better poise in making those kinds of judgments and decisions. That's something that we definitely want to improve on."
Trying to eliminate the penalties was one of the main focuses for Saban during Miami's bye week.
"We just have to continue to bring people's attention to these things and how it's their mental focus and balance," Saban said. "I think everybody needs to understand this. I am pleased with the way our guys have competed, played hard, played physical and been tough in every game that we've played. But now that decision-making and judgment has got to get back in balance and still be able to maintain that sense of urgency and intensity."
The Dolphins have exceeded media expectations with a 2-1 start, which has given Miami confidence heading into its bye week.
"Obviously, when you win two games out of three, you are going to have a positive energy," Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte said. "But there are a lot of things to build on. We had a lot of mistakes (against Carolina) and we have to look at that. We are going to grow from it."
The Dolphins also have managed to stay relatively healthy, with no starter missing a game this season. That stands in stark contrast to their AFC East brethren, who already have lost linebacker Takeo Spikes (Buffalo), quarterback Chad Pennington (New York Jets) and safety Rodney Harrison (New England) for the season.
"What we try to do is practice as safely as we can," Saban said. "We try to have the right kind of regimen in the off-season to build the kind of strength and conditioning that is going to hopefully minimize injuries. Some injuries are affected by that and some are not. I don't know if it is luck. You always feel fortunate if you can always stay healthy."
The Dolphins have to shore their pass defense, which was ranked 19th in the NFL entering last weekend's games. The nickel cornerback spot is especially troublesome. Reggie Howard was demoted from the starting lineup before the Carolina game, then struggled in slot coverage against the Panthers as wide receiver Steve Smith caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
The Dolphins may give Kiwaukee Thomas a chance to supplant Howard in nickel packages. Thomas is a six-year veteran who played predominantly in a nickel role in his first five seasons with Jacksonville, which released him just before the start of the preseason.
Saban said the team will try to improve its nickel defense during the bye week both schematically and with its personnel. But he declined to elaborate on any potential changes that would be made.
"I can call Bill (Belichick) and tell him or maybe I should call Buffalo and tell them so they can know exactly what to expect and where to put their guys just like (Carolina) put (Smith) in this game," a sarcastic Saban said. "I'll do that upstairs and tell you about it."
--CB Kiwaukee Thomas has a chance to supplant Reggie Howard for playing time as Miami's nickel cornerback for Sunday's game against Buffalo. Thomas is a six-year veteran who was signed just before the start of the season after being released by Jacksonville.
--DE/OLB David Bowens is still trying to adjust to Miami's new defensive scheme. After logging 52 tackles and seven sacks as a starting end last season, Bowens has just one tackle in three games as a reserve.
--CB Will Poole said he was uncertain whether he will
be activated off the physically unable to perform list later this season. Poole
is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery stemming from a torn anterior cruciate
ligament and meniscus suffered in an off-season practice.
--LB Jason Glenn leads Miami in special teams tackles with four through three games.
--WR Bryan Gilmore may be in line for more playing time on offense after a nice 12-yard reception against the Panthers.
While the debate will gain a lot more steam in the off-season, the latest injury to Chad Pennington has some in the organization questioning his long-term viability as the Jets' franchise quarterback.
An MRI by team doctors and an arthrogram by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews confirmed that Pennington suffered his second tear of the right rotator cuff in as many years.
The tests, however, also revealed that Pennington didn't tear the same part of the rotator cuff that he had surgically repaired in the off-season. Which means that it wasn't caused by Pennington coming back too early after the February operation, which many thought he might have when he was re-injured.
Pennington will go through a period of rest and rehabilitation over the next few weeks and will then be re-evaluated. It's still unclear if Pennington will need surgery to repair this tear, but everyone is agreed he will miss the rest of the season.
While injuries happen, Pennington's latest problem means the Jets have gotten very little return on the long term deal they signed Pennington to before the 2004 season - a seven-year, $67 million deal for which the Jets have already shelled out $22 million.
Pennington missed three games last season and played the last five plus two playoff games with a torn rotator cuff, and barely made it through the first three games this season.
There's speculation that the Jets will look at quarterbacks during the next few drafts and they'll probably come to Pennington this off-season in an attempt to restructure the deal.
Right now, though, the Jets will concentrate on getting Pennington healthy for 2006. There's no question that the Jets will only let Pennington back on the field when he is 100 percent healthy, rather than close to it.
--LT Jason Fabini returned to practice Thursday wearing a brace to support his sprained right MCL, a sign that he'll be able to play on Sunday in Baltimore.
--NT James Reed practiced Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with a sore shoulder. He's expected to play Sunday.
--FB B.J. Askew hasn't practiced all week with a sprained right ankle and won't play in Baltimore.
--RB Curtis Martin will play despite the right knee sprain he sustained two weeks ago. The injury has improved recently.
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