BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
Which players shined and which players struggled during the Buffalo Bills’ 20-16 preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings on Friday? Some positions performed much better than others, so let’s take a position-by-position look at how each unit grades out.
QUARTERBACK: Kevin Kolb started the game and played the entire first half. He did not operate the offense with any level of comfort. He was consistently late with throws and very inaccurate. He was not able to generate adequate velocity on his throws, which could be a result of his knee not being completely healed. He was jittery in the pocket and the game appeared fast for him.
Kolb did begin to settle in late in the half, but did nothing to show he deserves the starting job. He finished with 13 completions on 21 passing attempts for 111 yards, no touchdowns and one interception (55.9 passer rating). The interception he threw was a route he poorly anticipated and a throw to the wrong shoulder.
EJ Manuel started the second half and completed six consecutive passes. His final pass was a touchdown to Brad Smith. Manuel looked comfortable and in charge of the offense. He was able to get plays off at a much quicker rate than Kolb and effectively moved the offense.
Manuel did a much better job going through his progressions tonight. On his touchdown pass, his first read was a well-covered slant, so he went to his second read to find Smith wide open in the endzone.
Manuel completed 10 of 12 passing attempts for 92 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (126.4 passer rating). Manuel clearly outplayed Kolb tonight.
Jeff Tuel did not play much in this game. He completed two of three passing attempts for 24 yards.
GRADE: C-D for Kolb, B for Manuel
RUNNING BACK: C.J. Spiller had a solid game. He is really doing a good job this preseason of taking 3-4 yard gains; in the past, Spiller would try to hit the home run every play, which resulted in negative plays. This is now at a minimum. This Bills offense revolves around Spiller, and he will get the touches he deserves this year.
Fred Jackson carried the ball well and toughed out some carries for first downs. Tashard Choice, meanwhile, led the Bills with 54 rushing yards on Friday and looks like the clear choice for the third running back spot. Zach Brown and Kendall Gaskins run hard, but don’t have any special characteristics that would unseat Choice.
Fullback Frank Summers caught a couple passes from Kolb on Friday night, but his run blocking was subpar. He was blasted by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway on one play that resulted in a loss of yards for Spiller.
Overall, it was a solid day for this group which carried the ball 35 times for 157 yards.
GRADE: B- Good day but nothing spectacular.
OFFENSIVE LINE: The protection was very good for the most part Friday night. Left tackle Cordy Glenn held Jared Allen in check and the line was solid in picking up blitz packages from the Vikings. Right tackle Erik Pears did a great job creating running lanes on his side of the line.
The left guard spot seems to still be unsettled as no one is separating from the pack. Holding penalties were an issue Friday night as several were called against the Bills offensive line, including potential starting left guard Colin Brown. Backup offensive tackle Sam Young had some rough moments as well. Overall though, the offensive line did pave the way for a respectable 4.3 yards per carry.
GRADE: B- Decent night for the offensive line but the holding penalties need to diminish.
WIDE RECEIVER: Head coach Doug Marrone will have a difficult job deciding on the group of receivers for his final roster. The group fared pretty well Friday considering they were without Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham.
Chris Hogan was the Bills’ most targeted receiver Friday night and led the team in receptions with 4. He also had a solid special teams tackle.
Marcus Easley continued his preseason success and led the team in receiving yards with 46. Robert Woods had a 22-yard reception and an exceptional 34-yard punt return on the night. None of the receivers had a particularly good or bad night.
GRADE: B- Decent night despite not having the team’s two top receivers.
TIGHT END: Scott Chandler’s recovery from his knee injury looks to be complete as he played in Friday night’s game. It was a quiet night for this group and they were a non-factor with just 2 catches for 12 yards.
GRADE: D- Did nothing to help quarterbacks as pass-cactchers.
Defensive and special teams grades are on Page 2.