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Bills need to improve run game

Column as I see 'em, Week One:

•There was speculation going into the season that the AFC East, fortified by major additions to the Patriots' three rivals, might be the toughest division in the league. The notion should really be gathering after all four AFC East teams won in Week One.

It was the first time since the merger that everyone in the division was 1-0 after the opening week. The AFC East was the first division to open a season 4-0 since the AFC West did it in 2002 – the year the NFL went to eight four-team divisions and the Colts joined the expansion Texans in the AFC South.

Expectations are soaring after Buffalo's opening win over the Colts. But while the Bills appear to be better than a year ago, the fortunes of the Jets and Dolphins look to be on the upswing, too. The Jets routed the Browns, 31-10, while the Dolphins won in Washington, 17-10.

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, who come to Orchard Park in Week Two, looked as formidable as ever in Thursday's league opener against the Steelers, rolling to a 28-21 victory that wasn't as close as the final score would suggest.

All three of the Bills' AFC rivals have improved defenses. The Jets brought back shutdown corner Darrelle Revis and stole tackle Leonard Williams with the sixth pick of the draft. Williams had a solid debut against the Browns, but said he needs to work on his conditioning.

The Patriots bolstered their D line with free agent Jabal Sheard and first-round gem Malcom Brown, each of whom had a sack against the Steelers. Star linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed all but one game last year due to injury, is back. Defensive end Chandler Jones is an emerging force.

The Dolphins added Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who will not be disciplined after the league determined that he did not intentionally kick the helmet off the head of Washington running back Alfred Morris on Sunday.

(I'm not sure what was more astonishing: That Suh would be accused of kicking yet another opponent in a game, or that the Patriots would be suspected of tampering with the Steelers' headsets in the aftermath of Deflategate.)

At any rate, it should be a fascinating year in the division. I could see three AFC East teams making the playoffs, as the AFC North did last season. We'll know a lot more about where the Bills are after their upcoming games against the Pats and at Miami in two weeks.

So while the win over the Colts was encouraging, the six games in the division could determine the Bills' fate. They will need to run the ball effectively against three of the top defensive lines in the AFC, if not the entire league.

They'll need to run the ball better against their divisional foes. LeSean McCoy averaged 2.4 yards on 17 carries against a mediocre Indy run defense. McCoy, who led the NFL in negative rushing yards a year ago, had four carries that went for negative yardage.

Coach Rex Ryan knows the blocking needs to be better. “It wasn't our best,” Ryan said Monday. “We had a couple guys take a step back.”

Ryan said last week that the media was exaggerating the “ground and pound” theme. He denied using that term for the Bills' offense and said it would be more diverse and less a straight-ahead power running game.

It's true. People around the NFL have been scratching their heads about the idea of Buffalo as a ground-and-pound offense, because McCoy isn't that type of back. But however you describe it, they'll need to run the ball better to hold their own in what looks to be the best division in football.

•Maybe Peyton Manning should have retired after last season. There was no indication in Denver's 19-13 win over the Ravens that the Broncos' legendary quarterback has bounced back from his sudden decline late last year.

Manning was 24 of 40 for 175 yards and no TDs. His longest completion was 18 yards. He didn't reach the red zone until the fourth quarter. His arm strength has dwindled and he can't make throws on the move. Critics say coach Gary Kubiak needs to adjust his offense to compensate.

Two years ago, Manning threw seven TD passes in the opener against the Ravens. In his last seven games, counting a playoff loss, he has six TD passes. The Bills stopped his streak of 51 straight games with a TD pass last December. He has gone without one in three of his last five regular-season games.

Manning, 39, was a little short with reporters after the game and called the Bronco offense “a work in progress.” It better progress quickly. Denver plays Thursday at Kansas City, which was second in the NFL in pass defense a year ago.

•Granted, Andrew Luck is one of the best passers in the NFL, but the Colts showed a curious lack of faith in their running game Sunday. During one stretch of the first and second quarter, Luck passed on 16 consecutive plays.

It's no wonder that Indy has so few good rushing games. The Colts have now gone 41 games without a 100-yard rusher. The last was Vick Ballard, who ran for 105 against Houston in December 2012.

The Bills haven't had a 100-yard rusher since C.J. Spiller went for 105 at New England in the 2013 finale. Besides the Colts and Bills, the only other teams with no 100-yard rusher last year were the Lions and Titans.

•Kam Chancellor gained some leverage in his holdout Sunday when Dion Bailey, who replaced him at safety, stumbled and allowed Rams tight end Lance Kendricks to catch a 37-yard TD pass from Nick Foles to force overtime. The Seahawks lost in overtime, 34-31.

•The Chiefs, who didn't have a single TD catch from a wide receiver last season, continued the streak in Week One. KC fans aren't complaining. Alex Smith threw three TD passes, two to tight end Travis Kelce and one to running back Jamaal Charles, in a 27-20 victory over the Texans.

•The Bills' Karlos Williams wasn't the only rookie to break a touchdown on his first NFL carry Sunday. The Lions' Ameer Abdullah, who was the 54th pick in the draft, ran 24 yards for a TD on Detroit's opening drive at San Diego.

•The Titans cut their losses and traded former Bills guard Andy Levitre to the Falcons for two draft picks Friday. Levitre had lost his starting job two years after signing a free-agent deal worth a potential $47 million.

•Courtesy of Peter King: the Bills had 12 passes defensed against the Colts, the most of any team that played Sunday.

•Quote of the Weekend. Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was asked to comment on Marcus Mariota posting a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a 42-14 rout of Tampa Bay in his NFL debut.

“I don't know what a perfect passer is,” Lewan said. “Is that like a 300 in bowling? A no-hitter in baseball?”

•Fantasy note: Seattle rookie wideout Tyler Lockett was a chic pick in fantasy leagues. But if he's still available, get him. Lockett, seen as a burner who could fill the Percy Harvin role, returned his first career punt 57 yards for a TD. He had 34 receiving yads and 119 return yards against the Rams.


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