The Buffalo Bills have had it easy when it comes to injuries so far in 2017.
The team has withstood the two-game absence of left tackle Cordy Glenn. A strong rotation along the defensive line has allowed the team to replace Marcell Dareus in Week Three and Shaq Lawson on Sunday without a significant drop in performance.
As they always do, however, injuries have started to catch up to the Bills, who lost four players during Sunday’s 23-17 victory over the Falcons.
“This is life in the NFL,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday. “This is what happens. We're certainly facing adversity. We've faced adversity before, and this is only going to make us stronger.
“This is where leaders and leadership step up, get out in front of it, out to the forefront of things. That's what good teams do. That's what winners do. I expect that we'll do that this week. This is an important week for us for a lot of reasons. We've got to handle this in the right way.”
Here are 10 updates from the media availability with McDermott, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Monday.
1. No. 1 wide receiver Jordan Matthews is out indefinitely after suffering a thumb injury Sunday that will require surgery. Matthews, 25, has 10 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown this season. Those totals rank tops among receivers, but trail running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay in both categories.
Rookie Zay Jones will go into Week Five as the Bills’ top receiver despite having just four catches for 57 yards on 17 targets this season. Andre Holmes is the other likely starter, while Kaelin Clay could get bumped into the top three.
2. One player who won’t help address depth at wide receiver is Walt Powell. The Bills released him on the same day that his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy came to an end.
“Walt's been out a number of weeks at this point, so we need to see where he is, we need to see where we are on things and take it one day at a time,” McDermott said just a few hours before the Bills announced Powell’s release.
Powell, 25, appeared in 11 games for the Bills between 2015 and 2016. He posted 14 receptions for 142 yards.
3. Another player who won’t be helping at receiver is Anquan Boldin. The Bills hold his rights after he retired two weeks after signing with the team this summer, but McDermott said he and General Manager Brandon Beane haven’t brought up the possibility of seeing whether Boldin would consider a comeback.
“Brandon and I talk about a lot of things. At this point we haven't had any of those conversations about him,” McDermott said. “But we look at everything every week. We're going to have a lot of conversations this afternoon. With respect to injuries, this is why we develop and count on players to develop in our system.
“Our coaches work with our backups, who stepped up last night, did a great job I thought in a couple key areas of the game. We work with our practice squad players in the same way. You need depth in this league to sustain winning. Injuries are going to hit every team.
4. Starting linebacker Ramon Humber is also out indefinitely after suffering a thumb injury that will require surgery. Humber, the team’s leading tackler with 37, was hurt in the first half of Sunday’s win and replaced by rookie Matt Milano. That will be the plan to replace Humber for now, according to McDermott.
“I thought Matt did some good things in the game,” the coach said.
5. Safety Colt Anderson needs surgery to repair a broken forearm and is also out indefinitely. Anderson, a core member of special teams, will be replaced by Robert Blanton. The Bills currently have only four safeties on the active roster, so it’s possible they’ll need to make a move by Sunday to add one more.
6. Fair is fair. Former coach Rex Ryan was hammered, rightfully so, for having only 10 players on the field last Christmas Eve for a pivotal play in overtime that led to a Miami Dolphins’ victory. Sunday against Atlanta, the Bills’ defense had only 10 players on the field on fourth and 1 for the Falcons at the Buffalo 10-yard line with 49 seconds left. The throw from Matt Ryan to Taylor Gabriel was incomplete and the Bills got out of town with the win, but that type of gaffe — in that situation — shouldn’t be overlooked. The obvious difference is it cost Ryan a game, and perhaps his job, but what would people be saying about McDermott right now had that mistake cost the Bills that game?
“Well you look at it, substitutions, that's another area we can improve in,” McDermott said. "We called a timeout trying to get a look at what they were wanting to get done on offense. We need to get better in that area as well. So going back to communication. Unfortunately, the rules don't allow you to call two consecutive timeouts. We knew we had 10 on the field. That's a positive I guess, but we couldn't do anything about it other than just short of me walking out on the field and calling for a do-over, you know, in the the backyard.”
7. Marcell Dareus took just 22 snaps Sunday, the fewest of any defensive player. McDermott was asked if that was because Dareus is still coming back from the ankle injury that kept him out of Week Three and isn’t quite 100 percent, or it was the team’s planned rotation.
“A little bit of both,” he said. “First week off the injury, it was good to get him back out there again. Just like our team, you know, he's going to continue to improve, and that's what we're looking for moving forward.”
8. There was at least some good injury news. McDermott said the team will learn more in the next day or two about E.J. Gaines after he left Sunday's game because of a groin injury, but that he expects the veteran cornerback will be considered day to day.
9. McDermott's still not worried about Jones. The rookie receiver had a bad drop in Sunday's game, and finished with just one catch for 18 yards.
"I'm not. I thought Zay did some really good things in the game," McDermott said. "Zay's got to do his job, just like the rest of us have to do our 1/11th. The young man works extremely, extremely hard. He's going through what normal rookies go through that are expected to come in and play right away. He's earned that role. He's only going to get better."
10. Adolphus Washington was a victim of the numbers game Sunday. With Dareus and fellow defensive tackle Jerel Worthy returning to the lineup, the Bills didn't have room for Washington, who would have been the fifth player at the position.
"I mean, that’s it as much as anything," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of why Washington was a healthy inactive. "This week could be completely different, we’ll see as the week goes on."