The rookie starting quarterback is out. The rookie second-string quarterback has been deemed not good enough to start. A practice squad player is starting Sunday for the Buffalo Bills against the Cincinnati Bengals.
When EJ Manuel went out with an injury that is keeping him sidelined for a few weeks, the hopes of Bills fans for a good season appeared to be up in smoke. That feeling is an interesting one. The Bills’ offense was not setting the world on fire with Manuel behind center. He definitely had some memorable moments. Two touchdowns in the opener against the New England Patriots, including a beautiful toss to Stevie Johnson in double coverage. Game winning drive with under two minutes to go and no timeouts against the Carolina Panthers. A beautiful deep pass to fellow rookie Robert Woods that traveled fully half the field in the air against the Baltimore Ravens.
However, for every good to great moment, there were negatives. Some bad turnovers, especially against the New York Jets. Not knowing when to slide, like the play against the Cleveland Browns where he got hurt.
Now, a rookie dealing with growing pains is still likely to be head-and-shoulders better than a quarterback brought up off the practice squad. However, Thad Lewis isn’t your typical practice squad quarterback. He has started a game in the NFL and didn’t trip over his own cleats. He also doesn’t have to worry about replacing video game numbers. For the Bills on Sunday, the emphasis should be on controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The only way the Bills have a decent chance to win this game is to establish the run early. If they are able to do that, Lewis does not have to try to win the game by himself.
However, the Bengals have one of the best defensive lines in football right now. Tackle Geno Atkins had established himself as one of the best in the game right now. He is an explosive player at 6’1” and 303 pounds. The Bills’ offensive line will have its collective hands full trying to contain Atkins and the rest of the Bengals’ defensive line. The best strategy, accounting for the issues at quarterback, would be to run the ball as much as possible. With running back CJ Spiller looking the best he has in a few weeks in practice, the running game needs to be the focal point.
The Bills used all three backs against the Cleveland Browns last week, mostly because of Spiller and Fred Jackson were banged up, but that trend should continue if only because the Bills need to run as much as possible. Running the ball close to fifty times would go a long way to wearing out the Bengals’ front seven, which would help Lewis get comfortable and make some plays in the passing game. Getting the offense going will be a hard task, and it will be up to offensive coordinator Nate Hackett to call a creative gameplan to keep the Bengals’ defense guessing.
Thankfully the Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton has not been setting the football world on fire this season. He has thrown five interceptions this season and been sacked 11 times. If the Bills’ defense can control the line, Dalton could be in for a very long day. If the Bengals can keep Dalton upright, the Bills’ secondary troubles have been well documented. The Bengals have plenty of playmakers on offense that pose all sorts of problems if Dalton can get into a rhythm.
When all is said and done on Sunday, the old football cliché will likely play out. The team who wins in the trenches will win this game. On paper, the defensive lines have an advantage over the offensive lines. If that plays out, turnovers will decide this game. The Bills are +3 in turnover ratio on the season, while the Bengals are a -2. Will that hold true with Thad Lewis making his second career start and his first for the Bills? If he is able to protect the ball and limit his mistakes, the Bills certainly have a shot at .500 again (a trend seems to be emerging…).