A few observations about the Bills’ victory of the Vikings in front of a raucous Kids’ Day crowd:
1. The quarterback competition may not be over, but it is on life support. Kevin Kolb got the start Friday night after returning from injury and a death in the family, but never showed much beyond a final drive that bogged down in the end. Granted, it is hard to overcome a holding penalty in the red zone, but Kolb also threw an early interception. On the other hand, EJ Manuel came out to start the second half and led the offense immediately down the field for a touchdown.
Coach Doug Marrone has not named the starter for the third preseason game, but it would be a surprise if Kevin Kolb gets the nod. The third preseason game is usually the tune-up game for the regular season, with the first teamers on both sides of the ball playing into the second half. With the way both quarterbacks are playing, Manuel should get the nod.
2. The wide receiver position is the deepest it has been in years. The Bills have lacked talent for the past few years and it has showed, especially when injuries started to pile up. This year, the coaching staff and front office will have tough decisions on who gets cut. Marcus Easley is finally healthy and making plays. Chris Hogan looks like he is battling for first receiver in off the bench. Brandon Kaufman, an undrafted rookie, is producing whenever he sees the field. And those are just the bubble players. The talent is quite young, so there will be growing pains, but the future is much brighter than the past few years.
3. The depth at pass rusher is also head and shoulders above what it has been. Even with out Mario Williams on the field, the Bills tallied four sacks on the night. Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Jamie Blatnick, and Marcus Dowtin all contributed last night. With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wanting to bring waves of pass rushers, all of these players have a chance to produce come regular season. After years of only having one pass rusher with no support, things are looking up for the pass rush.
4. The defense as a whole is playing much more aggresively than in previous years. The defense last year under former coordinator Dave Wannstedt would be best described as vanilla, and not a good vanilla at that. This year, Pettine is bringing pressure from all over the field so offenses cannot key in on any formations or specific players. There are concerns on the defense, especially at cornerback beyond Stephon Gillmore. Scheme-wise, however, the Bills are light-years ahead of where they were under former head coach Chan Gailey. The defense has given up some plays, but the aggressiveness is creating turnovers as well. Maybe they are showing a bit too much in preseason, but the team is buying into it, which is a needed change to turn the post-season drought around.
Overall, the talent-level and schemes for the Buffalo Bills are well ahead of where they have been in previous years. That is no guarantee that this season will be a success. There will be growing pains, of course. This team could surprise a lot of people, though. The next few years could be a lot of fun, especially with the prospect of EJ Manuel becoming a franchise quarterback. Week Three will hold more answers, but only the regular season will tell how good this team will be.