James Lofton will be the analyst alongside Andrew Catalon for CBS’ broadcast of the Bills-Raiders game on Sunday. Lofton, of course, played four of his 16 NFL seasons with Buffalo, including for three of the Bills’ four Super Bowl teams.
Lofton, who also played for the Packers, L.A. Raiders, L.A. Rams and Philadelphia Eagles, spoke with The News by phone this week from his home in San Diego.
Here are some of his thoughts on the Bills, Tyrod Taylor, the coaching staff, their surprising secondary, and why he likes coming back to Buffalo.
On the Bills’ 4-2 start: “As I’m watching the Bills and catching up with some of the games they’ve played in the last couple of weeks, they’re a good, fundamentally sound team. They are playing great defense right now. I know they’ve been struggling a little bit offensively. But they’re doing enough and they’re not making mistakes. Not a lot of giveaways, not a lot of penalties, so they don’t beat themselves.”
How about the quarterback? “I like what I’m seeing from Tyrod Taylor. I think people forget that Tyrod Taylor is a good passer, in addition to being a really good runner. We go overboard on Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, well he’s rushed for more yards the last three seasons than those two guys have. Most people forgot that, they think, well, it’s just Tyrod Taylor. But when you watch him play when you have to play against him, you realize that you have to account for him.”
Are the Bills lacking a stretch-the-field receiver? “Charles Clay can do some of those things from the tight end position. You can obviously stretch it by trying to run deep but then you can stretch it from sideline to sideline. And when you have someone like Clay in the middle, and also LeSean McCoy in between the numbers, now you have to account for those two players, and outside you’re going to get the one-on-one matchups. That’s why Deonte Thompson was able to come in – I don’t know if they signed him on Tuesday or Wednesday – and then he’s able to have 100 yards on Sunday. Maybe that’s not going to happen every week, and meanwhile all the fans are kind of waiting on Zay Jones, waiting for him to blossom.”
The offense under coordinator Rick Dennison: “It’s funny, people who don’t know Rick Dennison’s bio, well, they kind of vaguely remember he’s been in Denver a long time, then he was down with the Texans and Gary Kubiak, another offshoot of the Broncos. They kind of forget that he was a player, and he was a defensive player. He was a pretty good defensive player back in the early ’80s. So he’s been around the game a long time. He’s seen the changes that have come on the offensive side of the ball because when he was a defensive player he was studying offenses. And then to move over and be an offensive coach, he’s put in the time and he’s worked with a lot of different offensive players and he’s developed his own system.”
The defense under coordinator Leslie Frazier: “He’s a guy who I used to play against, Leslie Frazier, and who I have a lot of respect for. He was head coach of the Vikings for awhile. I’m not sure if there’s another secondary in the league where there’s not another player who started there last year on it. And for these guys to play as well as they have, sure, they might get beaten by an A.J. Green or someone like that, but this group is going to get better and better.
“And Micah Hyde, because he’s a former Packer, I’ve had my eye on him since he came into the league out of Iowa. I think he is one of the smartest players in the league. And it shows up. When you get four interceptions in the first six games, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”
On the push to end the playoff drought: “I think for the Bills this year, they are not running from the success of the teams from the late ’80s and early ’90s. Not that they want to duplicate it; I think they want to stand on their own. I think that’s what Sean McDermott has done. He’s allowing this team, they’ve got a great past, they’ve got a great fan base, but they’ve got to get it done in today’s market against today’s teams. From a distance that’s what I see. But I’m really looking forward to getting there and watching practice, talking to the coaches and talking to the players, to see if I’m correct in my assessment in what I see from a distance.”
On the slow-starting Raiders: “The Raiders were 12-4 a year ago. They had seven games that they won that were one-score games. They played a lot of close games, and Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree did a lot of magic late in games. We saw that last Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs, with those four plays at the end of the game where we were all on the edge of our seats. We know what they did a year ago, but can they repeat that same magic this year? You hate to say it’s still early, but it is still early. No one’s really eliminated themselves. I still think the magic marker is 10 wins. If you can get to 10 wins I still think you have a chance to slip into the playoffs. Twelve or 13 almost guarantees you a spot. It doesn’t look like there are going to be many 12- or 13-win teams in the AFC this year.”
Returning to Buffalo this week: “It’s always more than a business trip. I got to play there for four years and it was probably the best four-year stretch of my career. I played with guys who are in the Hall of Fame. I played with guys whose names are up in that Bills stadium. I was there last year for the Thursday night game against the Jets when they retired Bruce Smith’s number and just to be on the field with a lot of my former teammates, it’s – what do they say in that commercial? – it was priceless. It’s always special. Now you take two of my former teams and you pit them against each other. It’s funny, I always tell my friends that I can jump on a lot of bandwagons. I played for the Packers, I played for the Raiders and the Bills and the Chargers, then you have former teammates who are in the coaching industry and working for different teams all around the league. So as an analyst and doing games, all I’m looking for is just great plays, on either side of the ball.”
Story topics: A.J. Green/ Amari Cooper/ Andrew Catalon/ Bruce Smith/ Charles Clay/ Derek Carr/ James Lofton/ LeSean McCoy/ Leslie Frazier/ Micah Hyde/ Michael Crabtree/ Rick Dennison/ Sean McDermott/ Tyrod Taylor/ Zay Jones