The first half of the NFL season is in the books and the Buffalo Bills are right where they normally are, sitting at 3-5 and at the bottom of the AFC East. Coming into this season, fans had high expectations with a new coaching staff and potentially the quarterback of the future in E.J. Manuel. In typical Bills luck, Manuel has been hurt for almost as long as he has played and the new regime still isn’t winning games. So without further ado, here’s Buffalo’s mid-season report card.
Quarterback: CE.J. Manuel showed some flashes of him being a good quarterback for the Bills going forward. His game winning drive in the final 2 minutes against the Panthers in Week 2 is a good example of that. But there have been some concerns. Manuel has been hurt twice so far this season. Is this going to be an issue going forward?
We have seen how hard it is to be a successful team when your quarterback can’t stay on the field (Am I right, Eagles fans?). With Manuel being a rookie, it’s imperative that he gets all of the on-field experience that he can to improve his game.Another concern with Manuel is his inability to move the ball downfield. When he was healthy, Manuel often resorted to checking the ball down to his backs rather than looking for a receivers down field. This led to many 3-and-outs. In this era of the NFL, you need a quarterback that can get big chunks of yards through the air to be competitive against the Saints and Broncos of the world.
With Manuel out, Thad Lewis has been forced into the starting role. Lewis has over-achieved, considering he was a practice squad quarterback for the majority of his young career. Lewis has slightly improved over the past few weeks, but not to the point of him becoming an efficient passer. From the looks of it, Thaddeus is going to have to start a few more games, so hopefully he can continue to grow as a quarterback and give the Bills a better chance at winning.
Running Game: B+
One of the high points of the Bills offense so far this season has been the rushing attack. The Bills are ranked 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. I toyed with the idea of giving them an A, but one thing stopped me; Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are always hurt. These two guys have had nagging injuries through-out the majority of their careers, and this season is no different. When they are healthy, they are one of the best running back tandems in the league. The problem is, they are rarely 100%. Even though injuries have plagued Jackson and Spiller, they still deserve a good grade on account of their productivity.
Offensive Line: D
Buffalo’s offensive line can’t pass protect to save their lives. This was heavily exposed last week against the New Orleans Saints. Since Buffalo has young quarterbacks on their roster, it is important that the o-line gives them time to throw the ball. This has not been the case. Luckily both Manuel and Lewis are mobile in the pocket and can kind of mask their weaknesses. Unfortunately, forcing them to scramble to escape the pass rushers has led to Manuel injuring his knee and Lewis taking a brutal shot to the ribs that almost led to him leaving the game. The o-line needs to improve going forward.
Run stopping: F
Last season, Buffalo finished as the 31st ranked defense when it comes to stopping the run. This season they have improved to 30th! WOOHOO! It still confuses me how we can have such a good front-7 but can’t seem to stop the run. I’m getting mad, let’s move on.
Pass Rush: A
Speaking of having a good front-7, Buffalo’s pass rush has been among the best in the league. The Bills currently have the 4th most sacks in the league. This unit is being led by Mario Williams, who is finally living up to the huge contract Buffalo gave him a few years ago. Williams’ 10.5 sacks is good enough for 2nd in the league. The constant pressure that Buffalo is getting on opposing quarterbacks has been leading to turnovers, which brings me to…
The Bills started the season with a severely depleted secondary. Now that everyone is starting to come back, it’s starting to look a little better. Buffalo is 2nd in the league in interceptions, despite missing the majority of the starters. Look for them to continue to improve, and hopefully stop giving up the huge plays.
You may be confused at why I am giving a 3-5 team a C. Is part of it because I’m a homer? Absolutely. The other part of it is because Buffalo has been in every game this season. 3 of their losses were decided on the last possession or in overtime. If a few plays went differently, we could easily be talking about a 5-3 team.
This is a young team led by a rookie coach, so a learning curve is to be expected. As far as the future is concerned, I think this team is a few years away from being competitive. The pieces are in place, they just need some experience under their belt. We haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, what’s a few more years?