The old slogan from the ’90s glory days in Buffalo was, “Nobody circles the wagons like the Bills.” When the team was in trouble, trailing late, facing adversity, the Bills would usually find a way (unless that was in the Super Bowl).
But considering the current quarterback competition, the new slogan should be, “Nobody circles the drain like the Bills’ QBs.” In Western New York, optimism is high, but there’s a healthy dose of fatalism added. And both emotions are completely understandable.
The Bills are good. There are twenty-year-old NFL fans who may have never read those words in print, but it’s true. Why the optimism? Let’s start on defense, where Buffalo has three Pro Bowlers lining up alongside one another. DE Mario Williams, DT Marcel Darius, and DT Kyle Williams are all some of the best in the league. They destroy offensive lines, collapse the pocket, gobble the run, and make life a living hell for offensive coordinators.
The Bills D was one of the best in the league last season, and this year they’re upping the ante. Multiple players are gunning to be the best defense of all-time with the addition of Rex Ryan to the staff. Darius’ goal? “Best ever. It’s so obtainable. If we do what we want, and do everything to head in that direction, why can’t we? Why can’t we?”
The talent on offense is terrific too. Not many squads can boast skill-position depth like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Lesean McCoy, Charles Clay, Percy Harvin and Fred Jackson. It may not be the K-Gun offense in the early ’90s, but it’s pretty damn exciting.
That brings us to the fatalistic part of the equation. To stay with the ’90s theme, the quarterback slot is reminiscent of an episode of MTV’s Singled Out. Three contestants. None of the trio are very impressive, but eventually the hot chick has to pick one. And that chick is not exactly thrilled about choosing between Matt Cassell, E.J. Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor.
The most talented of the bunch is Manuel. The former first-round pick is in his athletic prime, just three years into the league. He’s big, strong, and has a good arm… but he’s been terrible this summer. Bills insider Brent Axe joined my show from Bills camp. How did he describe Manuel?
“Hot mess… He’s overthrowing open receivers during routine drills with no defense on wide receivers. He’s overthrowing open receivers that have defense on them. He’s under-throwing running backs and receivers just on those short screen passes. And now let’s add in the fact that a brand-new thing on the E.J. Manual docket is he’s fumbling a lot of snaps during training camp as well.”
So, that’s not very good.
How about Cassell? He’s actually won ten games as a starter twice in his career, and thrown for more than 3,000 yards a couple of times. The savvy veteran must be salivating at the chance to simply facilitate an offense with all of this weaponry, right? Wrong. If he is drooling, it’s just all over the football. Reportedly, Cassell has been the worst of the three QBs all offseason. The writing, though, was on the wall the last few seasons in Minnesota. The Vikings were absolutely groveling for someone to grab the starter’s role, and Cassell was a puddle just like Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman. Gross.
So will the starter actually be Taylor? The former sixth-round selection is in year five, and has never started a game. In fact, he’s only completed more than two passes in a game once. This is going to be the guy who leads one of the most talented teams in the NFL? Perhaps. Taylor has made a few remarkably athletic plays, can use his legs to expand the pocket, and create space where there is none. But it’s hard for a fan base subjected to the never-ending fever dream of temporary plugs like Todd Collins, Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, and Trent Edwards that Taylor is the solution.
The Bills are finally really good. All they need is competent quarterback play to make the playoffs. But even GM Doug Whaley admitted the franchise is in “quarterback purgatory.” Let’s hope one of these guys actually steps up and wins the job, because Bills fans deserve to be released from the gallows.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.