Buffalo Bills: Top 5 Storylines Of Season’s 1st Half
Buffalo Bills' Top 5 1st Half Storylines
The Buffalo Bills sit at 3-5 at the halfway point of the 2013 season. It could be worse for the Bills, but at the same time it could be better. The Bills rebooted the franchise in the offseason when Russ Brandon took over for Ralph Wilson Jr. as team president and Buddy Nix stepped aside for up-and-comer Doug Whaley to take over as GM. The new power structure was completed when they hired Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone to be their new head man on the sideline.
Marrone brought in an experienced defensive staff to go along with his less experienced college offensive staff, and the results have been mixed. While teams continue to pile up yards against the Bills, as they have in the past, scoring is down against them. The Bills have become a "bend but don't break" defense. They are obviously putting much more pressure on the QB and that is leading to more turnovers. They've also made some big sacks and interceptions deep in their own territory to end scoring chances, something that the Bills' defenses of the recent past were unable to do.
On offense the mantra has been "run, run, and run some more". The Bills have relied heavily on the trio of C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and Tashard Choice. The big blow to the offense, however, was the injury to E.J. Manuel's knee. He only made five starts before spraining his LCL and being put on the bench for 4-8 weeks. Replacement Thad Lewis provided a spark for the Bills early in Manuel's absence, but it remains to be seen how long Lewis can keep the momentum up. It already looks to be waning after he was beaten up pretty badly in New Orleans on Sunday.
I'll try and look into the future later, but here is a look at the top 5 storylines so far during the Bills' 2013 season.
5. E.J. Manuel's 1st Win Comes On Last Second TD
Manuel almost led the Bills to a victory in his first game as a Bill, but Tom Brady bested him with a last-minute scoring drive. Manuel may have learned a thing or two that day because the very next week he took the Bills down the field in the two-minute drill and hit a wide-open Stevie Johnson for a game-winning TD with :02 left on the clock. It was an emotional first win for Manuel and Marrone, and they hope that it set the pace for what they hope is a long-term partnership in Buffalo. A lot has happened since Week 2, but someday that may be looked back as the day that young Manuel arrived.
4. Kiko Alonso Emerges As NFL DROY Candidate
Alonso was the third player that the Bills selected in the 2013 draft, but he has arguably been their most effective rookie player. He's started from day one and has amassed a very impressive stat line in his first eight games. He has 81 tackles, a sack, four passes defensed, a forced fumble and four INTs. He is tied for second in the NFL in tackles and first among rookies by a wide margin. He is tied for the league lead in interceptions and has the most of any rookie. Right now Alonso seems to be the clear cut favorite for defensive rookie of the year, and if he maintains his level of play in the second half of the year he should win the award easily.
3. Bills' Running Game Among Tops In The League
When the Bills abandoned the run game in the second half against the Saints on Sunday they also gave up on their spot in the top 5 in the league in rushing yards. They instead finished the 1st half at No. 7 in the league, averaging 133.9 yards per game on the ground. It's been an impressive showing considering that all three RBs have been hobbled by injury at one point or another. Despite being hobbled by an ankle injury Spiller has 362 yards on the ground in seven games. Jackson has 425 yards and six scores despite having a banged up knee since early in the season. Even Choice has contributed 107 yards in his spot duty. All three RBs have an average of over 4.0 per carry, and they hope that a healthier second half will mean even more production on the ground.
2. Mario Williams Chases Sack Record
Williams had an up-and-down first year in Buffalo, but he has been dominating in year two. He has already recorded 11 sacks on the season, more than the 10.5 that he had all of last season. He's on pace to record 22 sacks in total on the year which is .5 off of the NFL record set by Michael Strahan in 2002. Perhaps an easier goal to gain would be the franchise record of 19 set by Bruce Smith in 1990. Either way Williams is putting pressure on the QB at a rate unseen since Smith and Bryce Paup were playing in Buffalo. That huge contract is looking a lot better as the Bills have gotten what they paid for in 2013.
1. E.J. Manuel Injured In Week 5
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Manuel coming into the season and rightfully so. He was the highest QB taken in the draft by the Bills since Jim Kelly. Unfortunately his progression was retarded after the sprained his LCL while taking a hit on the sidelines during the Week 5 Thursday night game in Cleveland. He has missed the last three games and will likely miss at least two more. Manuel has lost snaps crucial in his development that he will never get back. What's more concerning is that he has already had injuries in both knees before the midway point of his first season in Buffalo. The Bills will hope that Manuel can bounce back and see that this was just a hiccup and not cause for long-term concern.