Buffalo Bills offensive attack reeks, and it had better improve — fast

BILLS

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills offence reeks like a late-summer bog, but you can’t say it doesn’t try to be balanced.

Of seven dreadful first-half drives against Tampa Bay on Saturday, four skidded to an early halt by punt, three by turnover.

That’s balance, as odd-numbered splits go.

At halftime the Bills jogged off the field to a chorus of boos at refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium, trailing the Buccaneers 24-0.

At that point the first-team Buffalo offence still hadn’t scored a preseason touchdown, in 18 drives over three-and-a-half games.

In football you’re either getting better or getting worse, and the offensive attack of second-year Bills head coach Doug Marrone is regressing.

“Obviously that’s not good enough,” Marrone said of his offence’s day. “We cannot not execute well. If we were getting beat out there physically, then I’d say, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to get some players in here.’

“But we’ve just got to execute. We’re not executing well.”

Yes, it was just a preseason game, which the Bucs won 27-14.

And, yes, the Bills refrained from employing plays they think will work best against a Lovie Smith-style defence. (Smith is the new head coach of these Bucs but his former team, the Bears, still employ his defensive system, and the Bills open the regular season in Chicago on Sept. 7.)

But this is the third full weekend of the NFL preseason, when most teams leave their starters in for the entire first half. It’s as close to a legit litmus test as there is in August.

This one bodes horribly for a team coming off three consecutive 6-10 seasons, and which has not made the playoffs this century.

If the Buffalo offence does not improve — markedly, and fast — even 6-10 might be unattainable in 2014. And you wonder why the natives are restless.

“When you play poorly you should get booed. There’s no doubt about it,” Marrone said. “I don’t have any problem with that. It’s directed to me and it starts with me.”

The most hopeful Bills fan could not watch that travesty of a first half on Saturday and fail to conclude there’s a lot more wrong than right with this offence.

A big chunk of it falls on second-year quarterback EJ Manuel (my photo of him, above), who on this day appeared lost. Behind him, Buffalo scrounged only 82 yards of total offence on eight drives in those opening two quarters (when you throw in the last-minute clock run-out). That’s pathetic.

Manuel accounted for only 57 yards through the air before halftime. In that time he completed only half of his 18 passes, 10 of which were dumpoffs to tight ends or running backs.

Why is he checking down so much? Is he Checkdown Charlie II? Perhaps. But with dynamic rookie wideout Sammy Watkins out with sore ribs, most NFL quarterbacks on Saturday probably also would have concluded their most reliable pass-catching options in this offence, with the exception of former Buccaneers wideout Mike Williams, are at running back (C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson) and tight end (Scott Chandler).

So, of course, in this game Chandler slipped on a curl on the sixth play of the game, resulting in an easy interception for Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson. And Spiller fumbled two drives later to scotch Buffalo’s only first-half foray into Bucs territory.

Even though Manuel and the Bills offence sparkled on consecutive touchdown drives to start the third quarter, understand that that came against Tampa Bay’s second- and third-stringers. Manuel, Marrone and the Bills will wring all the positives they can from that, as they should.

No one else should.

It’s not all on Manuel. He’s as new to the NFL as is his offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. So this must be asked: Are Hackett and the Bills offensive coaches putting Manuel in the best position to succeed?

Sometimes Hackett’s attack appears much too college-like. Too many read-option based plays, when Manuel isn’t an effective read-option quarterback at all; that’s why Florida State did not use it much when he starred there.

And there was this. On Buffalo’s scoring drive to open the third quarter, Hackett called a rollout, college-style run for Manuel near the Bucs goal line. Tampa Bay’s backup defenders easily tracked him down for a seven-yard loss — a waste of a red-zone play.

Manuel bailed out Hackett with a nice pass in the end zone to Williams on third-and-goal from the 14.

To his credit, Marrone called out Hackett and his staff afterward.

“Our coaches, I told them that we need to do a better job offensively.”

Veteran Bills running back Fred Jackson did not appear too concerned.

“It was a preseason game, and we can’t overreact to that,” said Jackson, who gathered the entire offence in a circle on the sideline late in the second quarter to holler encouragement.

“A lot of stuff outside this locker room is going to be said, and we can’t continue to focus on that. We know we’re a better offensive unit than what we put out there.”

They’d better be. Right away.

 

Alan Branch latest Bills defensive tackle arrested

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills are cornering the market on defensive tackles in trouble with the law.

With Marcell Dareus still dealing with his two separate road arrests in May, Alan Branch was a no-show at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Bills head coach Doug Marrone said Branch, an eight-year NFL veteran, had been arrested. Marrone did not say why.

“It was reported to me that he was arrested,” Marrone said. “I’m going to meet with him tomorrow. I found out somewhere around noon midday.

“That’s all I know for a fact. I can’t say anything else.”

Tim Graham of the Buffalo News later reported that Branch was arrested for drunk driving.

Branch chose not to participate in any of the Bills’ voluntary training or practice sessions in April, May and June — then showed up out of shape for camp in July.

He signed a new three-year, $9.3-million contract with the Bills earlier this year, with $3.1 million guaranteed.

Branch didn’t play until late in the game a week ago in Pittsburgh, perhaps a signal the he might get cut by next weekend when rosters trim down to 53.

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