Ten Takeaways From Bills vs. Colts

Though this is just the first preseason game, there was much to take away from the first exhibition of the 2013 season. These ten opinions aren’t the only developments of the week, however, I believe these were the most intriguing takeaways from Sunday’s game.

1. The base defense will be a 3-4 

Most Bills fans (including myself) were very curious as to what the Bills base defense would be this season. On the official Buffalo Bills depth chart it shows a 4-3, however, the starting unit only saw a traditional four man front on one or two plays. The Bills defense will be a 3-4 with Mario Williams being the weak side “Rush” linebacker who will play like a traditional defensive end. This defense is very similar to what Dallas currently employs with Damarcus Ware as the Rush linebacker. This is very good news to those of you hoping for big numbers out of Mario, and the front three of Carrington, Dareus, and Kyle Williams should be anchors in the running game. Expect Pettine to use a variety of different schemes and alignments to keep offenses guessing, while using exotic blitz packages to attack the quarterback. This defense looks like the total opposite of the boring traditional 4-3 employed by Wannstedt a year ago.

2. Spiller will be a 25 touch back

If no one believed Buffalo’s Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett last week when he stated Spiller would run until he pukes, they should now. Spiller had four carries on the opening drive, and looked in as good of shape as ever. If Spiller can prove to be an effective “inside the tackles” runner, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets 25 touches a game and threatens Chris Johnson’s 2,500 rushing/receiving yard record from 2009. Yes, he will be that good.

3. Mario Williams is already in regular season form

Speaking of being in regular season form, Mario Williams stole the show within the starters on defense. Going back and watching the replay of this game it is obvious that Williams is out to prove something this year. On every play he was bullying the offensive tackle, and had nearly a flawless game outside of one draw play where he was caught cheating inside. On most plays he was shedding one or two blockers while trying to make the plays. My favorite development of the game happened when Dareus lined up incorrectly on a 2nd down running play and Mario Williams was absolutely livid following the play. If the new determined Mario can stay healthy this year, you can expect enormous numbers from him in Pettine’s defense.

4. The receiver battle looks to be heating up

Outside of quarterback, the most intriguing positional battle this training camp will be the roster spot battle between Rogers, Easley, and Hogan. Assuming the Bills will keep the restructured Brad Smith for his special teams role, they will most likely only be able to keep one of the three receivers (barring injury). Each of the three has something going for them in different aspects. Hogan is by far the most pro ready receiver who could contribute the most to the offense immediately, Easley is the most experience with the most special teams potential, and Rogers has the most overall potential and play making ability. This will be extremely tough because it is highly doubtful the Bills will manage to keep any of the three on their practice squad without being picked up by other teams. I’ll be the first to say that I think special teams play is completely overrated (didn’t notice the “ace’s” Ruvell Martin or Brad Smith very much last season) and shouldn’t be considered as a focal point of this battle. Further, I think they would be best off keeping two of these three and giving Brad Smith his walking papers. If I had to choose one of these three I would probably keep Da’Rick Rogers strictly because he has all-pro potential and is a big physical receiver that Buffalo doesn’t currently employ. However, Chris Hogan deserves to make this team as much as anyone else, and it would be an unethical move by Marrone to show that strong camp play does not mean anything in deciding the final roster. Hogan looks to have the inside track at the job, as he is seeing work early this week with the first unit.

5. Manuel looks like the real deal

I will admit that Manuel started off the game in rough fashion. He looked timid and indecisive with his throws, but this is exactly what should be expected from a rookie in his first pro game. However, by the second quarter Manuel looked like a veteran. He was decisive, confident, and lead the Bills down the field on a two-minute drive for the score. Not only did he throw a touchdown pass on an absolute laser off his back foot, show poise to step up in the pocket and throw away the ball when he needed to, or pick up first downs with his legs; he commanded the team down the field like nothing we have seen in the years of Fitzpatrick, Edwards, and Losman. It is still early, but if Manuel can make this much progress in only a few weeks of camp; I can’t wait to see how far he has come along by the time his rookie season is complete. He looks the real deal folks.

6. Jeff Tuel will be a solid backup for years to come

Jeff Tuel looked great while playing the entire second half in Sunday’s game. No, I am nowhere close to being ready to say he could be a starter in the league one day, but he could definitely be a serviceable backup for years to come. Tuel reminded me of Ryan Fitzpatrick when Trent Edwards would get knocked out of games; not overly talented, but realizes this is his big chance in the NFL so he would take shots deep and have fun with it. That type of attitude and play goes a long way in this league, and I hope the Bills will realize he will not make it to the practice squad in a league where quarterbacks are in such a high demand that Mark Sanchez and Blaine Gabbert are currently starting quarterbacks.

7. Crezdon Butler should be the Day-1 starter at cornerback

This is not to say he is the second best corner on the team. In my prior training camp post, I stated that the potential lineups at defensive back could be Gilmore and Butler on the outside with McKelvin at slot or McKelvin on the outside with Robey in the slot. It is looking like Butler is showing the ability to be an adequate starter and looked phenomenal in his preseason debut, breaking up plenty of passes with blanket coverage. If he directs some of the aggression he is displaying in practice (two fights so far this year), he could be a very bright spot for Buffalo’s defense. This would also allow McKelvin to play in his more natural position in the slot.

8. Alonso could be the best Bills rookie of the year in 2013

Nearly all of Buffalo’s media outlets are explaining that Alonso looked great on Sunday due to a pass breakup on a near touchdown by Coby Fleener. Yes, clutch plays like that are what makes players great, however, he did much more in this game than one pass breakup. As far as I can tell (I’m obviously not a coach or scout), Alonso was never caught out of place during Sunday’s action. On every run play he seemed to fill the hole properly, and on pass plays he looked great in coverage and timed his blitz’s perfectly. Most notably, however, was the effort he gave throughout the entire game. Alonso was chasing plays down field, never giving up on pass plays, and getting into the action when many guys were just standing around waiting for the back to finally go down. Playing with this type of passion will be the reason why Alonso could have the most be the best of any Bills rookie this season, and why he will be a franchise linebacker for years to come.

9. Williams shines, Searcy disappoints

During the draft process three years ago, most thought Aaron Williams would be a much better fit at safety. Buddy Nix disagreed and kept him at corner, but luckily the new regime has realized his potential because he looked like a seasoned veteran in his debut at safety. Williams had the hit of the week when he lit up Donald Brown on an out pattern near the goal line. On the other hand was Searcy who started alongside of Williams at safety, but was noticeably the worst starter on the defensive first team. Searcy jumped on a Coby Fleener fumble early in the game, however, he was caught out of position and then immediately continued to miss the tackle on the same play. Assuming Byrd comes back before the regular season begins, Searcy needs to show he is better prepared for game action before the Bills can trust him to be less of a liability.

10. There is a culture change in Buffalo, and it’s Fast

One of the most exciting developments in Buffalo is their new young and energetic coaching staff. Having a young minded coaching staff allows the players to be more in touch with the coaches, as well as the potential adaptability to current NFL trends. Listening to Gailey and Jauron over the past few seasons has been tough for most Bills fans that are hoping for change from the reserved attitude employed by these coaches. Most importantly to the changes; it is obvious that the new regime in Buffalo is built on speed. Rookies EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Kiko Alonso, and Marquise Goodwin all share the same trait of great speed for their respective positions, and this should translate into an up-tempo system that keeps the other teams on edge. The first pre-season game was night and day compared to last season, and watching Bradham and Alonso burn to the perimeter to stop outside plays, then watching Kelvin Sheppard basically stand still on the very next drive for the Colts, was a perfect reminder of the difference in philosophies from one regime to the next. It is only one year removed, but this team has completely changed from those in years past, which is definitely a good thing.