Year one is in the books for new Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone. The 6-10 mark is disappointing – losing records never stop being disappointing even if they’ve become a yearly trend over the last decade-plus – but probably in line with the talent on the roster.
More importantly than that, how should Bills fans feel about Marrone’s first year?
He inherited a defense with a ton of talent but a ton of questions. This is the group that, after signing Mario Williams in the offseason last year, expected big things only to falter and sink into disappointment. Still, there were pieces to work with all over the defensive unit. Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Jairus Byrd — the talent certainly wasn’t lacking.
So when Marrone and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine got the performance out of the defense that they did this season, it didn’t come as a complete shock. The Bills finished tenth in the NFL in yards allowed per game for their first top-ten showing in that category since 2004. They also finished fourth against the pass thanks to the second-most sacks in the league (57) as well as the second-most interceptions (23). Unfortunately, they still couldn’t stop the run, finishing 28th in the NFL in that category.
It’s on the offensive side of things where it gets dicey. Then again, the talent level on that side of the ball is nowhere near where it is on the defense. A rookie quarterback in E.J. Manuel and only a handful of weapons turned out exactly as you’d think it would: they finished 19th in the league in total offense, thanks to the league’s second-best run game. They averaged 144.2 yards per game, though their 4.2 yards per attempt was more towards the middle of the pack (14th).
The passing game struggled. Manuel missed time on three separate occasions with knee issues, and the team limped its way to the 28th best passing attack; their 16 passing touchdowns tied for the second-lowest in the league.
Year two will be important to the Marrone regime. He will have a growing young quarterback with some time under his belt, he’ll have one of the league’s best rushing duos, and he may have finally uncovered a secondary receiving target in Robert Woods. And aside from relieving receivers coach Ike Hilliard of his duties, his staff looks like it will remain largely intact.
It was an up and down debut for Marrone, but the sun is shining through the clouds. If Marrone can build on the good things this season and get his team to win a few more close games, the Bills could be a surprise in 2014.