The Buffalo Bills improved to 2-0 in the preseason as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 20-16 this past Friday. They return to action Saturday 8/24 at Washington. The Bills will be without rookie QB EJ Manuel as he underwent a procedure on his knee following the victory over the Vikings. He is expected to be ready to play by the regular season opener in New England. Whether or not he will be called upon remains to be seen.
Kevin Kolb got his first start in a Bills uniform and definitely looked like a guy who had missed a lot of reps. By the end of his half of work he did start to look better, leading the Bills on back to back field goal drives in under 2 minutes of play. When EJ Manuel took the field in the second half the entire offense seemed to have a different feel. The other players seemed to be more confident. The pace quickened and the results followed as Manuel completed his first 6 passes leading to a TD.
The big question in Buffalo and around the league is, “Has EJ done enough to secure the starting job?” I believe that he has, but ultimately Kolb’s play in the remaining 2 preseason contests will have a lot to do with making the final decision. Make no mistake about it — if Manuel is not 100% on opening day he will not get the start.
The Bills offensive line had another solid night as they gave up 2 sacks and averaged 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. Tashard Choice led all backs in carries and yards running 12 times for 54 yards. Choice also added 2 catches totaling 2 yards in his bid to keep the 3rd RB slot on the roster.
Chris Hogan continued to find ways to get open, leading all receivers with 4 catches for 34 yards and Marcus Easley had another solid performance, leading receivers in yardage with 46 yards on 3 grabs. Rookie WR Marquise Goodwin also managed his first 2 catches of the preseason.
The defense provided most of the excitement in this one for Bills fans, even scoring the game’s first TD. DE/LB Jamie Blatnick, who has impressed in camp, recovered a fumble in the end zone on a bad snap to get the team on the board. The Bills were constantly able to apply pressure on the Vikings and did so with a variety of looks. They totaled 4 sacks, led by OLB Jerry Hughes who had a pair. Vikings QB Christian Ponder labeled the defense as “exotic” and hard to identify. Pettine certainly has put his stamp on this defense and I am hoping for the excitement to continue.
The Bills go on the road to take on Washington in their 3rd preseason contest. Historically most coaches use the third game as a warm up for the opener and starters play into the second half. I don’t expect it to be any different for the Bills.
With EJ Manuel out I’d expect Kevin Kolb to play the entire first half again this week and open up the second half before giving way to rookie Jeff Tuel. Both QBs received plenty of reps in practice this week as the Bills opted to not add a QB to the roster. How Kolb performs will go a long way towards deciding who will take that first snap from the QB position on opening day. Unfortunately, Kolb’s play is not the only factor.
Marrone would be foolish to put EJ Manuel on the field to open the season if he is not 100% healthy. I certainly hope EJ is. There is a definite difference when Manuel is in the huddle. Even my nephew pointed out while watching the game that “the Bills look like a real football team with EJ.” With Kolb, even the good looks more like what we have become accustomed too. I think Kolb can be a good backup for this team and I am glad that we signed him in free agency; I just hope the better QB gets on the field.
WR battles will continue to be my focus while watching this game. I am rooting for Marcus Easley to find a spot on the team. I have also been impressed with the way Chris Hogan works the middle of the field and of course everyone is excited to watch the rookies. I almost forgot to mention, we may get our first peak at Stevie Johnson this week. I would not expect him to get many snaps but he could make his debut.
I will continue to watch the battles for roster spots at DE, OLB and CB. It seems that there is an abundance of talent at DE/OLB. It will be interesting to see who the team may try to get ready to take the place of Nigel Bradham should he end up taking a suspension. Currently veteran Bryan Scott is listed behind him on the depth chart and has seen some first team snaps this week. The CB battle is extremely interesting as Leodis McKelvin has yet to see game action, so a different starting CB opposite Stephon Gilmore may be needed.
Preseason game #3 is just around the corner. Will we get the answers we are looking for or will more questions arise? Stay tuned.