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Bills look good in exhibition opener

I would say somewhere between okay and good.  That would be my answer to the question every Bills fan is asking after the team's pre-season opening 44-20 win at Indianapolis.  The question of course is "How did you think EJ Manuel did"?

Despite a shaky first two possessions, I thought Manuel looked better in this game than he did at the scrimmage six days earlier in training camp.  I thought he looked jumpy that night and I didn't feel that way through his one half of action against the Colts.

Obviously the highlight of his day was the touchdown drive in the two minute drill just before halftime.  Manuel was 8-8 on that drive for 64 yards including the TD pass to Dorin Dickerson.  

Manuel led the offense for six possessions which ended up in a touchdown, two field goals, two punts and a fumble.  In the five drives prior to the 92 yard TD drive, Manuel was 8-13 for 43 yards.  The offense gained 106 net yards on those five drives and had five first downs.

As far as evaluating the rookie quarterback, I went into this game with the same thought I had before camp opened up and before the scrimmage last week.  I want to see if Manuel looks comfortable running the offense and whether or not he shows some poise and leadership ability.  As he has through most of the time at St. John Fisher, Manuel did not look like a scared rookie and  managed to execute the Bills up tempo offense while minimizing mistakes.  

He threw mostly short, safe passes while going 16-21 for 107 yards and the touchdown but did ultimately put up 13 points on the scoreboard in one half, although one drive start came at the Colts 27 thanks to a defensive takeaway.

He used his feet when need be, converting a third and six with a 24 yard run and running for another first down on second and two on the touchdown drive.  I would liked to have seen some deep balls from the strong armed Manuel but perhaps Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett felt higher percentage throws were the way to go in Manuel's NFL debut.

His performance in the game mirrored what I've seen from Manuel at camp.  You don't walk away thinking "wow this kid is great" but you also don't walk away thinking "he's in way over his head". He's done nothing to make me think he should not be the starter come opening day against New England.

Here are some other things that stood out to me in this game:

*The up tempo offense and no huddle was operating at a fairly good clip.  The Bills ran 85 offensive plays.  They averaged just over 60 a game last season.

*CJ Spiller is still extremely exciting, ripping off back to back runs of 17 and 15 yards.  Second year wide receiver T.J. Graham had nice blocks on both runs.

*Jeff Tuel looked really good in his half of action, hitting on some deep balls and showing off accuracy and good timing as he engineered two touchdown drives.

*I don't think any teams are going to kick off to Marquise Goodwin.  The rookie speedster from Texas was outstanding on kick returns with a 107 yard dash for a touchdown and a 53 yard return that led to a Bills field goal. On the 107 yard return, Goodwin(who ran a 4.27 forty in college) didn't even get a running start.  He also went all the way across the field from right to left while pulling away from the Colts coverage unit.

*Da'Rick Rogers had an up and down day.  He made a nice move on his 6 yard TD catch, faking outside and then easily beating the defensive back inside on the slant.  But Rogers lined up on the wrong side of the formation one time and didn't attempt to chase down the play on the Colts fumble return for a TD after Tuel was sacked.

*Marcus Easley had a very good game with seven catches on seven targets for 94 yards but I think he'll still lose out in a numbers game for a spot on the 53 man roster.

*The Bills kick coverage team had a good day.  Indianapolis returned five of the seven kicks. Twice they didn't make it past their own ten yard line.  One time they were pinned at their own 13 and another drive start came at their 21.

*The defense looked good for game one.  They were not vanilla, blitzing numerous times and showing various looks.  They came away with three takeaways, scored a touchdown and did well against the run although the Colts only ran the ball 16 times.  Only one of those 16 runs topped 10 yards. The Colts only converted 23% of their third downs.

*Corner turned safety Aaron Williams made a nice play, jarring the ball loose from Donald Brown on a third down catch that would have been good for a first down.

*Cornerback Crezdon Butler has not looked good in camp but had a good day on Sunday.  He came up with an interception on a pass that was tipped by Manny Lawson. Butler also recorded a pass breakup on third down that forced the Colts to settle for a field goal and he made a solid open field tackle on a third and two that stopped a drive.

*Jerry Hughes came up with some good pressure from the outside which is a continuation of what the former Colt has been showing at training camp.

*Rookie LB Kiko Alonso broke up a touchdown while covering Coby Fleener.  Fleener caught a pass in the end zone but Alonso knocked it out of his hands.

*Cornerback Ron Brooks had an up and down game.  He was torched by T.Y. Hilton on a 45 yard touchdown strike and took a taunting penalty on another play.  But Brooks forced a fumble from Fleener on a play where Da'Norris search was beaten.  The Bills recovered the fumble.  Brooks also had solid coverage on a pass attempt to Darrius Heyward-Bey.

All in all, a good start for the Bills and a mostly entertaining game, although I have very low standards for what constitutes entertaining when it comes to exhibition football.

We're looking forward to providing another week of training camp coverage on WGR Sportsradio 550 and at WGR550.com.

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