While I have definitely seen some things to like about Manuel these first two games, I don't find myself far off from how I felt about this guy at the end of training camp. His poise and leadership are evident, he has made some great throws, and has, for the most part, avoided making crippling mistakes that hurt the teams chances of winning. Those things are all great to see in a rookie QB. That being said, the general perception that EJ has proven he is the Bills next franchise QB is premature. He still has not proven he can make NFL caliber throws into tight windows, particularly on 3rd and 8+ when the defense knows the pass is coming. He has not shown he can go through multiple progressions to find the open receiver. Likewise, he hasn't shown he can hang in a muddled pocket and deliver the ball accurately down the field. The Bills either still have the training wheels on EJ, or he isn't yet capable of hanging in the pocket and making multiple reads. He is looking at his first two reads, then checking down before he gets under pressure. That's OK for right now while he is developing, but he will need to make the next step as the season progresses. I think he is too reluctant to use his feet. I'm not saying that he needs to start running 5 times a game out of the read option or taking down the field instead of checking down. However, rather than some of these check downs on 3rd and long, I would like to see him hang in the pocket a little longer, try to find an open man or let his routes develop, and then if needed use his mobility and escapability to extend the play. Roethlisberger would not be the same QB he is (even if that is just an above average one) if he wasn't able to escape pressure and make key completions when things break down. EJ has that same skill set, and sooner rather than later I want to see that instead of these passes in the flats that have no chance of moving the chains.
After the first preseason game I thought Jackson was over the hill and would need to be replaced this off-season. Wow was I wrong. He isn't the same guy he was 2 years ago, but he his strong running and veteran presence has been huge for this offense these past two games. It was nice to see Spiller get going last week, and I fully expect that to continue moving forward. On that same note...
I don't think the play-calling has been as bad as advertised. You have to consider that he is trying to work a rookie QB into the NFL and likely does not have his full playbook at his disposal. He has, however, put players in position to make big plays. It hasn't always worked out that way because of miscues (Chandler/Stevie's drops in game 1) or penalties negating big plays, but you can't really put that on the OC. However, I would like to see a few adjustments made. Spiller needs to get the ball in different ways than just the shotgun inside runs. He should get mores carries with the QB under center and see more off-tackle stretch plays that give him an opportunity to hit the edge without having to stop his momentum and bounce the play outside (which also puts the blockers in a position where they are more likely to hold). I would also like to see him get some catches on screens (just not of the typical Gailey 3rd and long variety) and designs over the middle rather than just as a check downs he has seen. I also think Chandler is being terribly misused. His strength his running intermediate routes over the middle that let him use his size and hands to make plays, yet he seems to be deployed as a safety valve underneath expected to make plays after the catch. That has to stop.
Where are you TJ? What happened to that great training camp you were having? We need a 3rd WR to step up and be a threat, and with Goodwin out all eyes are on you. He is the one guy that has a chance to really open things up for this offense if he can do more than just sprint down the field like the defender expects. Get open underneath and make some catches so DB's respect you as a receiving threat if you want to be able to run past a defender. It doesn't matter how fast he is, he isn't going to get open down the field until defenders stop turning and running with him before he even reaches there position. Woods and Johnson have been great for the most part, however.
Yikes. Letting Levitre walk was the right thing to do, but the Bills should have done more to find a competent replacement judging from these first two weeks. Legursky couldn't beat him out in training camp, so I think those hoping we can plug him in coming off injury and see any kind of improvement are being too optimistic. The Bills should seriously consider bringing in veteran to fill that role. If the Bills can put together a few more wins maybe Marone could use his relationship with Brandon Moore to lure him out of early retirement and come make one more run at the playoffs. It should at least be seriously considered.
Obviously he played great against the Panthers, but I think the criticism of him prior to his 4.5 sack performance was unfair. Mario is not going to be the pass rusher he is capable of being on a consistent basis because he is so good at setting the edge against the run. The Bill's don't put themselves in position to pin their ears back and get after the QB enough for him to be dominant in that regard. When they do however, like they did Sunday, Mario will shine. They got a lot of help from Carolina, who put themselves in a lot of 3rd and longs by taking so many deep shots on 1st and 2nd downs. If the inside run defense can stop from allowing 3-4 yards runs on 1st and 2nd downs we will see a lot more of that Mario moving forward. Even more so if Hughes emerges as the legitimate pass-rusher opposite to Mario that fans hoped he would be after the preseason.
This unit has been very good for the most part. Kyle Williams is Kyle Williams. Carrington is playing very good football. And for as much talk as there was about Dareus being primarily a 2 gap player in this defense he is making a lot of plays. Much was made about Carrington's versatility being a big advantage for this DL, but Dareus is capable of doing everything he can do from a schematic standpoint at a higher level. His presence up the middle on passing downs has been a big part of this units early success, and his athleticism and ability to run stunts gives Pettine a lot of ability to generate pressure while only bringing 4-5 guys. He is definitely taking a step toward becoming the player we thought he would be when we drafted him 3rd overall.
Kiko has been stellar for a rookie, but the Bills desperately need a 3 down LB to play next to him. Many hoped Bradham would fill that role, but he hasn't been able to translate his physical tools to the playing field and has been surpassed on the depth chart by Moats- who is a huge liability in pass coverage. I view this, a big time TE, and a reliable OG as our biggest areas of need moving forward.
McKelvin has already been praised enough (deservingly so) for his strong start. Nikell Robey appears to be a steal as a nickel CB. Losing Brooks hurts, especially because Rodgers has looked so weak on the outside. Once Gilmore returns however (hopefully in time for our week 6 matchup vs AJ Green and the Bengals) this unit will be strong, contrary to what most people thought heading into this season (and in large thanks to McKelvin and Robey)
Byrd coming back will be great when that happens, even if it is just for this season, but for now I am finding Jim Leonard's play to be infuriating. He has clearly lost a step, and considering he has always been athletically limited it's baffling that he is still seeing the field so much. His zone has been attacked with almost guaranteed success by both Amendola/Edelman and Greg Olsen. He is flat footed, slow to react, and seems to always be a step to late. I would prefer to see Searcy out there with a little bit of Duke Williams here and there until Byrd is back. I'll take Duke making a rookie mistake here and there to a SS who is always in the right spot but doesn't have the athletic ability to make a play.
I like what I've seen thus far. Has he made some mistakes? Yes, but he is a new HC who appears to be both smart and willing enough to learn from them moving forward. I have no issue with not running down the clock against NE, Brady can get down the field just as easily in 4 minutes as he could in 5 minutes. I have no issue with not going for it on 4th down when he has decided to do that (except for Carpenters 55 yard attempt, which I suppose he made anyway so it worked out). Analytics are interesting and should definitely be looked at. This is a different NFL then it was when offenses tried to slam the ball down the defenses throat and points can be put up in a hurry. Analytics can not, however, take the specific game situation and variable into account. For example, look at the 4th and 3 will about 9 minutes remaining following Stevie's drop against NE. Analytics suggest (by a slim margin) that we should go for it on 4th down. If we were playing Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady and the NE offense from a year ago, I would agree. However, our defense had been shutting Brady down all day, and our offense had been shaky at moving the ball consitently. Why give Brady the ball near midfield and put him 20 yards outside of field goal range when your defense had not allowed him to march down the field throughout the entire game? Marone made the right call in that situation. I think he should have used his timeouts prior to the 2 minute warning last week, which would have saved us 16 seconds or so, but again, I think that's something that will be corrected with time. For now, I'm glad that we have a HC that has gotten this team rallied around a rookie QB and feeling confident that they can win on a weekly basis. He needs to fix these penalties, but I liked that he pulled A. Williams after that stupid personal foul penalty. He holds the players accountable and expects them to perform at a high level consistently. I haven't seen that in a HC in Buffalo for far too long, and it has me feeling optimistic.