Preseason Bills Recap
The important part of preseason is over for the Bills as now there main focus is the Week 1 contest against the Monsters of the Midway. It was a mixed bag as some things looked encouraging while others are a concern. Here is a recap of the key storylines during the preseason.
1) Offensive Line
The biggest red flag coming into the season (outside of QB where some people already made their mind up) was the offensive line where as many as three positions would be brand new starters. They brought in Left Guard Chris Williams and drafted three lineman. Early on top-10 Left Tackle Cordy Glenn was out with an undisclosed illness which allowed Seventh Round Pick Seantrel Henderson to start at LT. He actually looked good there which is why when Glenn came back, he was immediately made the starting right tackle. Eric Wood looks good as always at center and when Chris Williams was healthy, he looked like a good run blocker, though his pass blocking left a lot to be desired. Overall three of the five spots on the line look promising.
Now on to the bad. The two guard spots are big trouble. Chris Williams is a good run blocker but his pass blocking has been bad and he has been unable to stay healthy, leaving Cyril Richardson being the opening day starter for now. Right guard has a position of intense competition with Erik Pears, Kraig Ubrik and Chris Hairston at some point starting. For now it looks like Pears will be the starter and he looked really shaky in his lone start at RG. Gerald McCoy of the Bucs had his way with the Bills and other good defensive tackles will be able to get constant pressure on the QB with ease unless the guard play improves.
2) EJ Manuel is getting better
Going into this season the main priority was “Will EJ take the next step?” and so far in preseason it looks like he is on the right direction. The biggest improvement has been his accuracy. Last year he struggled as many of his passes were thrown where the defender could make a play and the wide receiver had to make an elite play to catch the ball. So far this preseason for the most part, Manuel has thrown the ball where only his receiver could make a play. Instead of staring at only his primary read he was moving through his progressions and when he had time, was able to pick apart a defense. His mechanics, footwork and decision making have all looked improved and he look like a completely different QB than last year.
The one area he still looks to struggle is when pressured. When pressure comes, particularly from the interior, Manuel breakdowns in regards to mechanics and footwork and his accuracy goes from good to Blaine Gabbert bad. In the Bucs game, the Bills offensive line took the first half off and Manuel was running for his life and rushing throws to avoid the hit. As he learns to trust his line and his line decides to pass block, these breakdowns will be less frequent.
3) How ’bout that defense?
The Bills front four looks like a top-5 unit as they have flat out dominated all who faced them. The linebackers are a mixed bag as Brandon Spikes has looked real good against the run but real bad against the pass. Nigel Bradham has looked Kiko-lite and will be greatly missed week 1. The secondary looks really meh as the new rule of throwing a flag for anything has made Stephon Gilmore a penalty prone player who has really struggled to this new flagfest game. Aaron Williams has looked alright and shows why letting Byrd go wasn’t a mistake. Opposite of Williams looks to be Duke Williams who has really stepped it up, plus you can never have too many Williams.
In conclusion the Bills preseason was a success in regards to the most important thing: developing EJ Manuel. He has looked far improved and the weapons at his disposal will mask the areas he needs work on. The offense for the most point had no trouble driving down the field in the preseason games and red zone struggles looked to be more a product of the Bills being very vanilla on offense than any actual concerns. If the offensive line does its job of giving Manuel time, the Bills look to be a team that can make the playoffs.
Early Record Prediction: 9-7 and 6th seed in the AFC