Sunday’s loss to the Steelers not only dropped the Bills to 3-7 on the year, but brought the Draft and offseason process closer to the forefront as the 2013 season is slowly turning towards yet another chapter in the tragic novel that is the Bills playoff drought.
The story this week was an inability to control the game at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Playing against one of the worst lines in the league, Buffalo’s vaunted front four didn’t have much of an impact while the Bills running game never got rolling against the sputtering Steeler defense. It was almost as if the teams underwent a complete role reversal after the optimism surrounding this game.
Fred Jackson had a modest day rushing (4.6 YPC for 55 yards) while CJ Spiller was a non-factor with only 23 yards on the day. With a glaring inability to run the ball, the Bills turned to EJ Manuel to right the ship and he simply wasn’t up to the task.
Being rusty probably doesn’t even describe the regression Manuel appeared to suffer from prior to his knee injury against the Browns. While there was an expectation that Manuel wasn’t going to blow anyone’s doors off after four weeks watching games in sweatpants, I doubt his inaccurate performance was on anyone’s radar either.
It was a cyclical struggle as the failure to run the ball placed more pressure on the struggling passing game which, in turn made it that much more pivotal to have a functioning run game. Neither facet managed to take the necessary step forward and the result didn’t yield a touchdown until the dying seconds of the game.
I’m okay with holding full judgement on EJ Manuel until he’s had a full NFL season under his belt. This rookie year is slowly turning into a catastrophe as a pair of knee injuries slowed Manuel’s development along the way. Would a full training camp and 10 weeks without interruption give the Bills a more competent signal caller? I certainly think the results would be better than what has been shown to this point.
Obviously waiting too long on Manuel will keep an average team at that same exact level. However, it’s definitely too early to proclaim that he was a horrible pick and a bust without truly seeing a full body of work.
Play calling query
Speaking of Manuel’s full body of work, it seems as if there have been some odd choices in play calling this season. Buffalo’s red zone struggles are a prime example of this. Not utilizing more screen passes – with which Spiller and Jackson are both deadly – has been something that has left me scratching my head for a while. Is it a case of protecting Manuel? Is it simply a systematic decision, or are there other motives to the decisions.
A strong rookie year brought about plenty of rave reviews for Stephon Gilmore after 2012. His wrist injury really derailed his second season and he’s suddenly become the whipping boy in the Buffalo secondary. A week after Dwayne Bowe enjoyed a highly productive day, the Steelers receivers (namely Antonio Brown) enjoyed a similarly productive afternoon. Meanwhile, you don’t hear much of anything from the player lined up across the field, Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin has been steady enough this year to earn back quite a bit of respect that had previously been lost from the former first round pick.
The Jerry Hughes-for-Kelvin Sheppard swap looks better by the week. Hughes has served as a great compliment to Mario Williams and Manny Lawson on the outside of Buffalo’s linebacking corps. On a day where Williams was awfully quiet, Hughes had an impressive outing. Having another viable pass rushing option in the event that your team’s superstar has been shut down is a phenomenal luxury to have.