Kelvin Sheppard was nothing more than a helpless bystander last Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills’ middle linebacker found himself on the sideline for almost all of his team’s embarrassing 52-28 loss to the New England Patriots.
“Yeah, it’s tough to watch. I’m the middle linebacker of the team,” Sheppard said. “To watch my team give up over 200 yards rushing is hard.
“But here’s a new week and what better challenge than to go up against probably the best rushing attack in the NFL.”
The 49ers actually rank third in the league, with 167 yards per game on the ground, but the point remains. The Bills’ run defense needs to make a big statement Sunday.
“We’re going against one of the biggest, most athletic, most physical teams in the NFL. We’ve got to go out there and get the job done,” Sheppard said. “I think it’ll be a statement to reassure our guys, ‘Hey, last week was a fluke.’ We can’t let that happen again.”
Sheppard played just 10 of the Bills’ 77 defensive snaps last week, with coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s game plan calling for the team to use its nickel defense (five defensive backs) to try slowing the Patriots’ passing attack. The plan backfired, as New England rushed for 247 yards.
It’s a good bet the Bills will play a lot more base defense against the physical 49ers.
“They’ve got a lot of packages where they’ve got seven offensive linemen in the game, those kinds of things,” said Bills linebackers coach Bob Sanders. “We’ve got to have guys ready to go.”
Many have questioned this week whether the Bills should have abandoned the nickel scheme and gone back to their base 4-3 defense against the Patriots.
“We’ve got to stop the run,” Sanders said. “When you don’t stop the run, [the second-guessing] is not overblown. They’ve got 11 out there, we’ve got 11 out there. Doesn’t matter if it’s nickel or base or whatever.”
Sheppard was lobbying hard last week to get into the game, but said he trusted in the game plan.
“You can’t have the mind-set, ‘Oh, this is run stop, so we can give up passing.’ That’s not how that works. You have to be versatile in this league and we definitely watched the film and we know where we have to get better,” Sheppard said. “We can’t get caught up in all that, ‘this is a run team, this is a pass team.’ We just have to go out and do what we do.”
Sanders liked what he saw out of Sheppard during the week.
“He’s had a great week of practice. I think he’s ready,” he said. “He’s worked hard and I think he’ll be ready to finish off the week.”
The Bills had an addition to their injury report Friday, and it’s an important one. Right guard Chad Rinehart, who’s in line to start in place of the injured Kraig Urbik, missed Friday’s practice because of a calf injury.
“He’s got a calf that he did in practice [Thursday],” coach Chan Gailey said. “We rested him [Friday] just to kind of make sure we’ve got him on Sunday. We think he’ll be fine on Sunday.
Gailey called the move precautionary. Rinehart is listed as questionable on the official injury report. If he can’t play or is limited, Colin Brown would step in. He’s the only healthy reserve interior offensive lineman. Brown took all the snaps at right guard Friday, and is also the backup center.
Also listed as questionable are starting free safety Jairus Byrd and reserve receiver Ruvell Martin, both of whom practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday after missing Wednesday’s practice.
“[Byrd] practiced [Friday] and looked OK,” Gailey said.
Urbik (ankle), left tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) and defensive tackle Spencer Johnson (ankle) all have been ruled out.
The 49ers list two starters as questionable, cornerback Carlos Rogers (ankle) and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga (ankle/knee), after both practiced on a limited basis Friday.
Running back Brandon Jacobs is also listed as questionable with a knee injury, while inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) and punter Andy Lee (hand) are listed as probable. Those three players practiced fully Friday.
Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes was fined $21,000 by the league Friday for his hit on Bills tight end Scott Chandler last week.
Spikes made contact with Chandler’s helmet during an interception return in the fourth quarter of New England’s win. Chandler left the game, but passed a concussion test and is probable to play Sunday.
Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams was fined $15,750 for a roughing-the-passer penalty on New England’s Tom Brady. Williams was flagged for hitting Brady below the knee. Williams plans to appeal the fine.