It has been clear through training camp and the first couple weeks of the NFL preseason that the Buffalo Bills have a lot of talent on their roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But if they cannot get more consistency out of their offense, specifically from quarterback E.J. Manuel, then they aren’t going to go very far in 2014.
The Bills’ first teamers were once again frustrating to watch in their 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, their third outing so far in the 2014 preseason. The starters on offense saw the most action of any game so far this year, as they played the entire first half. While Manuel played much better in the second quarter than he did in the first, he showed that he still lacks the downfield throwing skills of a franchise quarterback. Rookie Ryan Shazier’s interception was the prime example of this flaw in the Bills QB’s game. Manuel’s completion percentage on the night was pretty good, but most of his completions were on short throws, as the Bills were once again reluctant to throw the ball down the field.
Tonight’s game also made Buffalo’s already complicated wide receiver situation even more muddled. Star rookie Sammy Watkins left the game early on with an apparent rib injury. While not serious, the fact that their young star had to leave the game was obviously a big scare. With Watkins gone, undoubtedly the most interesting Bills receiver was second-year man Robert Woods, who before this game had been slipping down Buffalo’s depth chart, but was one of Manuel’s favorite targets against the Steelers. The Bills should hope that Woods emerges as a go-to receiver this year. While both Mike Williams and Chris Hogan have looked good so far, the Bills would probably feel a lot more comfortable with Woods as their No. 2 wideout.
Buffalo’s first team defense played most of the first half, but they really weren’t on the field for that long because the Bills’ offense dominated the time of possession. While they looked very good against the run, they didn’t look as impressive against the pass, particularly on a 76-yard touchdown by Antonio Brown, who took advantage of an instance of miscommunication by the Bills’ defense. They also got beat on a beautiful 16-yard scoring strike from Ben Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton. But to be honest, the Bills have a lot less to worry about on defense than they do on offense.
Manuel’s supporting cast is vastly improved from what it was in his rookie year. He has a very good ground game behind him with the likes of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. His receiving corps is substantially better than the one he had last year. But Manuel too often looks a bit too timid, unwilling to take a shot down the field, even in a meaningless game. Running the ball is all well and good, but sooner or later the Bills are going to need to make teams fear them just a little bit when they throw the ball.