New coach, new staff and, as of Wednesday morning, a rookie first round pick starting at quarterback. That’s right; EJ Manuel has been cleared to play this Sunday. Although fans have yet to see his explosive abilities, Manuel did have a solid showing in what little preseason play he had and the coaching staff and team seem to be rallying around their newly-named starter. That’s nothing new. The same happened with Fitzpatrick (dare I utter his name) just last season. The difference is, this coaching staff appears to understand what it takes to win so, I’d say, their opinion holds more weight than that of Chan and Buddy.
Injuries have been the headlines of the preseason for the Bills. EJ went down early and needed minor knee surgery. Kevin Kolb suffered a season (and possibly career) ending concussion. Stand-out corner, Stephon Gilmore, injured his wrist. Stevie Johnson had his usual groin issues but will start on Sunday. Jarius Byrd complained of some discomfort after signing his franchise tender. Along with some other bumps and bruises, the Bills had a costly preseason. The up side; most of the guys are looking ready to start. The down side; nagging injuries continue to be a plague in the Bills’ organization, as they have been for decades.
Now for the competition. The Patriots are having some problems of their own (finally). With Hernandez locked up, Gronkowski banged up and Welker up at Mile High, Brady is all but out of reliable safety-valve targets. Enter Danny Amendola. He’s big and physical but the Bills totally took him out of the game when he was playing for St. Louis last year. Instead, the Rams went to the run game to squeak out a win. Now, the Pats don’t have a back like Steven Jackson, but look for them to grind it out anyways and try to take advantage of the rough Buffalo run defense.
Just because the Pats sent Tebow packing last week doesn’t mean Belichick isn’t still hiding a trick or two up his sleeve. Remember that he built this team from nearly nothing into consistent post-season threat. As Bills fans, we can point to their injuries and the guys they lost in the off season and find some hope. But, regardless of the depth chart on his side of the field, Brady will be Brady. If he’s in, they always have a chance.
On defense, the Bills need to provide lots of pressure on Brady. They’ve shown marked improvement in preseason and the new guys look good. A huge thorn in their side is the secondary. Tom Brady is the kind of guy that can pick out your weakness at 40 yards and exploit it. There are plenty of holes in the Bills’ secondary. They need to close those up and force the Pats to run the ball. Then it’s up to the revamped, aggressive rushers to finish the job. Look for McKelvin and Aaron Williams to get picked apart by Brady and for sought-after rookie, Kiko Alonso to get his first big league sack.
Offensively, the Bills are shaken but not out. Announcing Manuel as the starter has the team riding a high into Sunday’s game. If coach Marrone and his staff can keep up the morale they have in camp and preseason, this young team has a chance to pull out an upset. With a big mix of receivers and Stevie Johnson back healthy, Manuel will have no shortage of available targets. He did a good job of spreading the ball around in the preseason and, if that continues, the Pats won’t know who to cover. Look for Spiller to get in on most of the plays for over 100 yards Sunday as this team tries to find its identity and get their rookie QB warmed up to the NFL. However, don’t be surprised if this team comes out of the tunnel with guns blazing and something to prove. This finally feels like a new team and a new hope for Bills fans.
– Josh Paufler
- Sunday September 8th 2013
- Kickoff 1:00 pm
- Ralph Wilson Stadium – Orchard Park, NY
- TV: CBS – Local Channel 4
- Radio: WGR 550 AM