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London calling, but who can answer call for Bills’ offense?

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LONDON — The Bills’ offense is going to be short-staffed once again when Buffalo takes on the Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins suffered an ankle injury in the loss last week to Cincinnati after playing just one half, that coming on the heels of missing almost all of the previous three games with a calf injury. Watkins made the trip to London, but did not practice Wednesday and isn’t expected to play. Marquise Goodwin suffered another rib injury last week, and he was placed on injured reserve and thus is lost for the season. And then, it was announced on Wednesday that wide receiver Percy Harvin did not make the trip for what was being called personal reasons.

This means the Bills will have to go with Robert Woods, Chris Hogan and Denarius Moore as the top three receivers in a game in which they may not have their starting quarterback, either. Tyrod Taylor, who sat out last week with a sprained knee, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, and his status for the game won’t be known until later in the week. If he can’t play, EJ Manuel would start for the second consecutive week.

“I’m feeling good, made progress from last week, taking it day by day, and I’m prepping for Jacksonville,” said Taylor. “It feels good, it’s getting better. I’m constantly talking to the trainers and getting feedback from them, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the coaches to make the decision. I’m not really focusing on that part, just mentally getting ready for Jacksonville and the preparation that it takes.”

Tight end Charles Clay liked what he saw from Taylor.

“He looked good,” said Clay. “He’s a guy who works tremendously hard and I know he wanted to go out and give it a go last week. I was surprised to see how well he was moving around today, so that was exciting to see.”

If Manuel has to start, coach Rex Ryan thinks he’ll be able to build off the game last week. In his first start since Week 4 of the 2014 season, Manuel completed 28 of 42 passes for 263 yards with a touchdown, an interception, and a rushing touchdown. However, while the numbers looked pretty good, Manuel wasn’t particularly sharp as his ball placement continues to be a problem.

“I was so proud of EJ, you have no idea the work that he put into it,” said Ryan. “His preparation was outstanding, and like I mentioned, do I wish we had a few throws back, absolutely. But man, if he plays, I believe he’ll do a great job. He wasn’t perfect, but I thought he did a lot of good things, and then he probably wishes he had a few plays back.”

This wouldn’t be an awful week if Manuel has to play. The Jaguars are not strong on defense as they rank 31st in points allowed. Houston’s Bryan Hoyer just carved up the Jacksonville defense for 293 yards passing and three touchdowns as the Texans dropped the Jaguars to 1-5 on the season with a 31-20 victory last week.

No matter who plays quarterback, with all the issues at wide receiver, the Bills will likely turn to running back LeSean McCoy to key the offense. McCoy came back last week after missing two games with a hamstring injury and rushed for 90 yards on 17 carries.

“I think we saw last week, he is one of the best backs in the entire league,” said Ryan. “So obviously when we were playing without him it was a huge loss to us. But the fact that he is coming back … is he 100 percent, maybe not, but he’s still better than 90 percent of the backs in the league. He is a tremendous talent. He wants to be out there and contributing to his team.”

At 3-3, the Bills are mired in third place in the AFC East behind undefeated New England and the 4-1 Jets, so while it isn’t a must win, it’s a game the Bills are favored in, and a game they must win heading into their bye week.

SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 7-5. The last time they met was in 2013 at Jacksonville, a game won by the Bills 27-20. This will be the first neutral site game between the teams.

GAME PLAN: Whether it’s Tyrod Taylor of EJ Manuel at quarterback, the Bills are going to have to rely on their running game, especially if LeSean McCoy is feeling healthy and able to contribute the way he did last week when he returned to the lineup after missing two weeks. The Bills’ receiving corps is in shambles as Percy Harvin did not make the trip to London, and Sammy Watkins isn’t expected to play due to an ankle injury, so McCoy will have to be the focal point of the offense.

On defense, the Bills have come under fire for not attacking opposing quarterbacks this season with their talented front four. Even though DT Kyle Williams is out, look for the Bills to get back to the attack mode against second-year Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles, especially given that the Jaguars are weak in the run game if T.J. Yeldon can’t play.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Jaguars LT Luke Joeckel vs. Bills DE Jerry Hughes. The Bills are going to be coming after Blake Bortles, and Hughes will give Joeckel fits if he’s on his game. One issue for Hughes has been the inordinate number of penalties he has taken, but if he is playing disciplined, he could have a big day.

–Bills TE Charles Clay vs. Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny. With Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin out of the lineup, the Bills’ passing game will have to go through Clay, who leads the team with 31 receptions for 324 yards and two touchdowns. Clay has been a key man in the past four weeks in particular, regardless of who was playing quarterback. He has had a nine-catch game with both Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel.


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