Sabres on Grass

A paltry 227 net yards aside, the Bills went backward against the Steelers. This is the sort of week that makes eternally patient backers wonder whether the franchise in which they’ve invested so much will pay off. Can Buffalo align things properly? I mean, ever? A strong pass rush can’t overcome the existential angst that accompanies losing without style. Unless you’re a fan of sweet punting action and your team getting its first touchdown nearly 60 minutes into a boring beating, you’re still waiting for the fun part to begin.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Congratulations to the Bills for participating in a game that met all the technical requirements to be classified as football. Maybe it’s the wind’s fault. But lousy skies and ground didn’t seem to bother the Steelers. This isn’t the Dolphins going to a city with no palm trees and getting bullied by the weather. Inclement conditions should be an advantage for this franchise. Instead, facing the breezy chill is one less thing to look forward to in the remaining late-year home games.

It’s easy to criticize from the stands or couch. Still, amateur play-callers may know more than the pro coordinator when they suggest the offense should run the ball every freaking time when the goal line is three feet away. Making EJ Manuel frequently throw with oxidized chips flying from his arm reflected too much excitement at his leg bending properly. If coaches are going to be conservative, it should be by letting the backs pound the ball, not meek tosses that often went astray anyway.

Help Manuel by running more than 22 times regardless of how many defenders are stacked near the line. Make the defense stop your running assault, unless you’re passively happy with the opponent’s defensive coordinator setting the tone. C.J. Spiller should be getting more runs than that on his own regardless of how well Manuel is playing. Daring the defense to stop either rusher would have been especially welcome on a day when the passer failed.

At least the quarterback who came up short will get to try again next week. Manuel has learned through painful lessons to slide or leave the field of play. He’s finally understanding that guarding his joints from damage is more valuable than that extra yard or two. A little extra territory would have only served to make the final total appear less embarrassing.

Still, a returning rookie needs more chances even if he played as poorly as could be predicted for someone with his experience and convalescent status. Let him get at least 10 starts before joining post-game murmurs of discarding him. Fans shouldn’t begin debating whether Johnny Manziel will dominate the pros or flame out like his ego deserves just because their present starter threw weakly and inaccurately after three practices. But looking toward the future doesn’t alleviate the agony endured by those who eagerly anticipated Manuel’s return. The wish wasn’t specific enough.

Besides, almost no Bill shined. They couldn’t even fail to block kicks properly. Who falls for jumping offside on a short field goal attempt? Oh. Handing the Steelers four points ultimately didn’t affect the game, but it did create the impression that the Bills were doing everything in their power to complete the regression. Such a blatantly unnecessary false start made the rest of the afternoon feel merely unpleasant by comparison. The penalty would have been more aggravating if the contest wasn’t already so enervating.

The Bills just can’t time this properly, whether getting quarterbacks and receivers on the same page or having healthily competent players on the field simultaneously. Dreams of surprising the league this year while getting truly excited about the next were dashed in their first game of 2013 that wasn’t competitive.

What can improve before the Jets fly to town? Struggling Stephon Gilmore has to be more physical at the line if he’s facing a speedier wideout. Also, the offense needs to improve its running, throwing, catching, and blocking; other than that, everything’s fine. After the Steelers game, doing even a few things well would mean showing improvement.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.