The Buffalo Bills offense had EJ Manuel and the first teamers play the entire first half Sunday; and though they started slowly, the offense eventually produced the results the coaches wanted. For head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, they must be happy with the look of their offense in its debut showing.
Between the formations and the tempo the team played at, it was refreshing to watch. In all, an average of 20 seconds lapsed between the dead whistle and when the Bills snapped, and the formations played were primarily in shotgun. Manuel did also take some snaps under center on the first drive.
The timing was very reminiscent of the the Peyton Manning-led Colts offense; but unlike the Manning version, the Bills did not require exaggerated calls or movements. Instead, Manuel was able to calmly play within a clean pocket and when it did break down, he was able to get out and run.
Not everything was through the air as the offensive ground game showed some bright spots; namely C.J. Spiller. Spiller had a fumbled handoff, but at the same time showed flashes that last year was not a fluke. Spiller came into the NFL as a noted speedster, but he has truly developed a sense of patience and greater vision. On his first run Spiller was able to see his blocker, T.J. Graham, push the defender inside and had the patience to use that as a screen against another defender before cutting it outside for an extra 8 to 10 yards. In his rookie year, Spiller would have tried to split the defenders, but the tutelage of Jackson and experience has allowed him to develop into such a dangerous runner.
Speaking of Fred Jackson, he was able to contribute though… not much on the ground. Jackson participated in a couple screen plays that did not amount to much, but in total his plays were positive. Jackson will be the second back, but expect him to be dangerous in the passing game during the season as he takes a reduced, though important, role.
Manuel’s first quarter was shaky with a 4 for 7 line and the throws showed a clear lack of anticipation and timing with his receivers, but in the 2nd you could see him develop confidence and ultimately lead the touchdown drive in the two minute offense. A perfect example of the control Manuel has was on a roll out within the red zone in the first quarter, in which he smartly threw a ball away instead of trying to fit a pass in, or risk injury and ram it in himself. This example of knowing when to not do too much shows maturity for a rookie.
If Manuel continues to shed his hesitations, and grows within the offense further, then the questions about his ability will quickly disappear. The only question left unanswered in the Bills offense was the lack of deep throws by Manuel. On the day, his longest pass play was his last with the 17 yard strike for a touchdown to tight end Dorin Dickerson. The Bills may have run a vanilla offense with the short passing game designed to build up the future starter’s confidence, but at some point they have to let him wing the football deep.