Upgrades along the line set Bills up for offensive success

You might say that everything has been laid at EJ Manuel’s feet for the upcoming season, but that’s what everyone is saying. Mainly because it’s the truth.

The message was made pretty clear at the draft with the trade up to select Sammy Watkins and the additional investment in offensive players like Bryce Brown, Mike Williams and even Anthony Dixon. Albeit, Dixon is more of a special teams addition than anything else. Where Whaley really invested this offseason was along the line. While adding Watkins and Williams adds even more depth and talent to the receiving corps, the line could see major changes take hold. Since the Bills are boosting their offensive line-up, expect that oddsmakers will surely consider them as a contenders with official NFL betting lines moving in their favor this season, having fans and fantasy pickers taking notice.

Between the signing of Chris Williams, the expected return of a healthy Chris Hairston and draft picks Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson, the Bills two-deep could undergo some serious changes. Continue reading

Extra Points: Injury and insult in Cleveland

In what has recently become a nearly annual blunder bowl for the NFL, the Bills and the Browns managed to put up some points on Thursday night in their primetime showdown.

A game that I joking referred to as the Mistake by The Lake Bowl has been exactly that for the last few meetings. In fact, three of the last five meetings between the two teams (entering Thursday) saw fewer than 20 points scored in the game. That includes the game played in a blinding snowstorm in 2007 and the windswept pillow fight in 2009, two games won by the Browns with a combined 14 points scored.

Thursday night, however was anything but a snoozer. The Bills leapt to an early lead, injured the Browns starting quarterback and had snatched momentum from the home squad. However, a pair of big punt returns, a strong return effort from Brandon Weeden and an injury to EJ Manuel turned the tables on the Bills quickly. Continue reading

Extra Point: Turnovers help Bills close out defending Super Bowl Champs

Feel free to insert your own cliché on ugly wins when thinking back on the Bills’ win over the Ravens yesterday. The Bills got the thing to the garage but with the effectiveness of a drunk guy wearing an eye patch.

The offensive shortcomings of the second half that allowed the Ravens start to sneak back into the game amplified a lot of the worry of most Bills fans while also erasing an impressive first half from their collective memories.

Buffalo’s defense rebounded well after allowing over 500 yards of offense to the Jets last week and virtually eliminated Baltimore’s running attack while managing to survive with a patchwork secondary that helped contribute to a five-interception day.

Aaron Williams led the way with a pair of interceptions and an overly impressive day that only saw him beaten badly once on a deep ball to Torrey Smith. While it was yet another bad day for Justin Rogers, the contributions of Williams, Kiko Alonso (2 INTs) and a pass rush that recorded four sacks and 12 hits on Joe Flacco bridged the gap for the struggling corner.

The Bills front seven was stout for the entire game. Marcell Dareus had one of, if not the very best performance of his professional career while the others on the line each brought valuable contributions themselves.

Manny Lawson, in addition to adding his first sack of the season, was stepping to the slot receiver at times to provide coverage. Mario Williams was pushing the pocket at times – and Flacco rolled away from him quite a bit during the afternoon – added a very important red zone sack of Flacco that aided in holding the Ravens to a field goal.

Offensively the Bills did all their talking in the first half. EJ Manuel was efficient and hit on a big play to Robert Woods to help stake the Bills to their second lead of the game. Manuel sputtered in the second half, losing some composure but managing the game well enough for the Bills to get the W. Continue reading

Projecting the 53-man roster

With the deadline to trim the roster to 75 looming (the Bills already dropped to 76), the remaining roster moves will come quickly once this week’s preseason game has passed.

The primary focus of this year’s camp has centered around the quarterback competition as EJ Manuel attempts to earn the role of starter as a rookie. However, both Manuel and Kevin Kolb are all but guaranteed to be in uniform and on the opening day roster when the Bills open against the Pats.

Positions like receiver, defensive line, corner and linebacker will be far different as the Bills 53-man roster shakes out and I’m hopeful that my projected 53-man roster is close to that of Doug Marrone’s. Continue reading

QB competition closed and then reopened after Friday’s win

Much like in their first preseason triumph, Buffalo’s second and third stringers controlled the games as the Bills rolled to a 20-16 victory over Minnesota at home on Friday.

It was a victory marred with regret as EJ Manuel was forced to go through a minor procedure on his left knee, knocking the rookie out for at least two weeks. Manuel didn’t show any signs of injury during his time against the Vikings, putting together another nice outing and taking another step towards Buffalo’s starting job.

Manuel’s play, like against the Colts, was less about the tangible results and more about his presence on the field, for me. Racking up yards against second and third teamers doesn’t hold as much water for me as the operating efficiency that Manuel has shown on his two long touchdown drives. He appears to have a strong grasp of the offense and manages the game well. Obviously a 225 yard, two touchdown half would yield numbers that indicate Manuel’s play was beyond impressive; but in these shorter cameo’s the substance is less about the final stat line for me.

Kevin Kolb’s numbers serve as a good example of this. He finished the evening with a couple of quality drives which bolstered his box score a bit. However, his play within the first half left plenty to be desired. Manuel’s knee injury will keep Kolb afloat for now, but it seems like a safe bet that the rookie will lock down the top spot on the depth chart. Continue reading

Bills backups roll up points, yards against Colts backups

If there’s one rule of thumb that football fans need to follow it is to not read too deeply into the results on the scoreboard from preseason games.

While the third game is typically considered the final tune up for a team’s starters, the Bills entered their 2013 slate with the opportunity to see a handful of potential starters in extended auditions during their 44-20 win over Indianapolis.

E.J. Manuel was the greatest beneficiary of the extra playing time as he ran Buffalo’s offense for the entire first half while Kevin Kolb served as the emergency quarterback due to missing time last week with a knee injury and family issue. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Manuel made the most of his opportunity, but the extra playing time certainly won’t hurt his progression.

The shining moment of his day came on a surgically precise two-minute drill to give the Bills the halftime lead. The 92-yard drive likely served as a nice confidence boost for Manuel as the 92-yard trek was really the first evidence of the swagger that was on display during his most impressive games at Florida State.

Assuming he has the upper hand in the quarterback competition, I’d say that Manuel didn’t do anything to hurt his status on the depth chart. He took care of the football and even showed how dangerous he can be outside of the pocket on a pair of runs. His touchdown pass to Dorin Dickerson was perfectly thrown and served as a perfect cap to his preseason debut.

Manuel was somewhat limited to start the day, as the Bills featured a run-heavy look to start their possessions. In addition to the majority of run calls, Manuel was a little cold off the bat when putting the ball in the air. It wasn’t until his final couple of series when he started to heat up. He had his fair share of flaws; double clutching a few throws and getting a little too cute with others. Perhaps it was a case of nerves more than anything else and Friday’s matchup against Minnesota will serve as the link in the chain for Manuel. Continue reading

Bills tap Manuel as their answer at QB

EJ Manuel was the guy the Bills wanted and he’s the guy the Bills got. He just happened to go about 10-20 picks higher than most expected.

In a draft with loads of depth but short on top-end talent, there was no guarantee where the first quarterback would be taken or who that quarterback would be. Different pundits pointed in four different directions as to which team would be selecting a quarterback and which quarterback would be the first off the board. Funny enough, no one was able to hit the nail on the head (except for Joe Buscaglia).

Sitting with the eighth pick and what now appears to be a draft board whose top-ranked player was somewhat undeserving of the eighth overall selection, the Bills wisely moved back, added another valuable pick and still put themselves in a position to take their quarterback.

Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley and company deserve credit for adding another second round pick while only retreating eight selections in the first round (and another seven in the third). All the while, the player they were targeting the entire time stuck around for them at 16.

Truthfully the only issue anyone has had with the choice is that Manuel was expected to be a better fit lower in the first round or even early in the second. There’s little doubt about his overall talent, just misgivings about the pick with which he was selected.

After having a night to digest everything, the only thing that matters is that the Bills got the player they wanted while adding an additional pick to stock the cupboards with. As pointless as draft grades are, the Bills deserve a pass for their maneuvering last night.

This logic can be assigned to any player they would have decided to take at 16. If Jarvis Jones, Xavier Rhodes or Cordalle Patterson sat atop the Bills’ board and the team managed to get their guy while adding another quality pick the story would be the same. The general train of thought is that 16 was a reach for Manuel. But if that’s the player the Bills wanted then there is no such thing as a reach in their book. Continue reading