Bills 44, Colts 20 recap: new-look Bills have strong preseason debut

Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Doug Marrone's Bills had a strong top-to-bottom debut in a 44-20 exhibition throttling of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Buffalo Bills set a franchise record for points scored in a preseason contest on Sunday afternoon in defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 44-20, at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here's our quick post-game six pack of observations on the Bills' exhibition victory:

No. 1: Manuel makes his debut

In his first appearance as a pro, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel got off to a shaky start. Nice throws were hard to come by in the first half as Manuel looked hesitant to force the ball downfield and skittish moving beyond his first read. Late in the half, he had completed 7-of-12 passes for just 39 yards, with the offense producing six points. When he got the opportunity to lead the two-minute drill (against Indy's reserve defenders), however, Manuel responded with easily his best drive of the game, hitting on all nine of his passes for 68 yards, including a pretty 17-yard seam route to Dorin Dickerson for a touchdown. In all, Manuel finished 16-of-21 for 109 yards (with another 28 on the ground) with a touchdown and no picks. Manuel has a lot to work on and by no means leaped forward in the starting quarterback battle, but there were subtle positive signs and some good throws to build on.

No. 2: Tuel's debut impressive

Playing the entire second half, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel could not have scripted himself a better start to his pro career: he completed his first nine passes, including a touchdown toss on the opening possession of the second half. Tuel was decisive, showed good touch on deep throws and looked to have solid chemistry built with select second and third-team receivers. Though he did lose a fumble on a blindside hit that was returned for a touchdown, his stat line was otherwise excellent: 19-of-23 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

No. 3: Strong performances from wideouts

A whopping 15 Bills players caught passes in this game. Specifically at wide receiver, several young players attempting to crack the back end of the 53-man roster impressed. Marcus Easley had a phenomenal third quarter, hauling in seven passes for 94 yards on the afternoon. DeMarco Sampson was also locked in with Tuel, catching four passes for 49 yards. Brandon Kaufman caught two passes for 34 yards, including a nice deep toss up the right sideline and a five-yard touchdown on a fourth-down slant. Da'Rick Rogers was the least impressive of the young receivers at the back of the depth chart, and even he caught a six-yard touchdown pass. There may not be much doubt left that this position is Buffalo's deepest.

No. 4: No worries on special teams

When the Bills hired Danny Crossman as their special teams coordinator this spring, fans were immediately concerned about his poor statistical track record in past stints with Carolina and Detroit. In this contest, Buffalo's coverage units were typically sound and their return units were excellent. Marquise Goodwin had a 107-yard kick return for a score in the second quarter, and another 53-yarder earlier in the first half. Nickell Robey got in on the act with three punt returns for 33 yards. All in all, this was a solid debut for a phase of the game that many fans had been worried about.

No. 5: Up and down on defense

Our first look at the new, aggressive Mike Pettine defense provided mixed results. On the positive side of the ball, the Bills consistently pressured Colts quarterbacks all afternoon, forced three turnovers and in general played much faster than the outfits we saw ripped to shreds in recent seasons. Pettine dialed up plenty of blitzes in this contest, and several players - from prominent defenders to youngsters fighting for jobs - made plays. Then again, key members of the secondary - Da'Norris Searcy and Ron Brooks in particular - took their lumps in coverage (Brooks gave up a 45-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton in the second quarter), linebacker Kiko Alonso was hit and miss in his pro debut, and Andrew Luck and the first-team offense didn't exactly struggle to pick up chunk yardage at times. Again, there are positive signs here, but the defense has a ways to go, particularly in the secondary.

No. 6: Sharp from top to bottom

Perhaps the single most encouraging takeaway from this contest? The fact that the Bills were sharp, on the whole, for four quarters. True, there was general preseason sloppiness on display - stupid penalties and mental errors reared their heads - but on the whole, the Bills executed with precision in all phases. This was a rock-solid debut performance for Doug Marrone and his coaching staff, who had a very young team prepared and performing at a high level.

What else caught your attention, Bills fans?

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