INDIANAPOLIS (WGR 550) -- The 2013 Buffalo Bills season is officially underway with their 44-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. While the victory doesn't count in the regular season standings, it was still a good chance for a young team to see how far they've come through the first few weeks of work at training camp.
As one could predict, first-round pick and quarterback EJ Manuel was on display as the main attraction for most who watched the contest.
How did the rookie, along with the rest of his teammates, manage in the first of four preseason games? Just like most games, some performances left both positive and negative marks on the team's victory.
- It was a ho-hum afternoon for EJ Manuel up until his final drive of the game. Manuel didn't look extremely comfortable, completing 7-of-12 passes for merely 39 yards. He struggled hitting some of his targets in stride and didn't take the shots downfield that many who cover practice have grown accustomed to. However, when the Bills got the ball back with just 1:50 to go in the first half, Manuel grew up a little bit in front of our very eyes. Now, one thing that has to be considered is that the Colts were employing second and third-string defenders on the two-minute drill. However, Manuel showed a certain poise in his decisiveness and arm when in a pressure situation. With the help of a pair of penalties on Indianapolis, Manuel helped the Bills engineer a 92-yard drive. The rookie quarterback went 9-of-9 for 68 yards and saved his best throw of the day for his last attempt. Manuel split the Cover-2 safeties in half by finding tight end Dorin Dickerson just past the goal line for the score. It may not have won him the quarterback competition, but that drive was an important step for Manuel's development.
Pushing their luck with Spiller
- Running back C.J. Spiller set the tone early on with two dynamic runs that showed he's primed and ready for the regular season to get here. Rather than just calling it an afternoon for their star running back, the Bills fed him the ball for a third straight play and even gave him another carry to start their second offensive possession. The biggest question is simple: Why? He popped a couple of big runs and got his offense started in the right direction. The Bills should have quit while they were ahead and gotten Spiller out of there. He has nothing to prove in the preseason.
Three OL struggling
- The battle to be the starting left guard has been anything but to this point. Colin Brown started the game but whiffed on some blocks that put his team in a bad position. His current understudy Doug Legursky was guilty of a similar crime on the second team. However, in case the Bills were potentially going to utilize another plan of attack, they may need to think again. Second-team left tackle Thomas Welch had a poor performance, highlighted by a pair of holding calls throughout the game. If the Bills had any lingering thoughts of maybe moving Cordy Glenn inside and playing Welch at left tackle, that perceived flexibility may no longer be an option. There are still three preseason games to go, however. Welch is going to need a strong bounce back effort.
- Besides the debut of EJ Manuel, one of the most highly anticipated debuts on Sunday was that of inside linebacker Kiko Alonso. Many within the organization have talked Alonso up so much so that the rookie is now expected to be a three-down player. While Alonso had a quick lapse in his coverage responsibilities on a medium-sized gain to running back Donald Brown, the second-round pick was spectacular on a couple of other instances. The play that really stuck out was an attempt by the Colts of trying to get the ball to tight end Coby Fleener in the back of the end zone. Alonso was in coverage and the ball looked as though it had a strong chance of completion. In fact, it even hit Fleener right in the hands. The rookie showed the presence of mind to swat directly at the ball and break up the reception to keep the Colts out of the end zone. It really was a terrific play by the rookie.
Cornerback turns it around for first game
- Every single year a player that is great in training camp practices disappears in preseason games, and conversely a player that has struggled during practice steps it up in a game setting. Fitting in to the second category, second-string cornerback Crezdon Butler certainly came to play on Sunday in Indianapolis. This isn't even in reference to his interception, which was a good reaction play in its own right. Instead it's Butler's coverage, recognition and tackling ability that really helped him be one of the best players on defense for the Bills. His training camp to this point has been below average at best. He helped his stock by leaps and bounds on Sunday due to his play.
- It won't be their only opportunities, but for Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley, Da'Rick Rogers and others, Sunday served as a golden opportunity to make big plays on offense. Of the three listed, Hogan has had the best training camp and got reps with the first team during the preseason opener. Hogan had three passes thrown his way. On the first, he was draping over the middle of the field on a third-down play inside the red zone and was the last option for Manuel. The pass was completed but there was a defender right on the receiver. On the second play, Hogan ran a slant over the middle of the field with plenty of space in front of him. Manuel put the ball low and behind him, and it resulted in an incompletion. The third was a perfect sliding catch on third-down to secure a first down for the Bills in the red zone. Hogan also contributed with solid results on special teams. Da'Rick Rogers entered the game with the second and third units, and had only one ball thrown his way. Rogers beat the corner on a slant over the middle for a touchdown. It's fair to point out though, that the Colts' fifth-string right cornerback Sheldon Price had just entered the game on an injury and was the man beaten in coverage. Rogers also gave up on the Jeff Tuel fumble for a touchdown play that won't look particularly pretty when watching the game back. For everything good Rogers does on the field, he follows it up with a mental error of some sort. Marcus Easley had the best game of the three, catching seven passes for 94 yards on just two drives. He had an immediate chemistry with rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel. Not much changed for the Bills with the wide receiver bubble. If anything, Easley passed Rogers with his solid performance.
- With both Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers back in Rochester due to injuries, Ron Brooks got a chance to start at cornerback on Sunday. The results were not great when Brooks was in coverage. He got beat badly on a few plays and also took a personal foul call that cost the defense 15 yards. The worst beat was down the left sideline when T.Y. Hilton had about a two-to-three yard cushion on the corner. Matt Hasselbeck delivered a strike down the field and Hilton made the diving, 45-yard touchdown grab.To his credit however, Brooks forced a fumble with a solid hit on tight end Coby Fleener that gave the Bills another possession.
Hopkins nervous, Lindell steady
- As far as the kicking game goes, Dustin Hopkins and Rian Lindell each were solid in their field goal attempts. Hopkins hit two short field goals and two extra points, whereas Lindell hit a 30-yard field goal and all three extra point attempts. The weak part of the day was on kickoffs. Hopkins booted his first chance way out of the end zone for a touchback. The rookie had so much nervous energy though that he missed on the next two kickoffs, hitting a low liner that was returned on the second attempt and kicked it out of bounds for a penalty on the third. With Lindell, you get the same thing every time. The ball goes anywhere from the goal line to two yards deep in the end zone and to the right side of the field. After the game, Marrone said he told Hopkins to just "calm down." Despite his erratic nature at times, it still appears Hopkins is ahead.
Bills MVP: WR Marquise Goodwin
- He didn't register a reception on the afternoon, but third-round wide receiver Marquise Goodwin stole the show with his special teams prowess. Goodwin very nearly returned his first kickoff attempt for a touchdown, barely getting tripped up from behind after a 53-yard return. Then on his next, Goodwin caught a ball above his head and brought it out from seven yards deep in the end zone. He followed his blocks, made a few people miss and then turned on the after-burners. If they can have a combination of Goodwin returning kicks and McKelvin returning punts, the Bills will have one of the most feared return games in all the NFL.
Bills LVP: S Da'Norris Searcy
- According to the depth chart, Da'Norris Searcy is the Bills' starting free safety but hasn't really made his mark on the first team just yet. On Sunday, Searcy struggled in coverage all afternoon. It's not the strongest part of his game, but as the free safety he'll be depended on to stay with some tight ends, especially with as often as the Bills are going to send pressure from other places on the defense. Searcy just could not get a grip in his time on the field. Even though he recovered a fumble, it was on the same play where he lost his man (Fleener) and chased him down the field.
Up Next: Friday, August 16 vs. Minnesota Vikings at 7:00 pm.
- While it wasn't a perfect game by any means, the Buffalo Bills got some positive contributions from the youngsters that make up the team in Doug Marrone's first year as Head Coach. The team stuck with their fast-paced look on offense and sent some pressure while playing defense. There are still areas that the team must improve upon, but for it was a solid first step for all most new faces involved.