Following a 19-18 loss to the Colts in the pre-season opener, what were the key points to take away from the game?
EJ Manuel – Up and Down
With newly signed quarterback Tyrod Taylor participating in only one series, the Bills saw a lot of EJ Manuel throughout the game. As with the last few seasons, we saw the same scattershot EJ Manuel.
Manuel put together a respectable 10-for-18, 91 yards, and a TD for the stat line. EJ’s highlight of the night was when he dropped a beautiful pass into tight end Chris Gragg’s hands for a 19-yard touchdown to put the Bills up 9-0.
However, the inaccurate, inconsistent part of Manuel’s game still shows up. One example was when he launched a ball towards the back-end zone for Marquise Goodwin, but the ball was overthrown and out bounds. Another example was the ball thrown deep down the sideline in double coverage that resulted in a pick, but fortunately the safety stepped out of bounds. On that specific play, if EJ goes through his progressions, he would’ve found a wide open Chris Gragg crossing the middle of the field for a good chunk of yardage with room to run.
With the being said, Manuel was the recipient of three drops by Leonard Hankerson. EJ had good ball placement on all three throws, but Hankerson couldn’t corral it in.
Manuel flashes the ability to ‘wow’ you as a passer. His lack of consistency is the notable aspect that holds him back from being a starting quarterback in this league.
Wide Receiver Update
The race for the third receiving spot behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods is heating up. With one pre-season game now in the books, how did the the candidates fair?
Marquise Goodwin was given two targets, both going down the field, from Tyrod and EJ. Those two passes were overthrown. However, Goodwin’s speed was apparent, as he had a step on his man on both occasions. Even without a reception, Goodwin has been impressive, and more motivated then ever after not qualifying for the ‘Long Jump’ in Rio. As of right now, he may have an early lead for the third spot.
Leonard Hankerson probably had the most eventful night, but not in a good way. He produced only one reception for seven yards while dropping three well-thrown balls by EJ Manuel. While possessing ideal size and athleticism for a prototypical wide receiver, Hankerson hands have been a detriment his whole career. There’s still time to turn it around, but it looks like he could be on the outside looking in.
Minimal production from Greg Little, as he only caught one ball for 15 yards off a Cardale Jones scramble.
Jarrett Boykin took over in the fourth quarter, especially on the final drive. He caught a 22-yard corner route from Jones, and eventually caught the four-yard would-be game-tying touchdown, but since it’s preseason the Bills obviously went for the two-point conversion, and unfortunately didn’t convert. With a decent performance tonight, he’ll have to keep it up in order to make the roster.
Walt Powell had an impressive kick return into Colts territory, but it was called back on a Colt Anderson illegal block in the back. Powell’s most memorable moment was creating a 40 yard catch-and-run to ignite the Bills comeback drive. He would finish the game with four receptions for 88 yards. He had a solid game, overall. If he keeps up the good performances, he may climb up the depth chart.
Cardale Jones Solid in Debut
May be the most impressive Bills’ player of the night was quarterback Cardale Jones.
The former Ohio State Buckeye displayed real promise as a passer. He finished the night with 11-for-21, 162 yards, and a TD. Jones’s pocket presence was the part that really stood out from his half of action. He consistently held his eyes down field in the face of pressure, scanning for any open receiver’s. Additionally, his ability to step up in the pocket and deliver touch on his intermediate throws was very impressive.
Two notable plays were the throw over the linebacker to tight end Nick O’Leary for a 25-yard gain, and the throw to Walt Powell on a dig route that resulted in a 40-yard gain on the final drive.
Jones four-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett Boykin would’ve tied the game with a PAT attempt. Instead, the Bills attempted a two-point conversion, but couldn’t convert; losing the game.
Rex Ryan said after the game Cardale is something “special” and that he delivered a lot of “poise”.
Although the comeback drive came up short, Cardale Jones displayed a lot of toughness, and made some clutch throws that enabled the Bills to have a shot at victory. Could there be a backup quarterback battle emerging? Stay tuned.
Run Defense Steps Up
Historically, Rex Ryan led defenses are pretty stout against the run. Tonight against the Colts, the Bills held the opposition to a mere 36 rushing yards.
Outside of a few missed tackles, the Bills front didn’t allow any real estate for the Colts running backs, as their leading rusher was third-string quarterback Stephen Morris with three carries for 19 yards. Whether it was linebacker Preston Brown, or even the rookie Adolphus Washington, the Bills consistently flooded the ball, and terminated any runs up the middle.
Putting team’s in down-and-distance situations will go a long way towards success on defense.
IK Enemkpali Tears ACL
The Bills just can’t catch a break. According to Rex Ryan right before the start of the second-half, IK Enemkpali suffered a “major knee injury”. It appeared as Enemkpali slipped up while rushing the passer off the right edge, as the rain came down hard at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the early goings.
With Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland, and now IK Enemkpali suffering from injuries, the Bills depth will be tested in the coming weeks. It appears Lorenzo Alexander could be the starting linebacker opposite of Jerry Hughes come September 11th, as Rex publicly stated he’s been “impressed” with the linebacker throughout camp thus far.
Nevertheless, this injury is a blow to the Bills defensive depth. As of Sunday morning, the Bills now know IK Enemkpali has suffered a ‘Torn ACL’ and will miss the season.
Jonathan Williams Impresses
The number one ranked rushing attack from 2015 got back on track. Leading the way was 2016 fifth round draft pick Jonathan Williams.
With eight carries for 44 yards, Williams displayed his speed and vision. Running oftentimes to the left side of the line, Williams was able to break outside for consistent 10 yard gains, keeping the chains moving. Williams also displayed his power and balance as a runner when advancing through the teeth of an NFL defense, proving stubborn fighting through tackles and getting as much yardage as possible.
In the midst of a crowded backfield, Jonathan Williams is beginning to separate himself with a good camp so far, along with the solid pre-season debut he had tonight.
Bills still undisciplined
While the Bills staff have stressed that they’re trying their best to negate the amount of penalties the team has experienced over the last year with running laps in practice and what not, apparently the team still hasn’t adapted.
The Bills totaled 11 penalties for 106 yards. One penalty negated a big gain by Walt Powell on a kick return via a Colt Anderson illegal block in the back. The Bills also had quite a few neutral zone infractions, as well. Randell Johnson’s bone-headed late hit on the quarterback was very costly on the Colts last drive, which led to a field goal that put the game temporarily out of reach, before a roaring Cardale Jones comeback-attempting drive.
If the Bills want to go where they intend to, A.K.A. playoffs, it all starts with the fundamentals, and that’s being discipline. It seems like a simple task, but this Bills group has proved otherwise. We all know Rex Ryan let’s his team play freely and with tons of emotion, but eventually there’s a time where he has to step up and tell his players they have to assess the situation. Players will have to sacrifice for the better good of the team, and keep their emotions in check. Rex needs to get his team focused or else it’ll be another long season on the penalty front.
- Chris Gragg looked sharp. He produced a blocked punt which resulted in a safety. He also caught a 19-yard TD pass from EJ Manuel.
- Cyrus Kouandjio looked comfortable playing his former college position; left tackle. He held his own in pass protection and was equally impressive in the running game. With Cordy Glenn out, Kouandjio must take full advantage of his playing time to display in front of the coaching staff he is improving.
- Kevon Seymour was spectacular with two end zone pass breakups for what looked like would-be touchdowns.
- Nick O’Leary generated a good outing, and may have saved himself from falling too far down the tight end depth chart. Blake Annen, however, looked inspiring as well. With Gragg, O’Leary, and Annen making plays, the tight end race is just getting started.
- James Wilder Jr. and Boom Herron garnered minimal production at running back. I envision that their stocks may have fallen a bit after the first pre-season game.
The Bills will have Sunday off and will be back on the practice field on Monday, August 15th.
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