COMMENTARY | To be sure, preseason wins have no value in the grand scheme of an NFL season. In fact, a loss in the first week of the regular season is more than enough to cause people to forget about even the most perfect preseason.
With new head coach Doug Marrone, there is a strong sense of optimism in Orchard Park that has only been furthered by the great start to the preseason. Many things came together for the Bills against Minnesota in a way that could easily translate once the games begin to start.
Specifically, here are the five main things we learned from the victory:
The Starting Quarterback Competition Is Likely Over
Veteran Kevin Kolb made the start at quarterback for the Bills against Minnesota, making clear that the competition between him and first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel was far from decided. This was despite the fact that Manuel was impressive playing the whole first half in the Bills' previous preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, while Kolb was unable to play due to injuring his knee slipping on a rubber mat before practice.
However, after the game against the Vikings, it is easy to get the sense that the competition may be over for all practical purposes. Kolb's appearance as a whole was not terrible, as he went 13-21 for 111 yards and completed 10 of his last 13 passes. However, he did have an interception and looked like he was not on the same page with the rest of the Bills' offense in the early going. On top of that, Manuel was very good again, going 10-for-12 for 92 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
As a result, it appeared immediately after the game that Manuel was the clear choice for the starting job. That all changed the next morning when the Bills revealed that Manuel injured his knee and will miss the remainder of the preseason. The Bills said Manuel will be reevaluated after the preseason, but it is hard to see him starting Week 1 not having played the final two preseason games. So, while the competition for Week 1 starter may be over, the winner by default may actually be Kevin Kolb.
Nathaniel Hackett's Offense Was Built for E.J. Manuel
Another reason Manuel would have been considered the favorite to win the starting quarterback job before the injury is the fact that the offense the Bills are going to run looks like it was built with Manuel in mind. As seen during their time with the Syracuse Orange, the offense run by head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett consists of running a lot of quick plays that mix in a series of short passes with a lot of running. Ryan Nassib set the standard for how to run the offense at Syracuse, and now it looks primed for Manuel to take it to the next level.
With superior route-runner Stevie Johnson expected back, Manuel should have the chance to excel by making quick decisions and getting his playmakers the ball early and often. Also, there is little doubt that he has the conditioning and athleticism to run the high-tempo, high-pressure scheme. Kolb, on the other hand, has struggled in the past with getting the ball out of his hand quickly, and has proven somewhat prone to both injuries and mistakes. This was extremely evident against the Vikings when Manuel was able to lead the quick-strike offense with great comfort, while Kolb struggled out of the gate to get into a true rhythm.
Marcus Easley Could Be Worth a Closer Look
Speaking of offensive weapons, many observers (including myself) wondered how the Bills' rookie wide receivers would fare against the Vikings in light of the increased playing time caused by injuries to starters Johnson and T.J. Graham. However, for the second game in a row, the most impressive wide receiver was 2010 fourth-round pick Marcus Easley. In the two games combined, Easley has pulled in 10 catches for 140 yards. More important, against Minnesota, Easley displayed nice chemistry with both Kolb and Manuel.
This isn't to say that Easley should be a starter once the regular season begins. Not only has he never caught a regular-season pass in his career, but it would also be a stretch to argue that he should be higher on the depth chart than Johnson, Graham, Robert Woods, or Marquise Goodwin. That being said, Easley has at least put himself in the thick of a competition for the fifth wide receiver position with Brad Smith and Da'Rick Rogers heading into the remaining two preseason games.
The Bills' Defense Is Going to Bring the Heat
Last season, the Bills' defense was orchestrated by former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. To put it mildly, the unit under-performed, giving up the seventh-most points in the league despite having acquired the biggest free agent in football in Mario Williams and having first-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore come into his own. Although there was plenty of blame to go around, most of it fell on the shoulders of Wannstedt, who, at times, seemed unwilling to bring any pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
To remedy the issue, the Bills hired a new coordinator with an approach directly the opposite of Wannstedt. New coordinator Mike Pettine made a name for himself in the same position with the New York Jets as a coach that likes to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. Against the Vikings, this was on full display as the Bills' defense consistently bothered Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. Jerry Hughes led the way with two sacks and a forced fumble, and the defense never allowed Ponder to get comfortable. This was a welcome sight to Bills fans used to four-man rushes and opposing quarterbacks having plenty of time to size up the Bills' secondary.
NFL TV Blackout Rules Should Not Apply to the Preseason
The game between the Bills and Vikings was blacked out across most of Upstate New York. Therefore, most Bills fans were unable to watch it live and instead either had to use the radio or hope to catch a local rebroadcast.
As a general rule, NFL teams have to sell out a game or else it will be blacked out on local television. This makes some sense when it comes to regular-season games, as it provides an added incentive for the local fans to buy tickets and see games in person. However, this does not make the same sense in the preseason.
For starters, it is hard to expect fans to pay to see games in person when they do not count, and when the fans know that the teams' best players will be limited, if they play at all. At the same time, the preseason is when you want to expose the team on television to all fans who would want to watch, whether the seats are filled or not. This is especially true for a team like the Bills, where there is a new buzz and optimism that hasn't been present in years. Hopefully, this rule can at least be revisited for the preseason in the future.
Del Pearson is a life-long Bills follower from Upstate New York. He hopes some day to wear his JP Losman jersey to a Super Bowl that the Bills win.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Buffalo Bills
- Minnesota Vikings
- Kevin Kolb