On paper, this looks like your typical Buffalo Bills season. They are 3-6, coming off a loss to the last unbeaten team in the NFL in the Kansas City Chiefs. Barring an unreal run down the stretch, they’re almost certainly heading into their 14th straight season without a playoff appearance.
Still, this Bills team isn’t bad. Yeah, 3-6 isn’t good, but hear me out. They’ve been without starting quarterback E.J. Manuel since Week 5. Running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have both been banged up and less than 100 percent. The secondary is just now recovering from decimating injuries, and they are a couple of bounces away from being above .500.
So that’s why, heading into their Week 10 tilt with the Pittsburgh Steelers, yours truly is actually confident and calling for a Bills win. Here are the storylines to watch.
He’s Back! He’s Back!
The good news: Manuel has been cleared to return and looks like he’ll start Week 10. No offense to Thad Lewis, who has done an admirable job since stepping into the starting gig, but the team looks better and more confident with Manuel in there. He’s still a rookie, but he looks like he has a grasp on this offense that Lewis doesn’t.
There’s also the whole idea that when Manuel was in the lineup this offense ran at one of the quickest paces in the game. It keeps defenses from subbing, keeps them guessing, and allows the Bills to execute quickly.
I’m excited to see Manuel back so that he can continue his development and hopefully continue to gel with his receivers. Oh, right. He also adds a running threat to a top-five rushing attack. Yeah, I’m happy he’s back.
In years past it was the Steelers’ defense that always got the job done, carrying the Steelers to win after win while the Bills’ defense was hilariously inept, surrendering yards both on the ground and through the air with staggering consistency.
Now, the Bills possess the favorable defense. Mario Williams has turned into sack-master extraordinaire, the secondary is back to 100 percent, and the group is shutting teams down (the Chiefs had nine offensive points last week).
The Steelers, on the other hand, just gave up 55 to the Patriots and haven’t looked like the old Steelers defensively in quite some time. It might not be the best matchup for a struggling defense to face a top-five rushing attack. Should be fun.
Oh, and Big Ben? Good luck against that pass rush.
Sure enough, I write a piece on the struggles of Robert Woods and Jeff Tuel makes it a habit to find him again. Sure, he only had four catches for 44 yards, but he was targeted eight times on the day — second only to tight end Scott Chandler.
The Bills are in dire need of someone to take the pressure off of Stevie Johnson, and if anyone is going to do it it’ll be Woods. He needs to get in a rhythm, and hopefully Manuel will continue to work with him upon his return.
It’s been a long time since the Bills had a legit No. 2 (Peerless Price?) so now is the time for Woods to step up.