Its amazing what one win can do. As the Bills embark on the final five games of the season, the win over the Jets has me looking at the season in a more positive light again, despite the 4-7 record.
Hopefully EJ Manuel will pick up where he left off before the bye and we'll all feel better about the season and the immediate future. Manuel played the best game of his rookie season while getting revenge on a New York Jets team that roughed him up back in September but he still has a number of things to work on.
Winning a road game might be at the top of the list. Manuel is 0-3(including the Cleveland game that was tied at 17 when he left). His two worst games have come on the road against the Jets and Pittsburgh. After Sunday's "home" game with Atlanta, the Bills will play at Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Those two games seemed like sure fire wins a few weeks ago but the Bucs have won 3 straight after an 0-8 start and the Jags have won 2 of 3 after dropping their first 8 games of the season.
Manuel can still improve his accuracy since he is completing only 58% of his passes. I'm also hoping we will continue to see the Manuel who followed the advice of his Offensive Coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, and "just let it go" against the Jets. Manuel's game against Pittsburgh, the week prior to the victory over the Jets was a testament to being tentative and not trusting his teammates to make plays. His game against the Jets was the exact opposite. It seemed like Manuel had become so worried about making a bad pass and perhaps throwing an interception that he wasn't willing to take some chances. We'll see if the big passes against Gang Green were a turning point moment in his young career.
I would dearly like to see C.J. Spiller regain his 2012 form over the last 5 games of the season. Spiller's performance and his game by game usage have been a head scratcher. His numbers are down, in part due to an ankle injury suffered in week four that he attempted to play through. Spiller is averaging 4.1 yards per carry after averaging an eye popping 6.0 yards per carry last season.
In 2012, Spiller had just one game where he failed to record a run of at least 10 yards. This season he's had four games where his longest run was under the 10 yard mark. Spiller has been a non factor in the passing game too. He has 21 catches for an average of 4.6 yards per catch. Last year the speedy back had an average of more than 10 yards a catch. Maybe the most puzzling part of Spiller's season has been the amount of time he has spent on the sideline the last two games after apparently recovering from the high ankle sprain. He played 33% of the offensive snaps in Pittsburgh and 40% against the Jets but its low compared to his average of 59% in the first two games of the season.
If Manuel is throwing the ball deep, we should continue to see the emergence of rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin in this offense. Goodwin has three touchdown catches of more than 40 yards, from three different quarterbacks. He should be the third receiver on the depth chart behind Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods. If the Bills can keep getting Goodwin the ball deep, it should prevent teams from stacking the box and focusing on shutting down the Bills running game.
Speaking of Manuel and Goodwin, the remainder of the season will also be about watching one of the best draft classes in a LONG time for the Bills. Goodwin and Robert Woods have a combined 42 catches for 610 yards and 5 touchdowns. Yet the best player of the Class of '13 is second rounder Kiko Alonso who might end up with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Alonso has 112 tackles(2nd in NFL), 4 interceptions(1st on Bills and tied 3rd best in NFL), 9 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and a partridge in a pear tree(sorry, its all that Christmas music on STAR 102.5). Alonso has shown tremendous instincts while making plays all over and has been on the field for every one of the Bills 787 defensive snaps.
The final five games will also give the Bills more time to think about their off season plan for Jairus Byrd. Going into the season I would have told you he is the best playmaker on the defense but he has company this season with the performances from Alonso, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus among others. Since returning to the lineup, Byrd has shown why he is one of the best safeties in the league. He has three interceptions in the last two games and five passes defended in the six games in which he's played. Byrd will be an unrestricted free agent after the season although the Bills can keep him around by slapping the franchise tag on him.