PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have spent a good chunk of training camp on their red zone offense, but in the preseason games thus far, it has not paid off.
In the 19-16 loss to the Steelers Saturday, the Bills scored a touchdown on just one of four trips into the red zone, settling for two field goals, and failing once with a turnover on downs at the 3-yard-line. The only touchdown in the red zone came after the defense had forced a turnover and the offense took possession at the Steelers 16.
"We've done a lot of work in the red zone, so with all the work we've done, I was trying to see who's going to make a play for us down there this season, who's going to do that, who's going to force that situation, who's going to come up," said coach Doug Marrone. "In the two games we've lost, we've had a lot of opportunities. I'm going to credit the other team, they've done a good job, but we've got to be able to score more."
In the three exhibitions, the Bills have penetrated the red zone 11 times and scored only four touchdowns. Breaking it down, the first-string offense is now 0-for-5 and twice it was stopped on a fourth-and-goal play when Marrone eschewed the field goal attempt. Overall this summer, the first-team offense has had 10 possessions and the results are four field goals, an interception, two punts and three turnovers on downs.
"It was frustrating when we came off the field," quarterback EJ Manuel said after the Bills were stopped on fourth down late in the first half against Pittsburgh when his pass to tight end Scott Chandler was broken up at the goal line. "I even pleaded with coach Marrone to let us go for it on fourth down. I went to the right place with the ball, the defense just made a good play on it. The past two weeks, we've got to capitalize. We have to get that fixed before we play Chicago, we have to score in the red zone."
There are several things holding the Bills back. For one, the offensive line is a mess right now. Left tackle Cordy Glenn is still working his way back from a medical condition and has not played in any of the games, so rookie Seantrel Henderson is starting. At left guard, starter Chris Williams hasn't been very good, and now he's suffering from a back injury and was inactive against the Steelers, so Doug Legursky started in his place. On the right side, right tackle Erik Pears and right guard Kraig Urbik are nothing more than mediocre and are both fighting to hold onto their jobs, so the Bills are really having a tough time in pass protection.
And then there's Manuel. The second-year pro claims he's getting better every day, but it's tough to decipher what he is seeing. Manuel had trouble with his throwing accuracy as a rookie, and that problem has not abated this year. Rarely does he put the ball right where it needs to be, and too often his receivers either can't make a play on the ball, or have to turn their bodies or reach above or behind them to make a catch.
Against the Steelers Manuel completed 17 of 27 passes for 148 yards, but of the 11 completions, seven were caught by running back Fred Jackson for a meager 28 yards, and four went to Chandler for 40 yards, 24 coming on one play when the Bills were in a third-and-27 and the Steelers were in prevent. Manuel threw only two of his 27 passes at least 20 yards downfield -- one was incomplete to Robert Woods who caught the ball out of bounds wide of the end zone, and the other was a seam route down the middle to Chandler that Manuel underthrew for an interception.
"The interception, I went to the right place, I just need to get the ball up for Scott," Manuel said. "He's a tall guy, so I have to get it over his head and let him go up and make the catch. The whole night we had long drives, we just didn't capitalize in the red zone and the goal line."
Explanations or excuses aside, a case can be made that Buffalo has the worst quarterback depth chart in the NFL and coach Doug Marrone might be starting to realize that.
Asked after the loss to Pittsburgh if he was satisfied with the play of backups Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel, Marrone offered a terse "No."
One word is all it took. Lewis served as the No. 2 quarterback, starting the third quarter after EJ Manuel had played all of the first half. Lewis compiled a 0.0 QB rating as he completed 1 of 6 passes for 18 yards with an interception. Tuel took over and went 5-for-9 for 48 yards, then lost a fumble on a sack with less than a minute to play which led to Pittsburgh's game-winning last-second field goal.
The Bills' coaching staff saw Lewis and Tuel play during the regular season last year when Manuel missed six games due to knee injuries, and they combined to go 2-4, but in none of those games were Lewis and Tuel a difference maker. Both wins came in games Lewis started against Miami, and he was a combined 36 of 57 for 395 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. The failure to sign a competent veteran backup quarterback could come back to haunt the Bills this season if Manuel proves to be injury-prone again. Then again, given Marrone's one-word response, the Bills may begin to scour the waiver wire to find a legitimate backup when teams begin releasing players.
Notes: Wide receiver Sammy Watkins suffered a rib contusion on the Bills' first series of the game and his night was done. He appeared to be in pain when he left the field, but Marrone had almost no news on his condition after the game, and an update isn't expected until Monday night before the Bills resume training camp at St. John Fisher College
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: August 17, 2014 04:33:12 PM
Bills' offense plays dead in red zone
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