BuffalOkie Mondays: Three Questions

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Updated: August 19, 2013
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With three weeks left until the regular season, here are my three questions based on what we’ve seen from the Bills so far:

1) Is Kevin Kolb simply rusty or should we assume the worst?

Kolb completed 13 of 21 pass attempts against the Vikings on Friday night for 111 yards.  If you just saw those numbers (which, due to the blackout, many of you did), you’d think Kolb was good, not great in his preseason debut for the Bills.  However, if you were able to watch Kolb’s performance, the news of EJ’ Manuel’s ”minor” procedure on Saturday scared you to your core.

When he wasn’t aborting the play after making one read, Kolb was slow to make decisions, slow on his release, and more often than not, threw behind his receivers.  Some argued that his interception was on a tipped ball, so you can’t put all the blame on him.  However, if you go back and watch the play, Kolb had Marquise Goodwin open on a comeback route, but rather than hit Goodwin on his outside shoulder near the sideline, Kolb misses to the inside giving the defensive back a chance to make a play on the ball.

Before the news that EJ would miss the rest of the preseason, I felt 85% certain that the rookie would be the starter when the Bills opened the season against New England.  Now, the QB picture is slightly muddy and unless Kolb makes enormous strides in the final two exhibition games, there is plenty of cause for concern in Buffalo.

In Kolb’s defense, he has missed considerable time during training camp due to a family matter as well as a freak injury suffered when he slipped on a wet mat.  I think everyone expected to see a little rust on the veteran Friday evening, but Kolb shot well below those expectations.  With two more games left on the preseason slate, it’s up to Kolb to prove his awful performance was due to rust.

2) Who is going to lock down the #2 corner spot?

Even the most optimistic of Bills fans (if those even exist anymore) are struggling to find the silver lining in the battle for #2 cornerback.  The Bills have a true budding star in #1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but until someone steps up in a major way on the other side of the field, opposing offenses will be content to just avoid Gilmore and pick on whatever guy Buffalo rolls out there.

Crezdon Butler had a solid showing against the Colts, but he also had a brutal training camp.  Ron Brooks made a couple plays against the Vikings, but he has shown a knack for giving up the deep ball.  Nickell Robey has shown some fight, but his size puts him at an instant disadvantage and he still has plenty left to learn about the pro game.

We can all sit around and convince ourselves that Leodis McKelvin will grab the reigns when he returns to the field, but let’s not forget that while McKelvin has shown glimpses of greatness in his first five years in the league, he has failed to put it all together up to this point.

The Bills have several young players at the cornerback position that have shown promise, but if I’m in the front office, I’m keeping a close eye on every veteran CB that gets released in the next few weeks.

Bonus: If you really want a silver lining, I believe that Mike Pettine’s pressure-heavy defense will alleviate a lot of pressure that the Bills’ defensive backs have felt in the last few seasons.  Which leads me to my next question…

3) Is this what we can expect from this defense?

Listen, I know it is the preseason.  I know preseason games don’t matter.  But you know what else I know?  Last year we stood idly by while Dave Wannstedt wasted tons of talent on the defensive side of the ball by sticking with his weak, sit-back-and-watch defensive approach that allowed opposing quarterbacks to be so comfortable in the pocket, they may have well been wearing red no-contact practice jerseys.

Fast forward to 2013: the Bills defense is showing an energy that hasn’t been seen in Buffalo in ages.  How intense has Pettine’s defense been in the first two preseason games?  Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was visibly upset after the game about the amount of blitzes thrown at his hapless offense.  Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder admitted after the game that it was often tough for him to read the “exotic” schemes that Pettine has implored.

I know you can’t read into numbers too much in the preseason, so I’ll throw the numbers to the side and say this: this defense looks very promising because of the sheer energy it shows and the troubles it has given opposing offenses.

Pettine obviously knows the style of player that fits his system, and he went out and got them this spring.  Undrafted free agent Jamie Blatnick, second-round draft pick Kiko Alonso, free agent Manny Lawson and former first-round draft pick Jerry Hughes (a guy most people viewed as a bust in his time with Indianapolis) have all thrived in Pettine’s hybrid 3-4 system.

I personally believe that the Bills’ defense is primed for a big year in 2013, but I’ve been fooled by this unit before (see: 2012 season), so I think I speak for the entire fan base when I say I am taking a wait-and-see approach to see if this is real.