Buffalo Bills mailbag, Week 15: coaching decisions in focus

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This week's mailbag addresses the crowd of people that want EJ Manuel benched, question the release of Da'Rick Rogers after his breakout performance in Indy, and those obsessed with C.J. Spiller's play time percentages.

Now that the Buffalo Bills are on a two-game losing streak, sitting at 4-9 and staring at the possibility of a top-five pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, questions being submitted (via email and Twitter) for our weekly mailbag post have turned in focus to decisions being made (or not, as the case may be) by the team's coaching staff. Let's dive right in...

I know it won't happen, but wouldn't sitting EJ Manuel for the last three games and playing Thad Lewis help his development more than playing like crap?

I picked this particular wording of the question, submitted by reader Eric M, because it began with an acknowledgment that the Bills won't be benching EJ Manuel. Well done, sir. Your grasp of reality is perfect.

The easiest way to answer this question is with another question: did his missing four games in the middle of the season stunt his development? The answer to that question is an obvious and resounding yes. The guy needs to be on the field, even if he's playing like he did during Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay in the process. I've watched every Bills game at least twice this season (including at least one pass-through of the All-22 per week). I have seen how defenses attack Buffalo's offense, and I'm not any better at playing NFL quarterback than I was this past summer. Manuel can't get better unless he plays.

As for the argument, mercifully coming from the few, that the Bills should play Lewis to see if he can be their backup quarterback long-term: there are two immediate problems to point out. First, if we're talking about pure return on investment, the Bills need to nurture the guy that became the first quarterback picked with their first first-round pick in the 50-plus year history of the franchise, not the guy they picked up out of desperation in a trade for Chris White. Second, they need to work on figuring out if they have a starting-caliber quarterback before they attempt to figure out who the backup is. The argument for starting Lewis is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

How is it possible that the Bills could spend a Top 10 pick on a guy, then play him on 31.7 percent of snaps in a season?

This questioner, Kyle H, is inquiring about one C.J. Spiller, who has played 236 fewer snaps (an average of 16.9 per game) than backfield mate Fred Jackson. Part of the answer to that question, of course, is that Spiller spent a large chunk of the season dealing with a high ankle sprain.

The other part of the answer is that Spiller isn't an every-down back in this offense, for whatever reason. Jackson sees the field more because he has more universal utility than Spiller; the team trusts Jackson in its pass-down protections, where they clearly do not with Spiller. Until (or unless) the Bills are willing to expand Spiller's role to include more snaps split out wide, it's hard to envision Spiller's snap percentages rising much under this coaching staff.

That would be the most frustrating part about Spiller's 2013 season, by the way: the fact that he's been pigeon-holed into a very specific role by a coaching staff that hasn't delivered on a lot of off-season talk that he'd be made the centerpiece of the offense. I'm fairly certain that "Free C.J." will be a rallying cry of mine this off-season. A player that talented shouldn't be suppressed in such fashion.

Now that Da'Rick Rogers has exploded onto the scene in Indy, is it safe to say the Bills were stupid to release him?

A bluntly worded question, Mike K. Bluntly worded, indeed.

I get that people like to bash on Stevie Johnson lately, and T.J. Graham has been a popular whipping boy for a calendar year. When you get right down to it, however, their top four group of Johnson, Robert Woods, Graham and Marquise Goodwin has a ton of physical talent - and all four of those players represent a much larger investment than Rogers, who was an undrafted free agent. If Rogers were still in Buffalo, he'd be buried on the depth chart behind that quartet, an also-ran in the same vein as Chris Hogan and another guy, Marcus Easley. He wouldn't be doing in Buffalo what he did in Indy on Sunday - and that, by the way, was only his second game of the season. His fate was sealed in Buffalo; Indy has afforded him a better opportunity.

That said, there is a frustrating element to this, for certain: Rogers, who stands 6'3" and put up a 39.5-inch vertical leap in pre-draft workouts last spring, has the go-up-and-get-it ability that Buffalo's receiving corps sorely lacks. They still need a player with that specific trait in Buffalo, and had Rogers performed better this summer, that'd be one less need the team will have to address next spring.

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