ORCHARD PARK - The Buffalo Bills' already depleted secondary will be put to the test today when quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of his defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens visit Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Jarius Byrd hasn't played all season due to a battle with plantar fasciitis, nor has 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore, who is out with a broken wrist. Cornerback Ron Brooks suffered a broken foot in the Bills' Week One loss to New England further depleting the Bills' secondary. Then, last week against the New York Jets, Leodis McKelvin left with a hamstring injury and Justin Rodgers showed very little by way of defending opposing receivers.
"While he's not out there, we're going through different combinations (while) being obviously ready for him to come back," Bills' head coach Doug Marrone said of McKelvin. "(We're coming up with) different combinations of players, different combinations of schematics - man, zone, matchups - things like that. Seeing what's the best thing for us, so it gives us the best opportunity to be successful."
With McKelvin being listed on the injury report as questionable, along with Byrd, the Bills will have to look for help elsewhere, and Aaron Williams, who converted to safety this season, may have to return to the position he was drafted to play.
"I think the way I look at the situation is, I really think Aaron Williams was developing into a really, really good safety," Marrone said. "A potential top tier type safety for us. Moving him back to corner and watching him play, it's difficult for me because I don't think people realize it's obviously much different, those two positions."
"I mean last year's over with, last year's gone," Williams added. "It is in the past. I don't even think about it anymore. If they need me at cornerback, I'm going do my best to cover my guy and help this team out in this situation."
As for the injured, Byrd and McKelvin are hesitant to get out on the field to help their teammates unless they are 100 percent healthy.
"It's part of my strength, my speed," McKelvin said. "So what would you do? Would you put yourself out there without being able to go out there 100 percent? Especially with what you do is being able to run fast and able to cover people? You have to watch it very closely, especially with your hamstrings. I'm going to work my behind off to get back out there."
"Like I've been saying since day one, I'm just going out there, getting treatment and seeing where I'm at each day," Byrd added.
With running back Ray Rice likely coming back this week, the Bills' defensive line will play as important a role in Buffalo's scheme as its secondary. However, the defensive line isn't without its injury problems, as Alex Carrington is out with a quad injury and Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams are all listed as probable with various injuries of their own.
"It's a part of football," Mario Williams said of the injuries that are starting to pile up for the Bills. "It's going to happen. You hope that it doesn't happen all at once, especially in certain positions where you have older guys, guys who've been around, and know the ropes a little better. It forces us to have to put younger guys out there who might just not know it as well just because of (a lack of) experience. It's something that we definitely have to go through, we have to face it and be able to hit it running."
On offense, quarterback E.J. Manuel will look to improve his performance from last week when he went 19 of 42 for 243 yards and a touchdown.
"I learned a lot from that game and the mistakes I made," Manuel said. "Obviously throwing the ball out of bounds when the pressure was coming, those are things you can't do. I learned from it, worked on it yesterday on my own and tried to simulate it as best I could. Just move forward from it."
Moving forward is something the Bills' offense has had trouble doing, as it has shown an inability to convert third-down opportunities.
"You improve on first and second down first, I think that's the best way to do it," Manuel said of how the Bills can improve their third-down efficiency rate, which currently sits at 31.1 percent (14 of 45). "As I already said, the running game, if we can get that amped up, try to get four or six yards per carry, that will definitely help us on those early downs, but don't try to necessarily do too much, don't take negative yardage, sacks and penalties. That's what hurts you, especially in those early downs. If you can get four to six yards on those first two plays, or first two downs, it will really help you (convert third downs)."
If the Bills are to continue working toward being the best, another great step in that goal would be to beat the Ravens. But it won't be easy as both their offense and defense will present plenty of challenges for Buffalo this afternoon.