What we learned: Bills are looking past Doug Marrone

HERTFORDSHIRE, England -- The Buffalo Bills are banged up and hoping to get out of London with a win over the Jaguars before flying home for their much-needed bye week.

A victory would lift Buffalo's record to 4-3 while offering one sweet side benefit: A dash of revenge against Doug Marrone, the former Bills coach who walked out on the team last offseason before tumbling into Jacksonville as an assistant.

Nobody in Western New York has forgotten how Marrone opted out of his contract on New Year's Eve, outraging his players and shockingBills owner Terry Pegula.

"More than shocked," Pegula said last December, "But hey, I liked Doug Marrone when he was here. He was probably the guy I talked to more than anybody. So he made that decision. He moved on."

The Bills have moved on, too, but there must be a healthy dose of motivation to wax Marrone on Sunday before a worldwide audience, right?

"No, no, not whatsoever," general manager Doug Whaley said Friday. "I mean, we got to look at it this way: We're 3-3 now. We want to go on to the bye 4-3 and what we want to do is hold serve with these rash of injuries. If we can come out of this and go into the bye 4-3, I think we'll be in a good position."

Whaley wouldn't bite, but we did see EJ Manuel crack a smile when the quarterback was asked whether he's given thought to facing his former coach.

"Not much, honestly," Manuel said with a laugh. "I want to win. That's it, man. This is a big game for us."

Manuel told reporters not to read anything into his grin, saying of Marrone: "If I see him, I'll definitely speak to him."

No matter what the Bills are saying, there's no way these players haven't pondered their reunion with a coach who left them hanging last winter. Beating Marrone matters.

Here's what else we learned during Friday's practice:

  1. The Bills have embraced free speech under Rex Ryan. After both Mario Williams and Marcell Dareuscriticized their coach's beloved defensive scheme -- which ranks 27th in sacks per pass attempt -- neither player was asked to take it back. A team staffer told me Friday that nobody will be muzzled under Ryan, something Whaley echoed in his morning chat with reporters.

"When you lose, these are competitive, emotional guys. It's something that -- we didn't as a whole team play well enough and they're frustrated and they voiced their opinion. That's fine," Whaley said. "... The thing about it is, they've played well, we just haven't played well consistently through 60 minutes of a game. Look at that first half (against the Bengals in Week 6). Their average starting position was at the 50, we only gave up 17 points. So that was well. The second half? Not so much."

  1. That free-speech mantra extends to the offense, where Whaley has no problem with second-year wideout Sammy Watkins asking for the ball more as he did last week, saying: "I'd rather have him be that way. It's putting a target on his chest and he knows that, and so when he says something like that, then ... I expect him to make big plays."
  1. Watkins won't make those plays on Sunday after he was ruled out with ankle injury. Neither will Percy Harvin, who stayed behind in Buffalo to ponder his playing future. Whaley, like Ryan, acknowledged that Harvin has been out of the loop and out of touch with team leadership, but NFL Media's Tiffany Blackmon talked with one Bills player who did reach out to Percy:
  1. Whaley defended trading away quarterback Matt Cassel and praised the progress of Manuel, but he also seemed to indicate that Tyrod Taylor's job under center will be safe once he's healthy from the MCL sprain, saying: "We believe that Tyrod will be able to play after the bye."
  1. Ryan confirmed that Cyrus Kouandjio will make his first start at right tackle in place of the concussed Seantrel Henderson while Kraig Urbik will start at guard over John Miller, who flew home because of a death in the family. The Bills are super thin along the O-line.
  1. They're also thin at wideout, where Marcus Easley is questionable with a shoulder injury. Rex believes Easley will play. If he can't, that leaves Buffalo with just three healthy receivers. That led Manuel to tell us that Buffalo's tight ends, along with running back LeSean McCoy, will play a major role in the passing game on Sunday.
  1. The Bills are happy with their decision to fly into town this past Monday, giving the team nearly a week to adjust to the time change. As someone who just arrived here two days ago -- still feeling like I'm walking around in a hazy fever dream -- I tend to agree. The Jaguars, who landed this morning, will need to get their internal clocks together in a hurry.

Wake up and watch with the world. The NFL is live on Yahoo. For the first time ever the NFL is streaming a live game on Yahoo. Bills vs. Jaguars live from London, Sunday October 25th 9:30 am ET.

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