Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday afternoon the Buffalo Bills took part in their first game of the year, in what happened to be the final game of the opening preseason weekend. The preseason is meant to evaluate a team’s talent and allow young players the opportunity to prove they deserve a roster spot during in-game action, and the Bills have a plethora of young talent champing at the bit to get onto the field. That is exactly what they did, running over the Indianapolis Colts 44-20 in a convincing win. Is it too early to start planning the Super Bowl parade in Western New York? NO! Okay, perhaps… but the decisive win showcased many positives and we’ll break down a few of them here.
We’ll begin where everyone in Buffalo has been watching intently, the quarterback position. With veteran quarterback Kevin Kolb dressed, but strictly as the emergency 3rd-string option after slipping on a rubber mat while stepping out of the shower (he’s not injury-prone or clumsy, we swear), the spotlight was on rookie first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel. On paper, Manuel looked crisp and flawless, going 16-for-21 for 107 yards and a touchdown. He added 28 yards on the ground on 3 attempts, highlighted by a 24-yard scamper. Long-term success is not measured by solid statistics, but it was definitely a good start for the rookie quarterback to gain confidence. After starting off sluggish and understandably looking nervous, Manuel did hit stride and appeared secure in leading the new sped up offense down the field, marching 92-yards in 10 plays capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dorin Dickerson. It was clear the coaching staff had reminded Manuel to not force passes and use his check down options demonstrated by the fact that this 17-yard touchdown was his longest pass attempt of the day. His most impressive passing play could possibly have been an incompletion, when Manuel rolled out right and threw the ball through the back of the end zone. While settling for a field goal may not the ideal result, it is more common for a rookie quarterback to try to force a pass in this situation. The performance is a sign of good things to come, but leaves the competition between Manuel and Kolb very much up for grabs.
As the weight sat on Manuel’s shoulders, backup rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel took to the field looking calm and cool completing his first 10 passes and leading the team on three scoring drives. Tuel finished the day 19-for-23 for 212 yards with two touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 134.1 – an impressive debut from the young Bills Padawan.
The most exciting player of the day was rookie Olympic stud Marquise Goodwin and his special teams work. The speedster set up the first Bills scoring drive with a 53-yard kickoff return and later tied the game with a 107-yard kickoff return. Goodwin looks to be a rookie who is prepared to step in and contribute right away. If his solid returning continues, the Bills can expect to have great starting field position this season.
The Bills didn’t forget about their rushing attack, sharing the ball with many different backs throughout the day. Pro-bowl running back C.J. Spiller had an average of 9-yards per-carry… if this is any indication of him continuing his stellar yards per-carry average from last season. Rookie Kendall Gakins rushed for 30 yards on 9 carries, and Tashard Choice had a weak effort rushing for 14 yards on 5 attempts.
On the defensive side of the ball new coordinator Mike Pettine’s boys had an impressive showing, highlighted by safety Da’Norris Searcy’s fumble recovery, Jumal Rolle’s pick-6, Crezdon Butler’s interception and Mario Williams and Kip Edwards quarterback sacks. The defense looked more aggressive than last season and the big men up front put pressure on all 3 Colts quarterbacks helping the young secondary have success.
While the Super Bowl preparations should be put on hold, the record setting 44-20 pre-season win is still something to be excited about. The 2013 Buffalo Bills draft class gave many arguments of why they should be considered as one of the best Bills classes in many years. E.J. Manuel may not have emerged as the favourite for the starting quarterback job, but he executed a smart and safe game plan and should continue to develop as a possible NFL starter this year.
The Buffalo Bills continue their pre-season Friday August 16th at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings. A more than capable rushing attack lead by Adrian Peterson will be a true test for the Bills defensive line and seemingly weak linebacker core.