The Bills, like Jacksonville, are in a period of rebuilding under a new Head Coach. Like the Jaguars, they will disappointed with their final record in 2013. Their 6-10 record under Doug Marrone matched their 2012 tally and resulted in a 14th consecutive season without playoff football. There are some signs of optimism in Buffalo however and, unlike the Jaguars, they feel they have a quarterback to take them forward in 2013 first round pick E.J.Manuel. At one stage they sat at 3-4 and in a position to fight for a playoff spot, but then injuries hit and helped contribute to a run that brought just one win in six games and effectively ended hopes of the postseason. But with two wins over rivals Miami (including a 19-0 shutout victory) there were positives to be taken from the year.
Manuel missed several games with a knee injury, hampering his development in his rookie year. Thad Lewis performed well in his absence, but when he went down injured the Bills were forced to use third string Jeff Tuel (who struggled badly and put up a passer rating of just 45.1 thanks to three picks and a 44.1% completion percentage. Manuel’s rating of 77.7 is an encouraging start. 1972 yards and an 11-9 touchdown to interception ratio shows promise of more to come. Lewis proved himself to be a capable deputy. C.J. Spiller (927 yards at 4.6 yards per carry) and Fred Jackson (896 at 4.3) shared duties at running back. Spiller was less effective than he had been in 2012, but the Bills still managed to put up 2307 yards on the ground. Only Scott Chandler (53 catches for 655 yards) and Steve Johnson (52 for 597) surpassed 50 receptions on the year. Will the Bills look for a weapon to help Manuel in the passing game next year?
The loss of Defensive Co-ordinator Mike Pettine to the Head Coaching job in Cleveland is a blow to the Bills’ development plans. Their defence ranked 10th in the NFL in allowing just 333.4 yards per game but 20th in points allowed (averaging 24.2 per game). This will need to be addressed in 2014. Rookie Kiko Alonso was the undisputed star of the unit, with his 159 tackles, four picks and two sacks putting him in elite company amongst defensive players. Leodis McKelvin excelled in defending 2 passes and the pass rush provided13 sacks from Mario Williams, 10.5 in the form of Kyle Williams, 10 from Jerry Hughes and a further 7.5 from Marcell Dareus. This contributed to an impressive 57 total team sacks. 89 passes defended and 23 interceptions suggest both a secondary able to play and a team that was passed on a lot during the season!
Dan Carpenter proved reliable in hitting 91.7% of his Field Goal attempts, but on the return unit no players excelled. Brian Moorman and Shawn Powell combined for a net average of 38 yards per punt; this will need improving in 2014.
Marrone has been given time by the Bills’ ownership to stamp his mark on the franchise. His first season showed signs of promise and he would have been frustrated at the injury problems suffered at quarterback. An improvement to .500 will be needed this time around. Anything less could see him looking anxiously over his shoulder come Black Monday.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Buffalo risks losing some high profile players in Free Agency. Safety Jarius Byrd could well be off to pastures new, as could his fellow safety Jim Leonhard. These two combined for 1280 snaps last year. Tight End Chandler and kicker Carpenter are others who the Bills will probably look to sign to new deals.
With the quarterback position secure, the Bills can look at other areas in the offseason. If either Bryd or Leonhard (or both) leave then a safety would be a priority. Help on the offensive line, especially at tackle, could well be addressed in the draft. The Bills may well be tempted to look at an impact receiver to help their offence and Manual in particular as they try to improve the depth and quality in their roster. They may also look for a defensive end to complement an already strong pass rush.