If it wasn’t clear already, the Buffalo Bills‘ preseason loss tonight to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it known for certain: Buffalo’s offense won’t be drawing comparisons to the 2013 Denver Broncos anytime soon. While E.J. Manuel and the rest of the Bills’ offense had their moments in Buffalo’s 27-14 loss to Tampa Bay. They once again struggled mightily to find any consistency. Because of this, the Bills will need their defense to have a repeat performance of their excellent 2013 campaign.
Buffalo’s first half display was one of the worst offensive performances you’ll see in an NFL game. To give you an idea of how bad things were, at one point the Bills were facing a 3rd and 40. That is not a misprint: 3rd and 40. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s play-calling was once again utterly unimaginative and predictable. Manuel kept throwing screen pass after screen pass, unwilling to take a shot down the field. Three first half turnovers plus several costly penalties only made things worse.
Thankfully, Buffalo’s starters showed some life in the third quarter, as Manuel was able to lead two good-looking scoring drives to give Buffalo’s offensive starters their first two touchdowns of the preseason. Putting aside the fact that they were going up against some of the Buccaneers’ backups, the Bills were more successful in the second half because they changed up the play-calling. More importantly, Manuel looked much more comfortable running the Bills’ up-tempo offense once he was able to get settled in.
But don’t let these flashes of competency fool you: the Bills are not going to be fielding a very good offense in 2014 unless their second-year quarterback shows some signs of improvement. It looks like the Bills will need to win a lot of low-scoring contests if they hope to compete for a playoff spot. If the defense plays the regular season the same way they’ve played in the preseason, it’s certainly possible. Buffalo’s defensive first stringers have looked very strong through four preseason contests, particularly against the run. This is a good sign in light of the Bills’ recent struggles in the run game. With studs like Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Brandon Spikes, Buffalo’s front seven has the chance to be as good as any in the league.
If the Bills’ offense can’t put up points on a consistent basis, they need to at the very least be able to maintain good possession and avoid turnovers whenever possible. By doing this, Buffalo’s defense will be able to get some needed rest. Too many times last season Buffalo’s offense went three and out, putting constant pressure on the defense to hold down the fort. With their defense playing at a high level, even a merely decent offense could be enough for the Bills to make a run at the playoffs.