Mario "Game" Granata
After reviewing the Hall of Fame game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants, many questions arose as to the direction of the Bills and how the 2014 season will play out. The Buffalo Bills have question marks all over the field, and even off the field, with the 'bidding war' that is taking place as to who the new owner of the team will be. Just concentrating on the play on the field, there was a 'deja vu' aspect that reared its ugly head in Canton, Ohio this past weekend. What did you see when you watched the game?
Quarterback: The Buffalo Bills have long been underrated when it has come to their defense, and the uncertainty as to the Bills effectiveness on offense has been one of the major factors for their 14 year playoff drought. During the 2013 season, fans were excited about EJ Manuel (when he was on the field) and this raw rookie was making the kind of mistakes that first year players often make: starting down one receiver, not progressing through reads, and inconsistent deep throws, which turned into many 3-and-outs for the offense. Taking into account that Manuel didn't have a complete camp during his rookie year, he is starting to get his feet wet as a pro, yet still exhibits the same problems that plagued him during 2013. Inaccurate with the deep ball (sideline pass to Sammy Watkins), batted balls at the line (uncommon for a 6'5" quarterback) and checking to plays that gained little to no yards (3rd and short in the red zone) are plays that will drive Bills' fans up the wall as the 2014 season progresses. With the steep learning curve that is the NFL, hopefully Manuel can learn and learn fast.
Jeff Tuel was able to sustain, albeit against the Giants 2nd and 3rd string, a 15-play, 80 yard drive, that ended in a Robert Woods touchdown. With a new defensive coordinator in town, the Bills are going to have to see more of this, and especially from the 16th overall pick in 2013. Tuel looked like the quintessential back-up on a team that has been searching for a franchise player, which is like looking to get an apple pie for dinner, and getting an actual apple.
Thad Lewis looked like he didn't want to be on the field at all. From the pick in the end zone on a pass intended for Marcus Easley, he showed some movement around the pocket, but his demeanor and body language wasn't the fire and spirit that was showed in two games against the Dolphins in 2013. If he doesn't pick it up, and pick it up soon, he will be looking for a new address during 2014.
Offensive Line: Now, with Cordy Glenn sidelined, the Bills looked to 7th round pick, Seantrel Henderson to fill the most important piece on the line, and staring down the barrel that is Jason Pierre Paul, he performed very well. Footwork, explosion, and getting to the second level, make the Bills draft experts look pretty good at thier evaluation of talent, but the question marks about Henderson were never ON the field. Let's see what happens when he has some off time, and is hitting up Chippewa.
New acquisition, Chris Williams from St. Louis was moving very well when placed next to Henderson at left guard, which was a position that the Bills had some inconsistencies last year. He was moving effortlessly down the line, blocking well, and making Bills fans, especially this one, happy that they were able to get him. He played the same position going against the likes of the 49ers and Seahawks last season, and shows no signs of slowing down. When Glenn returns, that will be a very formidable left side for the years to come.
Cyrus Kouandjio had some problems during the game playing right tackle, but with time, this 2nd round pick, should do very well in the NFL. Even if he takes the route of many other tackles that are drafted (in that he moves down to guard) he could solidify himself as a premiere guard in the league for the next decade.
Running Backs: With a full stable of talented backs, the Bills didn't stay with Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller for too long, and the year might be different but the result looks the same: Freddy running hard picking up tough yards, and CJ having problems between the tackles. On the play to Watkins down the sideline, a delayed blitz by the Giants forced CJ to pick up the middle linebacker, and although he stepped up in the hole, he didn't seem to eager to block. Running backs in the NFL have to be able to pick up the blitz, or they will have very short careers, and if the Bills offense can't find ways to get Spiller into open space to utilize his talents, the trade talks may come to fruition for CJ. I don't want to see him go, but with the very limited time that he was on the field, arrows point to the Bills preserving his health for a possible trade.
Wide Receivers: With everyone in Western, New York hoping to see some explosive play out of Sammy Watkins in his first official competition in the NFL, he only had 3 targets and no receptions. However, with the aforementioned EJ Manuel trying to find his way, Watkins brilliance was not to be against the Giants. Instead, Robert Woods showed the toughness that you want to see out of a wide receiver, and maybe the induction of Andre Reed was inspiring for Woods. Either way, he came ready to play.
The most interesting part was 7/11 Chris Hogan in the slot next to Watkins. All the time and effort that he has put in, is starting to show, but I will hold my judgement of Hogan being a every down player, because in the 2013 preseason Marcus Easley showed some offensive production, only to disappear in the regular season.
Finally, one cannot talk about the Bills receiving core without mentioning TJ Graham. With the injuries thrusting Graham into more playing time in 2013, he showed his futility during the game, and especially on a slant route in the red zone, when he tried to 'bread basket' a pass from Jeff Tuel instead of extending his arms to make the catch, ultimately resulting in an interception. With the progression of Watkins, Woods and Mike Williams, and if Chris Hogan and Marquise Goodwin can find their stride, TJ Graham might be the odd man out when it comes to the start of the season. We here at Hashtag Sports will be on the Graham Watch as the preseason progresses.
All in all, although there was some harsh analysis on the Bills opener in the preseason game vs. the Giants, things are looking up for the Bills in 2014. A very young but talented offensive unit will hope to end the 14 year playoff drought for the Bills, and the extra game during the preseason is just the recipe to do so. Manuel has to stay healthy, and progress, and the receivers have to find their stride. The other question mark will be the offensive line, and they are only going to get better, and that means more time for Manuel and his cast of play makers.