Landover, MD (WGR 550) -- In a number of press conferences throughout the spring and summer, first-year Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone has discussed adversity and wanting to see how his team would handle it when it's thrust upon them.
After Saturday night against the Washington Redskins, adversity isn't only knocking on the door, it knocked it clean off its hinges.
The relatively healthy Bills through training camp had a few significant injuries hit them in the first half against the Redskins, leaving the team with many more questions. To top it all off, the Bills didn't look polished at all on either offense or defense.
It will be a short, but trying week at One Bills Drive as the team gets prepared to take on the Detroit Lions for their preseason finale on Thursday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Now it really is Tuel Time, Tim
- On the lone scoring drive of the Bills' evening, the act of taking the ball down the field actually may have done more harm than good. Quarterback Kevin Kolb, slated to play the majority of the game with rookie EJ Manuel sidelined, escaped pressure in the pocket on the drive's sixth play and extended the offense's time on the field by gaining eight yards on a 3rd-and-5 situation. When Kolb went to the ground, a trailing defender's body part must have made contact with the back of the quarterback's head. On Kolb's way to get himself back up from the ground, he hesitated for a half-second and took a very deep breath before finally getting up. Basing it off his reaction from the sideline, the first thought was that maybe Kolb wasn't okay. Then when he got back up and jogged back to the offense it gave the appearance that everything was alright. The Bills went four more plays -- even one being a pass completion -- culminating with C.J. Spiller plunging in for a touchdown. Spiller had a scare of his own, which perhaps took the spotlight off of Kolb on the sidelines for a moment. Next thing you knew, Kolb was nowhere to be found and Jeff Tuel played the rest of the game. Depending on both the status of Kolb and Manuel, the undrafted free agent rookie out of Washington State is in line to start the preseason finale, and if all doesn't go well he could even go into the first regular season game atop the depth chart by default. After the game, Marrone told reporters that they'd be looking into signing another quarterback for Thursday at least. Mike Garafolo of Fox1 reported after the game that the Bills are looking into both Matt Leinart and John Beck as potential candidates. It's amazing, really. At about 3 pm last Saturday, Bills fans were flying high with the idea that EJ Manuel had won the job. Now they're facing a fourth preseason game with a combination of Jeff Tuel and potentially one of two quarterbacks that couldn't hack it in the NFL.
More potentially significant injuries
- The defense was gashed all game long. The last thing they needed was one of their best players and another one of their current starters to leave the game with an injury, but that's precisely what happened. Starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore had to leave the game in the second quarter to get his hand observed by the medical staff. In the second half, the Bills announced Gilmore was done for the rest of the game. If there is one person on the defensive side of the ball the Bills can't live without under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, it's their top cornerback. So much pressure is put on that position to be able to cover competently, and with such a dearth of talent plaguing the rest of that group it makes Gilmore the man that they need more than anything. Bills fans should be just as eager to hear or read about his prognosis as they should with EJ Manuel. Starting free safety (for now) Da'Norris Searcy also had to leave the game with a head injury, which would force rookie Duke Williams into the starting lineup until Jairus Byrd is ready to go.
- Most will look at that number and see it as a goal for C.J. Spiller to achieve each and every week he's on the field. On Saturday, that number just so happened to be the amount of yardage the Bills gained as a team… through four quarters. Buffalo had a total of eight first downs, only 41 plays run and held the ball for a meager 21:08. It wasn't exactly an inspiring performance, considering how competent they've looked through the first two preseason games. The third preseason game is supposed to be the game that is the dress rehearsal for NFL teams. If opening night goes the same way on September 8, the reviews won't be pretty.
- For the first time, Jairus Byrd was spotted publicly bedecked in his Bills garb from head to toe. Byrd came out about three hours ahead of kickoff with both strength and conditioning coach Eric Ciano and Marrone. The head coach watched on as Ciano put Byrd through a conditioning test that consisted of ten 100-yard runs (not sprints) and a hearty amount of time on an exercise bike. Byrd then went back into the locker room around 2 pm, as most awaited whether or not he would dress for the contest. When game time came along, Byrd was not in uniform and instead shadowed defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson through a good portion of the game. That's the latest in Byrd Watch, Ron. Back to you.
- In the weekly "5 things to watch" preview, the prevailing thought was to be careful with C.J. Spiller and not overuse him to the point in which he's at risk for an injury. On the same touchdown drive as the one where Kolb sustained his "concussion-like symptoms," Spiller ripped off a high quality 19-yard gain and then followed it up with a three-yard rush. Still with his hands on his hips after taking a shot on the big-gain play, Spiller took another carry up the middle for a touchdown. Except this time, Spiller didn't pop back up. In what was likely the longest few minutes for fans of the team during that game, Spiller was surrounded by trainers, doctors and Marrone while they looked at his right knee. This can't be repeated enough: You don't need Spiller for the preseason. Crisis averted, let's hope they learned their lesson and Spiller watches most, if not all of the Detroit game from the sidelines.
Bubble Wideouts getting little time on the field
- One of the most intriguing competitions that will inevitably have a conclusion this time next week, the battle of wide receivers near the bottom of the depth chart continued on with a rather odd turn on Saturday. Four players are in contention for what will likely be two roster spots when the 53-man version is announced next weekend. Brad Smith, Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Da'Rick Rogers all have their own individual cases to make the team, but only one of the four got plays on the offensive side of the ball (Smith). After the game, Marrone said it was due to the offense not getting a ton of work in because of all the shortened drives, so he wanted to get his other young receivers (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin) some substantial time on the field. Because of that, the quartet were mostly relegated to work on special teams. How they grade out in that facet of the game may very well decide who stays and who goes, because all four have shown ability on the offensive side of the ball.
Some defensive line clarity?
- The clear understanding has less to do with who will be starting along the defensive line, and more to do with the players that trotted out on to the field for the initial rotations. Of course Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Alex Carrington will make up the starting lineup, but when they needed a blow Alan Branch, Jay Ross and Corbin Bryant were the next three in. That could provide a glimpse as to who the coaching staff may prefer when it comes down to roster decisions. Branch is likely on the 53-man, but Ross and Bryant are both locked in a battle with Jarron Gilbert and Torell Troup for likely two spots. Saturday's second-teamers have impressed during training camp and have themselves in position, from the looks of things, to make the team outright come September.
Powell performs much better
In his first game after winning the punting competition against Brian Stahovich, Shawn Powell had an evening to forget against the Minnesota Vikings. Although his gross punting average on eight tries was 42.9 (which isn't terrible), his net yardage per punt was a horrifying 28.9. Just because he won the job from the competition at camp didn't mean that it was his forever, so the second-year punter had to bring more to the table against Washington. The result was a dramatic increase in both gross and net punting. Powell had a gross average of 52.8, and an almost 14-yard increase from last week in net punting by averaging 42.4 yards per kick.
Bills' MVP: ILB Kiko Alonso
- There weren't many impressive players on the field for the Bills against the Redskins, so the MVP went to a player that did something flashy that will be a common sight when you see those situations arise throughout the regular season. Rookie Kiko Alonso gets brought on a blitz his fair share of times in Mike Pettine's defense. When he's sent that way, the ferocity and high impact style he plays with results in a big collision with whoever he contacts first. Twice in the game, Alonso was sent on a blitz where a running back was supposed to pick him up to give the quarterback time. On these two occasions Alonso met the running back and hit them so hard that it knocked them clean off their feet. Both Alfred Morris and Chris Thompson were victims of the collision and I'm sure other teams will take notice of that trait when they watch the film.
Bills' LVP: Run defense
- It didn't matter if it was the run-option, a cutback or even the simple stretch play that the Redskins are notorious for. The Bills couldn't stop anything throughout the game, making themselves look like the Bills of the past two seasons rather than the new, edgy defense that was seen in the first two weeks of the preseason. The Bills allowed a whopping 208 yards and nearly five yards per carry. Perhaps the defense was playing a bit more vanilla this week, but that trend needs to change immediately.
Up Next: The preseason finale at home against the Detroit Lions on Thursday, August 29, 7 pm at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
- The injuries might make up the majority of the narratives stemming from this outcome, but the lackluster performances of both the offense and defense can't be ignored. Perhaps the Bills were playing a cat-and-mouse game where they held back on looks for both sides of the ball with the regular season opener drawing near. That very well could be the case, but the Bills must approach any game setting with better decision making and a higher intensity to limit performances like that moving forward.