The Buffalo Bills preseason began 2013 by beating the Indianapolis Colts 44-20 this past Sunday. The team performed well in all facets of the game; offense, defense, special teams and coaching. They set a team preseason record for points scored in a game, scored in all three phases of the game and received huge contributions from a handful of rookies. The future looks bright for this team and the future is now.
Rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel split the game 50/50. They combined for 315 net yards passing while completing 35 of 44 attempts. Not too shabby for 2 players getting their first NFL snaps. EJ Manuel looked the part of a game manager in his half of play. He was calm and had a great presence on the field. All of the intangibles that get mentioned with him were on display for Bills fans and the rest of the league. Its only one game but he was accurate, patient and smart.
Jeff Tuel came in and continued were EJ left off. Tuel also displayed his ability to throw an accurate deep ball early and often in his playing time. Kevin Kolb needs to get on the field quickly and perform well if he is going to have a place on this team.
The offensive line continued their stellar pass protecting of previous seasons, allowing just one sack. Backup center David Snow did mishandle a snap and Doug Marrone was visibly unhappy with the error. It’s good to see a coach not accept mistakes and coach his players on the sidelines even in the second half of a meaningless game. Refreshing.
The receiving corps was as advertised: fast, big and deep. Marcus Easley led all receivers with 7 receptions for 94 yards despite only being on the field for 20 snaps. Chris Hogan looked quick and received playing time with the starters. He was unable to make a would be first down catch that was slightly underthrown (you can’t drop those passes for sure first downs). Robert Woods muffed a punt but otherwise looked good in his debut. Marquise Goodwin impressed everyone without registering a single catch. He showed off his speed in averaging 80 yards on two kick returns, one of which went for 107 yards and a touchdown.
The running backs only averaged 3.4 yards per carry even after C.J. Spiller got off to a hot start carrying just 4 times for 36 yards. EJ Manuel ran for a 24 yard gain and a first down. It will good to have that added dimension in the backfield when things breakdown in the pocket. The left side of the line appeared to get beat regularly on running plays and is a point of concern at this early stage of the year. Fred Jackson only had 3 carries but we all know what he is capable of and I wouldn’t expect him to get much preseason work.
It was nice to see them mix in a lead blocker in some packages and Frank Summers looked like an old school smash mouth type of player. Once we get to the regular season I’d love to see Fred Jackson and Spiller in the backfield together.
Tashard Choice, Zach Brown and Kendall Gaskins did not do much to provide proof that they should make this roster as the third RB.
One glaring difference with the pass coverage was the absence of space when Colts players would catch the ball. It looks like scheme alone has made an improvement in this area. Ron Brooks did get beat for a deep TD by TY Hilton. Brooks was lined up outside and is more suited to play the nickel role that he played so effectively in college. Rookie ILB Kiko Alonzo had an excellent pass break up in the end zone on a pass intended for Coby Fleener. The Bills may have found an answer to the problems they have had covering TEs for many years now.
Crezdon Butler and Jumal Rolle both had interceptions for the Bills. Undrafted rookie Rolle brought his to the house. The Bills are experimenting with the number 2 corner position while Leodis McKelvin has been out of the lineup. Hopefully McKelvin returns soon as he has to work on his consistency in order to live up to the expectations that are placed on him since resigning with the team this past off season.
The Bills are also without Jairus Byrd and his return would be welcomed in the secondary. Aaron Williams looked great after moving to safety. He can definitely hit and cover a lot of field.
The Bills still seemed to have difficulty manufacturing a pass rush despite using several blitz combinations. Mario Williams did get a sack on what appeared to be a missed snap count by the offense and his fellow teammate, free agent addition OLB/DE Manny Lawson, was able to get his hands up and deflect a ball at the line.
The run defense looked very suspect in their rare opportunities. The Colts only ran the ball 16 times but were able to average 4.5 yards per rush. With Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus manning the middle of the defense I expect much better.
The special teams unit was probably the most complete unit of the day. They were dominant in the return game and fairly steady everywhere else. They were perfect on field goals and extra points and they saw 7 of their 9 kickoffs make it to the end zone. The punting competition seemed one sided with Shawn Powell averaging 45.3 over punts and rookie Brian Stahovich averaging almost a full ten yards less over three opportunities
The Minnesota Vikings come to Orchard Park to take on the Buffalo Bills. It is Kids Day at The Ralph so there will be a nice crowd on hand. We will arguably have the NFL’s best two RBs on the field for this one in Spiller and Adrian Peterson. This will be a great test for the Bills run defense to see if they have made improvements over last year’s squad.
I would like to see EJ Manuel take a few shots down the field in this game. I would expect Kevin Kolb to see some action in this game so playing time for the QBs will be harder to get as the preseason progresses. Jeff Tuel has looked great in camp and in live action last week it will be interesting to see if he can keep up this level of play.
I do not remember a preseason in recent memory that has been this competitive with quality players battling for starting positions and roster spots.
Some interesting battles developed last week and it will be my main focus this week to see how those continue. The WR roster spots are up for grabs after Stevie Johnson and most of the players vying for those spots performed well vs the Colts. As the weeks progress someone will separate themselves. I am still in Marcus Easley’s corner and I expect him to be a solid player in this league.
The left guard position as well as reserve offensive line spots are available for the taking. The cornerbacks are all battling it out for a few spots. Like the WR position there is a clear cut #1 in Stephon Gilmore and after that nothing would surprise me. The Bills have been having many different players line up as the starter opposite Gilmore in practice so who gets the nod and how they perform in this contest will be interesting.
One thing is for certain, Bills fans anxiously await their second opportunity of the year to see their team take the field. Les hope things continue to roll smoothly for Marrone and his staff.