Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I hope to enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Brian Galliford, who blogs about the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings.
MV: The Bills surprised many around the NFL when they used their first pick on E.J. Manuel, who has started all three of their games so far. What are your early impressions of the rookie quarterback?
BG: What we've seen of Manuel thus far is about what was expected: he's a project. His arm talent is excellent, but his mechanics are sloppy, and he ends up aiming more than throwing on many passes -- particularly deep balls. He's streaky, mixing the occasional outstanding drive or throw with several clunkers. He's not reading defenses particularly well yet, but when he sees something quickly, he's been pretty deadly. Manuel is very much a work in progress, but there are enough bright spots to remain optimistic for now.
MV: I caught Sunday’s game between the Bills and the Jets and I was interested to see if the Bills dabbled with the read-option with Manuel. They did, and it looks like they could have some tricks up their sleeve with Manuel in the backfield along with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Do you think they could expand their use of option plays?
BG: They're in a tricky spot with the read-option right now. Manuel doesn't call his own number enough, and it's caused defenses to virtually ignore him as they key on Spiller. At the same time, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has been building elements into the attack, setting up plays for future games -- an example would be an option toss off of the read-option element, as detailed in this post. I expect the read-option to continue to be used heavily in this offense, but for now, it's limited by how well Manuel can read it.
MV: With everyone coaching change these past few years, the Bills have decided to scrap their defensive scheme and bring in new personnel. Doug Marrone is the new coach and he brought in Mike Pettine to coordinate the defense. It looks like they are using both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, but in what direction is this defense heading?
BG: What you know about the old Rex Ryan Ravens defense and the current Jets defense is what you know about the Bills' defense -- Pettine worked alongside Ryan for over a decade. He runs that system. It's an aggressive, multiple-front defense that puts players in multiple roles and emphasizes disguising where pressure is coming from. It's a good system, but it's springing leaks left and right now due to a rash of injuries in Buffalo. They just gave up 518 yards of offense to Geno Smith and the Jets on Sunday.
MV: With Jairus Byrd, Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks out against the Jets, the Bills secondary really struggled. The Jets picked on young cornerback Justin Rogers, beating him twice for long touchdowns. If the Bills continue to be banged up Sunday, do you think they will struggle to defend Joe Flacco’s deep balls to Torrey Smith?
BG: Don't forget Leodis McKelvin, who's an iffy proposition for Sunday with a hamstring injury. If he sits out, the Bills will go into this contest with their top three cornerbacks and their top safety out of the lineup (assuming Byrd misses another game). Rogers is only on the field because Nickell Robey (5-foot-7 and 165 pounds) isn't big enough to play outside, and Brandon Burton and Johnny Adams have only been with the team for a few weeks. Long story short: yes, absolutely, the Bills will struggle to defend Torrey Smith and any other Ravens receiver deep. Combating their secondary issues with an increased emphasis on blitzing can only take them so far.
MV: The Bills are probably going to be considered longshots to beat the Ravens, who are coming off an impressive win over the Texans. What has to happen for the Bills to win this Sunday? And do you dare go out on the limb and predict the victory?
BG: If they can protect Manuel, their offense will click frequently enough to score some points. But that's a big if with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the field (and Haloti Ngata should have a field day working against beleaguered left guard Colin Brown). Defensively, they need to be much better against the run -- they're ranked 30th right now -- to at least make the Ravens a bit more one-dimensional to aid their secondary. But you're right in that the Bills are a big underdog heading into this contest. It'll take a braver soul than I to predict a Bills win.
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