It was Kids Day in Orchard Park as the Bills hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their incredibly fetching new kit. After spending the last 2 days of practice trying to rip each others head off, it was probably nice for the players to have someone else to scrap with. Truth be told, it was a game of two halves with the final score being 27-14 to Tampa.
1st Half Offense
There’s no way to sugar coat it, the Bills were putrid offensively in the first half. It was laboured and predictable and the Bucs saw it all coming.
On the first possession, EJ Manuel threw a pass to Scott Chandler. Chandler fell on the play and the pass was intercepted. It was a good read and throw by EJ though. As the half progressed, it was a combination of stupid penalties, missed blocking assignments and a great deal of indecisiveness of the part of Manuel that led to drives that either stalled or went backwards.
To top off a pretty poor first half, EJ was sacked and fumbled the ball. It was picked up by Clinton McDonald who waddled into the end zone. Replays showed that he was down by contact but the play stood anyway. Score one for technology!
1st Half Defense
In stark contrast to the offense, the Bills defense had a pretty good outing despite the score suggesting otherwise.
Corbin Bryant got the start in the place of the rested Kyle Williams and was a thorn in the side of the Bucs offensive line throughout the game. Bryant sacked Josh McCown and forced the Bucs QB to fumble, only to have the ball pop right to a Bucs lineman. I haven’t been his biggest fan but it’s hard to argue with him making the roster playing as he did.
The linebacker group of Bradham/Spikes/Rivers had a decent outing, proving especially effective against the run. Each of them coming up with a tackle for loss. On a sour note, we did see the reason many Bills fans were somewhat apprehensive about signing Spikes when he lost Doug Martin in coverage and allowed the “Muscle Hamster” to complete a catch that left him downed at the 1 yard line. Spikes did have a nice pass breakup on a 3rd and 14 play early in the 3rd which was encouraging to see though.
At halftime, it was 24-0 to the Bucs. The team left the field to a chorus of boos and I very nearly tore up my game notes and thought about going to sleep and not bothering to write this.
And then it began!
I don’t know what was said at half time but I’ll assume for my own mental image that it was aimed at Nate Hackett, it was riddled with expletives and he delved into the file marked ‘Not For Preseason’. The Bucs had their 2nd string defense on the field but that’s hardly worth mentioning. Preseason is a process and the execution of said process was encouraging.
The playbook opened and EJ was a man reborn. He was confident in the pocket, made quick and smart decisions with the football. A play action pass to Robert Woods thrown right on the money, a shuffle pass to Chandler (with a nice block by Chris Gragg) followed by a pass to Chandler down the seam with pinpoint accuracy and the Bills were marching. The drive ended with that sought after touchdown. EJ found Mike Williams in the end zone, fitting the ball into a tight window for 6. EJ went 5-5 on the drive and we scored a TOUCHDOWN!
On the following drive, EJ hit another play action pass to Woods. Next play, hit Spiller in stride with room to run for a nice gain. He found Chandler off another play action pass, saw his read immediately and hit the lumbering behemoth. Finally, he found Chris Gragg after going through his progressions before finding his open man. The drive was finished off by Freddy Jackson, Father Time wasn’t touched as he skated in for another touchdown.
We got a glimpse of what this offense could be. All we need now is for Marrone and Hackett to let EJ put on his big boy pants from the start of the game and things might look a whole lot brighter. Not showing regular season opponents your hand is all well and good but all the vanilla playbook is doing to EJ is ruining his confidence. If he’s any good, he’ll execute even if the Bears know what’s coming.
Assorted other ramblings:
- Along with Bryant, there was another impressive display from Stefan Charles and Landon Cohen. With the news about Alan Branch’s arrest emerging, all 3 interior linemen should make the team.
- CJ Spiller ripped off a couple of big runs. Good to see the speedster healthy again.
- Randell Johnson had another good day. The 7th round pick from FAU is showing all the signs of being a decent player. Likely limited to a special teams role this year (barring injury) but his progress is encouraging.
- Cyrus Kouandjio looked better. I’m sure we’ll hear all about that one holding call for the next few days but let the record show that the boy done (relatively) good.
- Kraig Urbik played at Center with the 2nd team and his snapping was good. One kept a little low but not a bad outing and should invoke some confidence that he’s making the roster.
- A special mention to safety Deon Broomfield. The undrafted rookie from Iowa State won’t make the team but he was really good in run support late on in the game.
- After just one series, Dennis Dixon confirmed that he’s not making the roster. The poor guy looked like he was carrying a bar of soap and fumbled his way down the field.